Phenomena (1985)

When I first watched Phenomena a few years ago I found it to be one of Argento’s weakest movies, and while I still hold that opinion to a certain extent, I vastly underestimated the replay value of its set-pieces and design.

As with anything Argento, this is all about aesthetics. At a certain point (probably right here actually), he just flat-out gave up trying to write scripts that had any logic to them knowing full well his audience would forgive any shortcomings as long as the set-pieces delivered. There are random explosions of excess here that are equal parts thrilling and baffling. The opening scene which culminates in a girl (Argento’s own daughter, Fiore) being decapitated in uber-slow motion is pretty standard Argento-does-blockbuster-carnage fare. Her head plummets into a waterfall below, the camera watching it disappear down the slipstream. But then you get to Jennifer Connelly conjuring up an army of insects and a chimpanzee that pushes Donald Pleasence around in a wheelchair for two acts before savagely slashing Daria Nicolodi to ribbons with a razorblade at the end. THAT is the kind of unforgettable bat-shit you come to an 80s Argento movie for.

I even warmed to the dumbass thrash metal songs on the soundtrack the second time around. They’re still wildly misplaced and inappropriate but they’re a big part of the film’s truly weird charm. The atmosphere worked wonders on me, with all the shots of trees rippling in ominous nighttime winds being good foreplay for the truly disgusting finale that features poor young Jennifer Connelly falling into a pool of rotting corpses that is surely among the most icky sequences Argento ever dreamed up. Love all those close-ups of insects (maggots!!!) too. Phenomena aint great, and is even worse when you hold it up against something like Suspiria but when enjoyed on its own silly terms, with your senses primarily dialled to the visual it does deliver some sort of satisfaction. Being a forgiving fan of Argento, as I am, helps too.

Watched on Arrow blu-ray

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