Phenomena (1985)

1.5 out of 5

By 1985 Dario Argento’s reputation for absurd stylisation at the cost of patient storytelling was well known, but few were prepared for the self indulgent disaster Phenomena.

Argento takes his penchant for surrealist trickery to a point where its senselessness becomes more irritating than intriguing. Nevertheless Argento does create a peculiar and unsettling atmosphere which is brought vividly to life in the opening set piece which sees a young girl slaughtered in the isolated mountainous vista of the Swiss countryside. The other set pieces in the film are entirely undermined by Argento’s fetish for heavy metal music, and are more likely to elicit laughter than horror to a modern audience.

Another aspect of the plot that is likely to inspire giggles is the nonsensical idea of a young girl in telepathic communion with the insect world. This is a shame because the other entomological details of the plot are intriguingly developed through the character played by Donald Pleasence.

The themes of abandonment, isolation, bullying, matriarchal madness and parental absence allow the fairy tale elements to flower, but Argento and Franco Ferrini’s barmy screenplay eventually loses patience in a favour of a rushed finale featuring a deformed child killer, a sadistic mother, and a razor wielding chimpanzee out for revenge.

Phenomena has a self-conscious psychoanalytical subtext which adds nothing to Argento’s continuing obsession with monstrous mother figures.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics