A newspaper reporter and a retired, blind journalist try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company's experimental, top-secret research projects and in so doing, both become targets of the killer.
A young man tries to help a teenage European girl who escaped from a clinic hospital after witnessing the murder of her parents by a serial killer and they try to find the killer before the killer finds them.
Jennifer Corvino, the daughter of a famous actor, has had trouble with sleepwalking for some time. Her doctor said that it can develop a split personality. She discovers her alternate personality when she stays at a boarding school that was once the home a Richard Wagner. But someone has been killing the students, and it relates only indirectly to the criminal sanitorium nearby. So it's up to "the two greatest detectives the world has ever known, or should I say, unknown"Written by
Scott Hutchins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(at around 1h 10 mins) After killing the professor, the killer gets in a car and drives away. In the next shot, it shows the killer's point of view from inside the car as the monkey jumps onto the windshield. But you can clearly see off to the right, a large pine tree branch, and that the car really isn't moving at all. See more »
[attempts to kill Jennifer with a slide]
He was diseased; but he was my son! And you have... Why didn't I kill you before? I killed that no-good inspector and your professor friend, to protect him! And now... I'm gonna KILL YOU TO AVENGE HIM! Why don't you call your INSECTS! GO ON! CALL! CALL!
[Inga then attacks Frau and slashes her to death]
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The English language credits claim that this film was "shot in Panavision." This film was shot with Panavision cameras and Panavision spherical lenses for the European spherical widescreen format of 1:1.66. See more »
Too many ingredients, not enough coherence to the recipe
Having seen the uncut version of Phenomena, I can testify that while trimming down a great many scenes in the censored versions probably did improve the pacing, it couldn't have done much to make the story make any sense and anyway, nothing much could rescue such a scatter-brained and poorly-written script. I can certainly see why Jennifer Connelly might consider this an old shame, though I'm guessing she's not to blame for all the third-act stupidity of her character as she was probably just following the script, and in no position to tell the director that the script was stupid and he was being stupid to insist that she follow it.
Considering that Dario Argento is credited as both writer and director, he truly has no one else to blame for the incompetent execution of this story but himself. A work's being derivative and formulaic need not be a bad thing, especially considering that the new is always necessarily born out of the old and even some of the most original ideas in cinema ever were actually just clever new twists on tried-and-true older ideas. That a great many of the story's elements would be all too familiar to a great many of us in the target audience is not the problem with this film. Yes, a psychopathic serial killer, an all-girls school with a ready supply of potential victims for that same psychopath, a hideous monstrosity chained up in somebody's attic or cellar, and horrific scenery involving corpses and swarming insects have all been done before and since elsewhere, and in some cases with better special effects, but none of these elements by themselves can be considered Phenomena's downfall.
No, the real problem with this film is that the writer and director simply tosses all these elements in seemingly almost at random with little to no effort to make the story binding them all together make any sense. The results of this scatter-shot story-telling are what the film's admirers and defenders prefer to call "surreal" and "atmospheric" whereas we critics and detractors who know better call this mess what it is: confused and incoherent. No matter how strikingly beautiful or ugly the imagery may be (and this film has plenty of striking imagery of both kinds), a film that can't bring all the imagery together in a way that makes sense is just not going to be very entertaining to watch. As an ostensible horror-mystery, Phenomena has too many questions left unasked and unanswered in favor of prolonged lingering over shots of gore and rotting flesh for this to be a decent mystery, and too much of a mystery plot requiring a resolution we're never given for this to be a credible horror story.
Really, Dario Argento would have done much better had he focused much more on the one original element of this story that truly shines through all the others, that being the protagonist Jennifer Corvino's mysterious connection to the bugs. In fact, this force-of-nature superpower is the central and only truly essential element of the story. Had he recognized this and been willing to chuck out any of the other elements in order to keep the focus on this amazing ability of Jennifer's where it belonged, he could have made a far better movie. Phenomena could have been a straight-up horror story that subverted the usual formula by having the seemingly perpetual damsel-in-distress use her powers to be the stuff of serial killers' nightmares rather than the other way around. It could have been a full-fledged mystery with the girl using her power to see things through the insects' eyes to catch and convict criminals (such as serial killers). It could even have been an offbeat superhero action story in which she learns to control and develop her powers to fight crime as David Dunn does in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable (and it would have been decades ahead of that film).
Instead, alas, we get this incoherent mess of a film in which the killer (or one of the killers; who did each of the killings and why is one more plot point never really adequately clarified) actually taunts Jennifer at one point by asking her why she doesn't just call those swarms of her insect friends to come rescue her the same way they already have (twice!), and we in the audience have to ask "Yeah, why don't you!?" Jennifer Connelly is a lovely girl and (we know from other movies) an excellent actress. If Argento wanted her to play a girl with control over insects, he should have let her do it, and have her use her powers as early and often as the special effects budget allowed.
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