Phenomena (1985)

A psychic girl with the superpower to summon swarms of icky bugs teams up with a revenge-seeking razor-wielding chimp to take down the mother of a deformed kid who both have been out and about in the the Swiss mountains killing people! Truly, this is the logline of the gods!  Fellow Italian Lucio Fucli was probably kicking himself that Dario Argento thought of it first!

Jennifer Connelly would eventually win an Oscar and if her performance in Phenomena doesn’t exactly hint at that, owing to her hostage-video like presence, she at least deserves some credit for putting up with all the damn creepy crawlies! She was lovingly petting bees, carrying around pet flies and swimming in pools of disgusting larvae for almost two hours!

The daughter of a movie star, Jennifer (her character’s name is also Jennifer) is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland that also happens to be the epicenter for an ongoing spate of missing and presumed murdered girls. Adding to all the intrigue, Jennifer not only is an insect queen, but also sleepwalks! And she shambles somnambulantly right into the murder of a classmate!

When she finally wakes up in the woods (boarding schools in Europe are always exclusively located in spooky forests), the local entomologist’s pet chimp finds her and leads her back to his house. (It’s sentences like that where it feels like we really aren’t demanding enough from our horror movies.)

Dr. McGregor (Donald Pleasence) has a house full of bugs and he notices how much they like Jennifer, even commenting on how one bug was attracted to her and was secreting a chemical in an effort to court her. Creepy old guy talking about how a beetle wants to hump an underage schoolgirl is frankly just as gross as anything in this movie.

McGregor had a young assistant who went missing and he believes she was also the victim of the murderer so he eventually works with Jennifer to track down the killer, using her bug powers to lead her to the location of the most recent body. But the killer doesn’t appreciate the interest and murders anyone on the trail.

Exhibiting probably the only smart move she made in the whole movie, Jennifer runs away from the school (her classmates had been bullying her and the adults were trying to have locked up for being crazy) and calls home to have money sent to her so she can fly back to Los Angeles.

Of course she ends up captured by the killer in a series of scenes where she behaves in painfully stupid fashion. The movie then shifts from being the sort of dull and stupid film you would expect about a bug girl with no personality blundering into various clues (but never actually solving anything), into a final act that feels like director Dario Argento was just saying “Screw it! Sic a ravenous swarm of flies on the dwarf! Slice off that guy’s head! Set the lake on fire! Let the chimp loose on that gal’s face with the razor!”

Painfully annoying for most of its run time with its vacuous lead character, dialogue that hurts like a bad spider bite, a story that feels cobbled together from ten different slasher and giallo  movies (for instance the mother and deformed kid echoed Friday the 13th while the notion that the child was conceived during a rape at an insane asylum called to mind A Nightmare on Elm Street), if Phenomena has any saving grace it is the lunacy of the last 15 minutes that manage to make you cringe and smile at the same time.

So much happens so fast, you really don’t have time to worry about whether it makes sense that the chimp somehow wondered out of the woods at the exact place and moment needed to be Argento’s deus ex primate or that Jennifer could escape the death trap of the killer’s house via a convenient tunnel that leads directly to a dock and get away boat or that the killer could magically appear despite last being seen getting her face bashed in repeatedly with a chain.

All these gonzo antics are such a relief from the drudgery of the first 100 minutes, you just appreciate that something exciting is finally occurring no matter how illogical. A lousy story and uniformly wooden performances (with the exception of Pleasence) by the humans really let down the bugs and chimp who are busting their asses to bring the horror.

© 2020 MonsterHunter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *