Pete’s Peek | The hills are alive with the sound of screaming in Dario Argento’s Phenomena

Before gaining fame battling David Bowie’s bewigged King Jareth in 1986’s Labyrinth, a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly starred in Dario Argento’s peculiar horror Phenomena – not to be confused with the dreadful John Travolta film of the same name.

Sent to a posh Swiss boarding school by her absent film star dad, Jennifer learns of a serial killer targeting young girls in the area. With the help of Donald Pleasence’s wheelchair-bound entomologist, Jennifer discovers she has special psychic powers and a natural affinity with insects. She then uses these skills to track down the killer. This being an Argento film, much mayhem ensues with lashings of grisly decapitations and stabbings, swarms of insects, and that horror staple – a monster in the basement.

Argento’s cameras really soar to new heights in Phenomena. Taking his cameras out of Rome’s studios for a change, he really goes to town on the beautiful Swiss landscapes (the film was shot around Appenzell and Canton St Gallen). Watching this on Blu-ray is a real treat as you feel yourself flying high above the alpines, like one of the winged beasties that buzz about the film.

As with all Argento films, music plays a huge role, from the incongruous (Iron Maiden‘s Flash of the Blade bellowing out during one death scene really spoils the atmosphere) to the sublime, courtesy of Goblin of course (the scene in which Jennifer is led to the killer’s glove by a firefly is truly haunting). After Profundo Rosso and Suspiria, this is one of band’s best-ever Argento scores.

To be honest, I was never a big fan of this film on its original release, as it was such a big departure from Argento’s previous efforts, Tenebrae (his return to giallo) and Inferno (the second of his Mothers of Tears trilogy). But looking at it now, with its new high definition transfer, Phenomena is better than I remembered.  In fact, I kind of get what Argento was aiming for – a modern-day Grimm’s fairy tale, with just a dash of slash. It’s not perfect, but it’s beautiful just the same.

Like Arrow’s recent Deep Red release, the new transfer features some missing English audio sections. But they are few and short in duration, so they don’t jump at you as much as they do in Deep Red. As for the picture quality, well – as I mentioned before – it’s gorgeous (although the opening death scene is a bit of a letdown).

Other features include Arrow’s now-standard four panel reversible sleeves and two-sided fold out poster, exclusive collector’s booklet, and high definition transfer of the Italian cut of the film with original English and Italian stereo audio. There’s also a ‘making of’ documentary, an interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti, and a Q&A with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti.

All in all this is a great addition to any cult fan’s Arrow Video library.

Out now on DVD and Blu-ray

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