Dario Argento's late-80s horror fantasy is much maligned but has plenty that's worth admiring

Film Review by Steve Timms | 24 Jan 2018
Film title: Phenomena
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Bauchau
Release date: 15 Jan
Certificate: 18

Released in 1985, towards the end of Dario Argento’s decade-long golden age as a horror director, Phenomena is unfairly considered by some as the nadir of his career. While this attempt at mixing genres – the giallo with which he made his name and the supernatural world of Suspiria – isn’t entirely successful, Phenomena still features much that is worth admiring.

Jennifer Corvino (a young Jennifer Connolly) arrives from America to attend an all-girls school in Switzerland. A vicious killer is targeting the pupils, and sleepwalker Jennifer soon finds herself in his sights. Aided by paraplegic entomologist John MacGregor (Donald Pleasance, excellent), she sets off to track down the murderer.

Suspension of disbelief (and a strong stomach) is required to enjoy Phenomena. Not only is Jennifer a sleepwalker, she also has an ability to communicate telepathically with insects. Pleasance has a pet monkey who pushes him around in his wheelchair. It’s like Argento had too many ideas but couldn’t bear to lose any. Similarly, he indulges his love for heavy metal music, ineptly using tracks by Iron Maiden and Motörhead, which kills the mood.

These faults aside, Phenomena features possibly the most terrifying villain ever to feature in an Argento film. The finale – an escape across a moonlit lake – ranks amongst the director’s greatest set-pieces.


Feature-length documentary ‘Of Flies and Maggots’ includes interviews with Argento, co-screenwriter Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani and most of the cast. Phenomena appears to have been a gruelling shoot: the ‘torture pool’ was filled with a toxic mix of bones and swill, and many of the crew succumbed to bacterial infections. Pity poor Davide Marotta: during one scene, the actor was covered with honey before having thousands of flies loosed upon him. Interesting fact: Orson Welles was due to play MacGregor but withdrew for health reasons. [Steve Timms]

Released by Arrow