More than eight months after a Danish tourist (Fiore Argento) goes missing her head is found by police. Inspector Rudolph Geiger (Patrick Bauchau) brings it to Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence) to analyze the insect activity. McGregor is an entomologist who is wheelchair bound. He uses a chimpanzee called Inga as a service animal. Using his knowledge of insect life cycles McGregor estimates the time of death as eight and a half months ago. The time the Danish girl went missing.
Meanwhile, at the nearby Richard Wagner Academy for Girls, new student Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) arrives. Jennifer is a special kid. She has an affinity with insects and she sleepwalks. Jennifer’s assigned room is with a girl named Sophie (Federica Mastroianni). They become immediate friends.
Jennifer’s first sleepwalking event brings her to an abandoned building where she sees a girl being murdered. When she wakes she flees into the woods and become disoriented. After a harrowing event with a couple young men she is eventually found by Inga the chimp who brings her to McGregor. When McGregor sees how the insects in his lab react to her he believes Jennifer has a special psychic link with them.
When Jennifer’s roommate Sophie is killed Jennifer is once again sleepwalking. A lightning bug leads her to a maggot covered glove. By now everyone at school, including the Head Mistress (Dalila Di Lazzaro), believes that Jennifer is mentally ill. When the students harass her she calls on her friends. The entire school is surrounded by flies. Jennifer passes out and the Head Mistress calls the insane asylum to come and get her.
Jennifer flees to Professor McGregor’s and gives him the glove. McGregor analyzes the maggots as the larvae of Sarcophagus flies. He proposes to Jennifer that she use her gift to help find the person killing young girls. Jennifer, who wants to help find who killed her friend Sophie, agrees. She follows the Sarcophagus fly looking for the killer.
“Phenomena” was released in 1985 and was directed by Dario Argento. It is an Italian horror giallo. For the U.S. distribution the film had twenty minutes cut from it and was re-titled “Creepers”. The film was shot in English and dubbed into Italian. It is one of Argento’s lesser known films.
There are a few giallo films that I love. This is one of them. One of the awesome things about the film is the music score. Iron Maiden's “Flash of the Blade” and music done by Goblin, MotorHead and other rock groups and composers are prominent in the film. The soundtrack is progressive and adds a lot of tension and other worldliness to the atmosphere of the movie. The cinematography is also one of the things I liked about the movie. The pace of the film is a restrained yet frantic combination of sight and sound.
There are a lot of things going on in the film. Not all of them cohesive. The plot devises have a tendency to raise more questions than they answer but such is insanity. There really is no explanation for what goes on in the insane mind or the mind of Argento either. The combination of a serial killer and a girl that can communicate with insects, and to a certain extent the killer since she sleepwalks whenever a killing happens, is the stuff of random nightmares. It’s wild but intensely fascinating.
At one point swarms of insects cover the school and later on also cover the sky nearly blotting out the moon. The method used to get the effect was by dumping coffee grounds in a tank of water, filming it, and then superimposed the film over existing background shots. The larvae effect was created by putting vermiculite in water and adding liquid chocolate and essence of mint.
The first victim in the film is Fiore Argento, Dario’s daughter. The chimpanzee Inga is played by Tanga. During filming of the final scene Tanga bit off part of Jennifer Connelly’s finger. She was rushed to the hospital where it was re-attached.