Phenomena comes from the great Dario Argento in the prime of his career and are perhaps his craziest movie to date. It throws in almost everything from slasher movies that he watched in America- all rolled into one film, and it's a ton of fun to watch unfold on screen. The 4K picture with Dolby Vision looks excellent and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix sounds wonderful. The bonus features are all worth watching as well. There are three different versions of the film, all of which are included here. Highly Recommended!
When most people hear the words "Italian" and "Filmmaker" there's one staple that everyone goes to - Dario Argento. The man behind Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebre, Inferno, and Opera, and who was a major part of Demons and Demons II had a successful run of films in the mid-'70s - late '80s, cementing his name as one of the most memorable and visually striking directors in the world. Right before his last memorable film Opera, Argento made a movie called Phenomena that crossed into American cinema for the first time. It seemed that Argento threw everything, even the kitchen sink, into the mix. The result is a batshit, insane storyline that is grounded and plays out perfectly the only way Argento could allow it to.
Argento's previous cinematic outings always had that authentic Italian way of making movies. They weren't like any of the American films at the time, which is one of the reasons his films stood out. Around 1985, Argento was experimenting with the conveyor belt of American filmmaking and must have watched all the horror greats that had just started around that time, including Friday the 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, and Halloween - all of which had an inspiring twinkle in Argento's eye for Phenomena. Bringing in those American actors with the young Jennifer Connolly and the veteran actor hot off the Halloween franchise Donald Pleasance, Argento's movie had a lot going for it.
The first few minutes of Phenomena play out like any old American slasher movie where a young girl is left behind by friends and eventually heads to an abandoned house only to be chased and brutally killed by an unseen person. This is stereotypical of the genre and while it might seem a bit much in terms of the weapons and torture in the short amount of time this first murder happens, it feels similar to everything else that has come before it. This is where Phenomena introduces a young girl named Jennifer (Connolly), who is sent to boarding school in Switzerland because her actor father is too busy working. There is something immediately fascinating about Jennifer that has her ability to communicate with insects, like Dr. Dolittle, but on a much more subtle level. A professor at the school (Pleasance) is a forensic entomologist who is wheelchair-bound and has a nurse take care of him by the name of Inga. Inga is a chimpanzee who is smarter than most people in the film and plays a pivotal role throughout the movie.
All of these elements cross paths in order to find the killer which has a stable twist to it. All of the excessive and over-the-top narrative points in the movie are grounded in its reality by Argento himself by showcasing Jennifer in dreamlike sequences that are very similar to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Her ability to communicate with insects and use her telepathic powers are not used in a silly or comical way, because even though there are some laugh-inducing sequences here, they are not meant to be laughed at. Plus the emotional weight that Jennifer, Donald, and the chimp Inga bring to the table are surprisingly genuine and wonderful with Inga having a full-on emotional arc of many layers in the movie.
Argento's visual style is still unmatched with his bright vibrant colors of blood and lighting in every scene, along with his work with the band Goblin who provide the synth score. In addition to them, Argento got Iron Maiden and Motorhead to deliver songs for the film that always don't go hand-in-hand with what's being shown on screen, but for what it's worth, it's a blast to watch unfold that all culminates inside a disgusting maggot-filled pool that resembles that iconic scene in Poltergeist. Phenomena is as crazy as it got back in 1985, but for some reason many years later, it works perfectly. There are three versions of the
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Phenomena communicates its way to 4K via Synapse Films with a 2-Disc set. This is the standard version from the Collector's Edition that was released last year in 2022. There are three different versions of the film included here. The Italian Version which is referred to as the Integral Cut runs at 116 minutes. The International Cut runs at 110 minutes, and lastly, the Creepers Cut runs at a super-quick 83 minutes. The best version is the INternational cut. There is no insert or booklet in this standard set. The artwork features a wonderful Jennifer Connolly surrounded by horror, including the monkey Inga, dead people, the mansion, and other ghastly visions.
Phenomena comes with a gorgeous 2160p UHD 4K transfer with Dolby Vision that looks amazing. Synapse originally released this film years ago on Blu-ray and then released it once again in 4K in 2022 inside a limited edition set. This standard version seems to be the same video presentation which is dynamite. It looks as if the film was shot very recently as opposed to in 1985. It looks that good. The color palette is wild in the best ways possible considering it's Argento. The green trees, brown trunks, and dirt that mix well with the blue skies look amazing. Those emotionally heightened colors of blood and neon lighting in the background looks fantastic. Even inside Pleasance’s home, the purple and blue lighting is wonderful to look at.
The detail is exquisitely sharp and vivid revealing excellent closeups that show individual hairs, wrinkles, and those gory practical effects and makeup applications. The film grain is intact and is smooth and never fluctuates. It's a stunning-looking image with inky black levels and natural skin tones. This is a top-notch 4K presentation that is only enhanced with the presence of Dolby Vision.
All three versions of the movie come with a DTS-HD 5.1 audio option in both English and Italian. For those that know, the Italian audio options on these types of movies can be downright laughable and hard to follow, but with the English option enabled, there wasn't much to laugh at. It all sounded great and nuanced with the exception of some out-of-sync issues here and there. The dubbing sounds good though and never over the top. The sound effects are loud and make use of stabbing and squishy sounds. The Goblin score and heavy-metal song cues bring on the low end of bass that has a nice rumble to it. Most of the film's audio track is front-heavy, but there are some nice ambient noises from the surround speakers that do populate the environment. There were no other major issues with the audio presentation.
There are no new extras with this particular release, but all the bonus features (totaling 164 minutes + commentaries) from the previous 4K last year have been carried over. They are all worth watching.
Phenomena is a wonderfully delightful horror movie from Argento in his heyday. It's the most insane movie he's done thus far, but it has a simplicity to it that's beautiful and visually striking. Almost forty years later, this movie is still fantastic. The 4K presentation with Dolby Vision looks amazing and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio track sounds terrific. The bonus features are a blast as well. For those that didn't get that Limited Edition release last year, this one has all the same extras and technical aspects. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!