Phenomena is infamous among horror fans for its unusual domestic release. This 116-minute Italian giallo film from noted director Dario Argento came to the United States courtesy of New Line Cinema, who chopped it down to 83 minutes, reordered some of the scenes, and dumped it into theaters with the title Creepers. Both of those versions, along with a 110-minute “international cut,” are available on Synapse Films’ amazing new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. This marks a perfect opportunity for fans to see the movie looking better than ever, and for newcomers – or viewers who only saw the gutted version – to discover one of the most significant horror pictures of the 1980s.
Jennifer Connelly had her first starring role, playing Jennifer Corvino, a teenage girl who starts attending a Swiss girls’ academy. She has a penchant for sleepwalking and an ability to telepathically communicate with insects. A string of murders is taking place in the area, one of which she witnesses. Donald Pleasance co-stars as John McGregor, a professor of entomology who believes insects have something to do with those murders. Jennifer ends up being the potential key to finding the culprit, whoever or whatever it may be.
Phenomena has all the visual style and eerie ambiance one would expect from a Dario Argento film. His lighting effects and camera movements go a long way toward establishing an unsettling mood. That, in turn, benefits the story, which contains multiple unexpected twists that continually add new layers of mystery. It’s impressive, too, how the director maximizes the “ick factor” with the bugs. Anyone with a phobia of maggots will squirm virtually nonstop. Melding a murder mystery with bug-infused horror was a masterstroke, giving Phenomena a unique feel. Toss in a knife-wielding chimpanzee and you’ve got a fright flick like no other.
Connelly is excellent in the lead role, showing early signs of the immense talent that would eventually win her an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. She makes Jennifer a young heroine we can become invested in. It’s fun to see the actress sharing scenes with Donald Pleasance, a horror icon thanks to Halloween. The two constitute an unusual team-up, although that’s perfectly in line with the movie’s devotion to unpredictability. Dario Nicolodi, meanwhile, steals scenes as Frau Bruckner, a teacher at the school who factors prominently into the creepy events. You won’t forget her work here.
Phenomena looks better than ever on 4K Ultra HD, and the 5.1 audio soundtrack amplifies the movie’s impact. Best of all, Synapse has loaded the Blu-ray with extra features. Here’s a look at what’s in store:
Disc 1 - This contains the original Italian cut, along with commentary from Argento scholar Troy Howarth. “Of Flies and Maggots” is an informative two-hour making-of documentary that has interviews with Argento and many other key members of the creative team (although not Jennifer Connelly). They take you through the filmmaking process from start to finish, guaranteeing lots of insight into the decisions that made the picture the fan favorite it is. A music video from composer Claudio Simonetti, entitled “Jennifer,” is also here, as are pages from the Japanese pressbook and a couple theatrical trailers.
Disc 2 - The second Blu-ray has both the international and Creepers cuts. Film historian David Del Valle and Argento expert Derek Botelho provide audio commentary on the international version. A half-hour documentary called “The Three Sarcophagi” explores the three different cuts of Phenomena in detail, delivering a compelling perspective into how and why they exist. Another trailer and some radio spots for Creepers round out the set.
The release of Phenomena on 4K Ultra HD is a cause for celebration among horror buffs. This is a premium presentation of a classic from one of the masters.
To purchase Phenomena from Amazon, click here.
Phenomena is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.