Apparently, just past the halfway mark to Halloween, my wife and I find ourselves in a giallo groove, and it’s glorious.
Italian maestro Dario Argento is best known for his Animal Trilogy (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’ Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet) and Three Mothers trilogy (Suspiria, Inferno, Mother of Tears), but some of my favorites of his are standalone features, which is where PHENOMENA fits in.
The film stars Jennifer Connelly a year before Labyrinth, as Jennifer, a teenager sent by her famous filmmaker father to the Richard Wagner Academy for Girls in Switzerland. A school for girls named after a man? Always a bad omen.
We quickly discover that Jennifer is torn from the pages of a Stephen King novel. Like Firestarter or Carrie or what have you, Jennifer has a gift — insects of all kinds don’t ever bite her. Nay, they love her, they are aroused by her. They will do her bidding.
Insert pregnant, discomfiting pause here.
As screenwriting fate would have it, Jennifer finds herself in a town with an enthusiastic entomologist (played by Hall of Fame actor Donald Pleasance) and his trusty/violent chimp Inga (played by Hall of Fame actor Tanga), both striving to solve a series of macabre murders by a skin-crawling killer.
It must be said that Tanga, a chimpanzee with a scary butt and even scarier acting talent, deserves an Oscar for her riveting performance, even if she may have bitten off part of Connelly’s finger in the climactic, wonderfully insane final scene.
In Argento’s twisted mind, reality is a slippery surface forever out of reach — we flit from dreams to reality, from Italian to English, from sane to insane at the whims of a fly. And for at least one viewer, it all makes a disturbing amount of sense.
Given that the East Coast is in the throes of cicada mania, it’s the perfect time for a maggoty movie beyond compare, a good old-fashioned bug romp to further illustrate that insects will outlast us all.
Throw in Argento fave Daria Nicolodi channeling her inner Pamela Voorhees, the most anxiety-inducing scene of adolescent bullying since Carrie and music from a goth-rock band called Andi Sex Gang, and you have yourself the perfect diabolic date night movie.