If you were to take a poll among diehard fans of the horror genre and ask them what their favorite Dario Argento film is, it’s highly probable that Suspiria would be at the very top of the list. It’s not hard to understand why that is the case. After all, Suspiria is an excellent horror movie. However, there’s a strong argument to be made that Argento’s true masterpiece is the incredibly underrated horror-fantasy hybrid Phenomena.
The film’s simplistic plot meshes perfectly with its otherworldly elements. Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly), the teenage daughter of a famous actor, is sent to a prestigious European boarding school in a small town that happens to be occupied by a violent serial killer. As the bodies begin to pile up, Jennifer enlists the help of millions of insects that she communicates with telepathically, as well as a disabled doctor (Donald Pleasence) and his chimpanzee assistant, Inga.
What’s so fantastic about Phenomena is that it is played almost completely straight despite all of its wackiness. Argento isn’t winking at the audience when Jennifer and Inga — armed with a straight razor — go head-to-head with the murderous lunatic. He’s dead serious, and that’s the kind of tone that makes the movie so incredible. Connelly’s excellent, understated performance as a young girl who is wise beyond her years gives the film the kind of teenage heroine that doesn’t often exist in these kinds of movies. It really is something special, as is the movie as a whole.
Three different versions of the film are included in the two-disc Blu-ray release from Synapse Films, including the 116-minute and 110-minute versions of Phenomena, as well as the 85-minute United States cut retitled Creepers. As should be obvious given the fact that there are over thirty minutes cut from the longest to the shortest, each version is significantly different from the other.
Undoubtedly the most substantial piece of supplement material here is the documentary Dario Argento’s World of Horror. Clocking in at 70 minutes in length, the archival documentary explores the career of the iconic filmmaker in significant detail. Other bonus features included in the release are an audio commentary track with author Derek Botelho and film historian David Del Valle, an archival interview with musician Andi Sex Gang, a theatrical trailer for Phenomena, a theatrical trailer for Creepers, and radio spots for Creepers.
This has been an excellent year as far as boutique Blu-ray releases of genre films go, and the Synapse Films release of Phenomena ranks high on the list. Having all three versions of the film together in one package is nice, and they look and sound wonderful here. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Argento or looking to dive into the director’s filmography, this is a release that you absolutely must add to your collection.
Phenomena arrives on Blu-ray through Synapse Films on September 12th.