Movies You May Have Missed: Phenomena aka Creepers (1985)

Before Jennifer Connelly danced with David Bowie, before she flew around looking like Betty Page with a guy in a jet pack, before she went A2A….she teamed up with Dr. Loomis, a chimp, and used her psychic connection with insects to hunt a serial killer at an Italian girl’s school. No really. That’s Phenomena.
As many young actors (and some Christopher Walkens) do, Jennifer took just about any job she could get early in her career. It’s a perfectly understandable method. There’s some actors who turn down work, but the only ones successful at doing so are the ones famous enough to get away with that, like perhaps Jennifer is now. Well, in 1984, she was flown out to Italy to star in a movie directed by cult horror legend, Dario Argento.

Seriously, “Suspiria” made ballerinas scary decades before “Black Swan”.

These days, Argento is lauded and loved as one of the true artistes of Horror cinema. The suspense and atmosphere of his films are as uniquely recognizable as an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, or a Bob Ross landscape. You’ll be hard pressed to find a “Top 10 Best Horror Movies” list without “Suspiria” listed.

Back to the subject at hand. Argento had heard stories of police using insects during murder investigations and got to writing this film. It would seem that he blended this with his penchant for serial killers, animals, and the supernatural to give us what some, even the man himself consider his best film.

The movie begins simple enough. A tourist is stranded at a beautiful roadside vista in the middle of the forest. She finds a house in the woods, the camera flips back and forth from her to some beastly thing chained to a wall and trying to break free, it does, she dies and is beheaded. The head is found, and brought, by police, to etymologist, Dr. McGregor (Donald Pleasence) who looks at is and tells them the murder was about 8 months ago. Simple enough, right?
Cue Jennifer Corvino (Connelly), escorted by Head Mistress Frau Brückner arriving at the Richard Wagner Academy for Girls. Jennifer is the daughter of a famous actor who just so happens to be the crush of her room-mate, Sophie. On her first night at the dorm, she begins to sleepwalk. She goes out onto the roof of the school where she witnesses one of the students being murdered. In shock, she wakes, falls, and stumbles out into the street where she’s hit by a car. The two boys driving the car, pick her up, put her in, and drive away. At this point, I could never tell if she was just freaking out, or they were trying to rape her, but either way, they throw her out of the car in the middle of the woods where she tumbles down the side of the hill and is awakened by a rescue chimp.

Come with me if you want to live.

At this point, you can forget everything you’ve just watched except for Jennifer, Dr. McGregor, Frau Brückner, the murders, and the chimp. IMHO, the movie could have just started here and been fine.

Now we get to the nitty-gritty. The chimp, named “Inga” leads Jen back to Dr. McGregor’s house. He takes her in for the night, but notices that her presence has a strange effect on the insects in his lab. He tells her that some people possess a sort of telepathic connection with insects and it seems that in her excited state, that connection is exacerbated. The next morning, she makes her way back to the school where she is almost immediately subjected to testing for her somnambulism.
That very night, Sophie is murdered and once again, Jennifer sleepwalks. This time, she is guided by a firefly to a maggot covered glove which she reports only to then be mocked and ridiculed as a freak by her fellow school-mates because of her “supposed” connection to insects (children can be so cruel). She pulls a “Carrie” and summons a swarm of flies which covers the academy. Nobody gets hurt, just scared, then Jenny passes out. Only now, instead of fearing her, they just say she’s crazy and try to have her committed to the loony bin…..

Mom!! Can I have some chocolate milk!?
How ’bout some human flesh?!

Speaking of loony bins, that’s enough of the story for now. You really need to just watch this. It’s crazy, convoluted, kind of all over the place, it’s got psychic bug powers, a crazy germanic power-bitch school-marm, Loomis in a wheelchair, a homicidal helper-monkey, a dwarf dressed as a little boy who’s also a mutant-monster-thing, a lake on fire, a pit of maggoty body-parts and fluids….everything that you can ask for to enjoy with your popcorn on a lonely Saturday night.
Seriously, there is no way to logically explain this film to anyone. I thought I could, but ultimately, no. Can’t do it. It’s like trying to explain “Eraserhead”. You just have to watch it. It’s good, you enjoy it, but you simply can’t figure out why and every time you tell someone why they need to see it, you end up sounding like a buffoon……..wait…did I just insult myself?

Now, why oh why did I “aka” this film “Creepers”?
When release in the UK and US, the film companies didn’t know what to make of this film, much less what made the gore in it contextual, so a bit of it was cut. Also, the distributors didn’t feel that “Phenomena” was catchy enough or as easy to say. So they cut the heck out of what little cohesion the film had and a few of it’s more gory scenes, slapped the name “Creepers” on it and tossed it like a chewed up bone to the rest of the world’s theaters.
To date, if you wish to acquire your copy, there’s only one “complete”/”director’s” cut available on DVD in the US and that is the Anchor Bay release. There are two minor scenes cut from that edition, but they were done so at the behest of Dario Argento himself.
So now you know! Head over to your local DVD acquisition site and pick it up!

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