Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Posted by Octopunk
In this Dario Argento flick, Jennifer Connelly plays a young girl whose mysterious ability to command insects might be the key to finding the serial killer stalking a Swiss boarding school for girls. This is actually Connelly’s first movie role, and fans of her “resigned ennui” acting style (see JPX’s Dark Water review) will thrill to see her early steps in the mastery of her craft. Here’s one now:
Unbelievable that it took 16 more years for her to get an Oscar, isn’t it? Now watch this!
She looked over there! Isn't that great?
Okay, okay, that’s an easy dig. I actually like Jennifer Connelly. It's just that, like many Italian movies, Phenomena seems like Argento was directing with one hand and using the other to have phone sex with Sophia Loren while smoking a cigarette and eating a small plate of cheeses. Some stiffness on the part of the lead makes sense. So does the plot wandering around at certain points, but at least it’s a diverting trip. After Jennifer sleepwalks out of her dorm room, the school’s arch headmistress Frau Bruckner (horses neigh) insists on an EEG to investigate this flagrant violation of normalcy. When the girl protests, a lab-coated old shrink who’s inexplicably on the school staff suggests that her sleepwalking might be an emergent multiple personality. Where is this plotline going, you ask? Nowhere! There are vague suggestions that Jennifer be institutionalized because the Swiss bitch keeps saying “but it’s not normal!”, but the idea is sidelined so we can chase serial killers and hang out at Donald Pleasance’s house. My little sister used to sleepwalk; I’ll have to ask her about that new personality thing.
Pleasance plays an entomologist who lives nearby, dispensing wisdom from his wheelchair with a questionable Scottish brogue. He befriends the alienated girl and sets her on the detective’s path before he himself gets a visit from the killer. After that it’s down to Inga, his chimpanzee nurse – fortunately, he got one of those full-service helper monkeys whose duties include razor-wielding revenge.
Like many 80’s movies, Phenomena boasts a soundtrack that’s far more in your face than it needs to be, featuring tunes by Motorhead, Iron Maiden and good old horror movie regulars Goblin. My favorite musical choice was the pulse-pounding dance music playing while Jennifer slooowly follows a firefly into the night. The same mismatch happens again later, while she’s trying to get her hands on a phone that’s out of reach; it’s a suspenseful scene, but it’s not action packed. Nevertheless, the music is going “DUNtaDUNtaDUNtaDUNta” and the guitar riffs haven’t even dropped in yet.
Phenomena is a bit slow and silly in parts, but it’s quite watchable. Although after viewing this and Argento’s Cat O’ Nine Tails this year, I’ve realized I’ll need to pursue his work more aggressively in future horrorthons. Because I know he’s got work out there that feels more like – and forgive me for saying this – actual movies.
at 11:00 AM