Phenomena is a murder mystery with fantastical elements set in the Swiss Alps. Although Dario Argento is notorious for his art house Giallo masterpieces, he has also made fun horror films — visual horror sleaze at its best.
Phenomena is one of Dario Argento’s best works that gets overshadowed by the more prominent Suspiria. That is why I decided to compile a list of some fun and brutal tidbits about the film.
Phenomena Brutal Tidbits List
THE QUEEN OF THE FLIES
- Jennifer Connelly plays a girl who sleepwalks at her new school; she may have a split personality, but her second personality has the psychic ability to connect with telepathic insects, as in, they do her bidding. Flies, butterflies, maggots – they all love her!
- The actress gives a moving performance as a strong-willed girl with supernatural powers, who befriends an older scientist. The jealous girls at school try to bully her because she’s the beautiful daughter of a movie star, but she calls down a rain of flies on the estate. Back off, ya’ll!
DR. LOOMIS IS A BUG SCIENTIST
- Donald Pleasence, who starred as the iconic Dr. Loomis in Halloween, plays a forensic entomologist, an expert on insects; the relationship between Professor McGregor and Connelly is wholesome and absolutely endearing. He is a kind, disabled scientist, who wants to bring the murderer, who is killing girls at the school to justice; he encourages Connelly and confirms that she has psychic abilities and calls her, ‘a great detective’. The hardest part in the film is watching him die — stabbed in the stomach by Frau Brückner wearing a man’s hat and jacket in disguise.
- The iconic actor starred in a number of legendary shows over his career, such as The Twilight Zone ,The Outer Limits and Colombo; he played a murderer in Colombo, so, of course, he’s caught and punished because Colombo is King. But the coolest fact about Pleasence is that he hosted the Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live in 1981, when the musical guest was the punk rock band Fear.
Phenomena – Fiore Argento – Courtesy of DACFILM Rome
- Fiore Argento is Dario’s daughter from his first marriage to Marisa Casale, a glass maker. In the infamous opening scene (which serves as her IMDB headshot) of the film, she’s stabbed in the stomach and her head smashes through a glass pane window in grueling, slow motion.
- The killer beheads her and throws her head into a waterfall. Fortunately, the beheading takes place offscreen, by the unknown murderer.
- Is it symbolic that Argento essentially murders his daughter with shattering glass, considering that his ex-wife and mother of his child — was a Master glass maker? In fact, death by glass is a trademark of Argento’s films; people smash-fall through windows: impaled, penetrated, gouged, and some victims even walk through shattered glass, a creepy coincidence.
- Perhaps his ex-wife’s glass restoration became a part of his psyche? Horror is about our common fears, living in a glass maker’s house, around dangerous glass and young children running about, secretly worried Argento?
HEAVY METAL GOBLINS
- The Phenomena soundtrack includes music by progressive rock band Goblin, Iron Maiden and Motorhead. Many critics hated the use of heavy metal music, finding it jarring, but some millennial horror fans may enjoy discovering it.
- Motorhead plus Iron Maiden plus Goblin is gold, baby! Goblin collaborated with Argento in Deep Red and Suspiria — two of his most successful films, but their last collaboration was in 2001.
Phenomena -Getty – Dario Argento (Dracula 3D)
Phenomena had 7 taglines that are still entertainingly apt:
- Jennifer Has A Few Million Close Friends. She’s Going To Need Them All.
- It Will Make Your Skin Crawl.
- When Insects Attack!
- From Dario Argento the Master of Terror.
- Evil is alive and killing.
- A new breed of terror.
- A nightmare ALIVE!
90’S VIDEO GAME
- The Japanese 1996 video game Clock Tower, a survival horror adventure game inspired by Phenomena .
- The character of Jennifer Simpson is clearly based on Connelly’s supernatural, fly-whispering protagonist. Jennifer Simpson looks exactly like Jennifer Connelly, minus wardrobe differences.
- Video game developer Hifumi Kono loved horror films and wanted to create a game in homage to Phenomena. Clock Tower was successful enough that it was rereleased in 2011 on the Playstation Network.
WOMEN CAN KILL TOO, YA KNOW
- Phenomena features a homicidal maniac — a woman, a common twist in Argento’s work, played by his wife, Daria Nicolodi. Her character was sexually assaulted and a child conceived from the attack, symbolically bearing the mark of tragedy.
- The boy was born with a deformed face, like a boiled lobster with teeth. In a shocking moment, Connelly discovers him standing in the corner of a room, crying, as if punished for something bad, but when he turns around — his face is a horrid red mess — maggots, crawling out of his gaping mouth. Terrifying! But it’s the sound of the poor boy crying…that is particularly unsettling.
Phenomena – Daria Nicolodi – Courtesy of DAC Films Rome
DARIA LOVED DARIO
- Daria Nicolodi, who stars in the film as the protective but homicidal Frau Brückner, divorced Argento in 1985, the year the film opened, which means they were most likely struggling as a couple during the production, which may explain her wicked laugh by the Poltergeist pool.
- The actress fell in love with Dario while filming Deep Red in 1974 and starred in his next four films: Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena, and Opera. Suspiria was based on her childhood.
- Nicolodi swears in print…that the witches in Suspiria were based on real people. In the film, she’s a hot mess of a woman; she’s the murdering psychopath, who keeps the dead close to her with a secret death pool in her dungeon, filled with rotting corpses and maggots. In the end, similar to Pamela Voorhees, she attempts to murder Connelly, blaming her for the death of her grotesque son, after a cloud of flies, loyal to the Queen of Bugs, swarm him to death.
- Mrs. Bruckner is a tragic character, for certain. When the detective questions her in the third act, he brutally asks her, if she remembers her assault, and she opens her blouse to reveal an angry, red scar from the attack. Egads, Phenomena is like a Southern Gothic horror novel, but worse, far worse, for the woman attacked becomes the attacker. Also, what’s up with the detective asking intrusive questions like that, yo?
DON’T LOOK NOW — IT’S A CREEPY KID
- The 1973 film, Don’t Look Now, starring Donald Sutherland includes a scene, where a child turns around to reveal a grossly deformed face – like the wretched boy in Phenomena. Nothing is more terrifying than this trope! Not even the spooky baby crying in Prevenge! Cringe forever, man.
Phenomena (1985) – Courtesy of DAC Film Rome
MONKEY SHINES IN THE SWISS ALPS
- There’s a homicidal chimp in the movie — the adorable monkey Inga bit a chunk of Jennifer Connelly’s finger off and Connelly was rushed to the hospital to have the finger reattached.
- Argento had asked Connelly to rest her hand on the monkey to prevent her from turning around, but the monkey flew into rage and attacked her.
- After that, the monkey disliked Connelly and apparently waited until she had an opportunity to attack Connelly again, but you’d never know from the way the two cuddle-hug at the end of the film.
- In the Synapse version of the film, Jennifer tells her roommate that her mother abandoned the family on Christmas Day. This is a true story based on Argento’s childhood.
WE ALMOST HAD A SEQUEL
- Phenomena is one of Dario Argento’s favorite films. He planned on shooting a sequel in 2001, but it was canceled due to a contract issue with Medusa Films. Maybe we’ll get lucky in the future.
Phenomena is streaming on Shudder and Amazon Prime, although they are different versions; the curated Shudder pick is the international, 110 minute version from Synapse films, with 30 minutes of additional footage, not featured in the 1986 American release, Creepers.
However, the one on Amazon has three minutes of accidentally un-dubbed footage of Daria Nicolodi and Jennifer Connelly screaming at each other in Italian. Be sure to watch them…back to back, on a dark night.
Do you like Dario Argento films? What fun facts or tidbits do you know about Phenomena? Feel free to share your answers in the comments section!