Phenomena (AV Channel) (1984)
Main Menu Audio
Interviews-Crew-Dario Argento (Director)
Interviews-Crew-Claudio Simonetti (Composer)
Featurette-Documentary: An Eye For Horror
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-2
Music Video-Claudio Simonetti
Music Video-Bill Wyman
Trailer-Argento Trailers - 5
|Year Of Production||1984|
|Running Time||109:56 (Case: 111)|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (59:02)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Dario Argento|
Dalila Di Lazzaro
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.66:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.66:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Dario Argento has a name synonymous with the macabre side of filmmaking, and as a director he has been responsible for some of the most notorious thrillers in the last fifty years. Argento's most well known films, Suspiria and Deep Red, are still being emulated almost 30 years after their production, and understandably so. The Italian director's unique style is instantly recognisable and combines amazing visual elements that lend themselves to an incredible visual atmosphere. In a trend that is similar to many other renowned horror directors, Argento spent much of his childhood alone and sick, learning to enjoy little interaction with other children. A keen reader from a very young age, he picked up a volume containing the works of morbid poet Edgar Allen Poe, which steered him in the direction we find him today.
Phenomena stars Jennifer Connelly as Jennifer - a young student who has been sent to an all-girl Swiss boarding school by her rich father. A number of young women have disappeared recently and a serial killer is cited as the culprit, making the atmosphere at the school tense to say the least. Jennifer's sleepwalking problem only makes matters worse, and the staff at the school are less than sympathetic with her condition - labelling her as a diabolic nuisance. While out for a stroll one evening she meets wheelchair bound entomologist McGregor (Donald Pleasence), an expert in the field of insects, who helps her realise her unique ability to relate and communicate freely with all kinds of creepy crawlies. With the help of the Doctor and his chimpanzee assistant, Jennifer hits upon a method to catch the killer using her little insect friends.
Argento's films aren't normally known for their quality acting performances, however Phenomena is certainly an exception. Donald Pleasence (Cul de Sac) and Jennifer Connelly (Dark City) are a superb pair on screen and each give very convincing performances throughout. Argento's wife at the time, Daria Nicolodi, appeared in a great deal of his films during this period and suffers a gruesome death in each and every one. Her final scenes in Phenomena are some of the most memorable of all Argento's films, and equally hilarious. The first assistant director of this film, Michele Soavi, gained a start in the industry under Argento and went on to make one of my all-time favourite zombie films, Dellamorte Dellamore starring Rupert Everett.
Very few directors seem to have such an instinctive ear for the use of music in their films, and I would concede that Quentin Tarantino has a similarity with Dario Argento in this respect. Prior to Phenomena, a majority of Argento's films were scored by the excellent 70s progressive rock band Goblin, but by the time this film had entered production Goblin had parted ways, so it was left to former Goblin member Claudio Simonetti to compose the film's theme. In addition to Simonetti's haunting contribution, Argento borrowed pieces of music from heavy metal legends Iron Maiden and Motorhead to complete the film's soundtrack.
Having an entomologist in the plot of the film opens the door for all manner of gross-out scenes involving maggots and creepy crawlies. In fact, the film's English title was originally changed to Creepers without Argento's consent, and much to his dismay - it is pretty lame compared to Phenomena, after all. Connelly reportedly had no problems shooting the film with her insect co-stars and was completely comfortable working with them. Weird!
Phenomena is a good horror film and was quite popular upon release in Europe and particularly in Japan, where it made Connelly an overnight star. This isn't the best film from Argento's career, but his beautiful style and the great performances of the two leads makes this well above average for this genre. More of Argento's films are on the way for Region 4, so hail to Umbrella and the AV Channel for finally bringing us these classic films uncut.
This film has been transferred to DVD in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is unfortunately not 16x9 enhanced.
Sharpness and general clarity is adequate, and I have no doubt that this is the best condition we have seen this film in in Australia since its cinema run. There are many examples of solid blacks in this transfer and shadow detail remains consistently good throughout.
Compression artefacts are nowhere to be seen, as they should be. A little grain can be seen here and there, but the most visible and eye-catching grain is evident during the slow motion special effects shot at 6:16. The print that has been used for this transfer is relatively clean aside from two noticeable artefacts; a large black speck at 53:35 and a water mark in the centre of the frame at 83:15. Aliasing is well controlled and doesn't present any real problems during the film.
There is no subtitle stream on this disc. There are several lines of what I presume is German during the film but they are not translated at all.
This disc is RSDL formatted (DVD9), with the layer transition placed during the feature at 59:02. The transitional pause is noticeably placed in a scene change that omits part of Pleasence's dialogue. To be specific, the first half of the word "diabolic" is omitted during the layer transition. I tested this layer change on several machines and found the result to be the same, regardless of brand or buffer.
There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo) soundtrack included, encoded at 224Kb/s. A filmmaker's commentary is also selectable via the extras menu, and is encoded at a slightly higher bitrate than the feature's audio.
Vocal delivery is always distinct but is sometimes let down by the limited fidelity of the source material. A significant amount, if not all of the dialogue in this film has been re-recorded in post production. ADR sync is okay most of the time, and pretty bad on some occasions.
The soundtrack itself is in good condition and is relatively problem free, with very few pops or clicks to be worried about. The main issue here is a low output level and lack of clarity. For an example of what I mean, compare the main menu audio of the Iron Maiden song to any of the moments it is used in the film.
The soundtrack score by Claudio Simonetti is a melodic and haunting blend of operatic vocals and rock instruments. The score is used perfectly to guide the viewer through the emotional highs and lows, while the contributions from Iron Maiden and Motorhead are perfect for their chosen scenes.
There are many examples of stereo panning in the soundtrack, such as the distinct scream from the left channel at 92:05. A remix similar to the Anchor Bay releases of Argento's Opera and Susperia would have been awesome.
Surround processing did nothing to enhance this stereo soundtrack.
|Surround Channel Use|
A good selection of bonus features are included on the disc. All are presented without 16x9 enhancement unless otherwise noted.
The menu system is static and includes 16x9 enhancement. The main menu is accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 audio of the classic Iron Maiden song Flash Of The Blade in its entirety (256Kb/s).
This is an informative and entertaining commentary, with some very interesting insights into the making of this film and its score. All four of the gents speak in English, and although some of them do have problems with the odd word and phrase the commentary flows quite smoothly. Argento discusses his disappointment with the original releases of the film in the United States that were retitled and cut without his consent. The similarities between this and Argento's earlier film Suspiria are also raised, which Argento puts down to his obsession with strict all-girl schools. I was most surprised to hear Argento comment that he likes bits and pieces of his films, however he is generally dissatisfied with his efforts as a filmmaker and could not name a single film in his career that he likes from beginning to end.
The film's creator discusses how the premise for the story came about, and what key themes he intended to convey through the plot. Argento speaks in his native Italian here, while an English translation speaks over the top of him.
Claudio briefly explains his former role in the progressive rock band Goblin, and his delight in the film's main theme. This is also in Italian, with an English translation.
This is a well made documentary, following the life and career of Argento from his childhood, through his work as a movie critic and into his early work in the industry as a script writer for Sergio Leoni. Each of his major feature films are touched upon, as well as a number of his more obscure projects and collaborations. An array of recognisable celebrities lend themselves to this biography, including filmmakers John Carpenter and George Romero, actor Michael Brandon, his ex-wife and former muse Daria Nicolodi, actress Jessica Harper and horror fan Alice Cooper. Members of his family also offer their thoughts on his visual style, enduring popularity and work ethic, most notably his brother Claudio and daughters Asia and Fiore. This doco is presented in an aspect of 1.78:1 but is unfortunately not 16x9 enhanced.
This is in fact two short featurettes joined together, each covering different aspects of the special effects.
The video quality here is pretty poor, but the direction by Argento is unmistakable. The entire video has a washed out sepia tone, with lots of analogue video grain. A lot of this footage isn't present in the film and was likely to have been shot specifically for this promotional piece.
The first assistant director Michele Soavi directed this promo video, using excerpts from the feature and moody shots of Wyman holding his bass guitar. Although the musical piece works well in the film, as a four minute tune it's pretty monotonous stuff.
This is a typical trailer of the period that gives away a little of the plot of the film, but focuses more on the shocking imagery contained therein.
The Phenomena theatrical trailer is also playable on this page. Trailers for other must-see Argento films The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat 'O Nine Tails, Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) and Tenebrae are also included. Only the Deep Red trailer is 16x9 enhanced.
The Region 2 UK release is also non-anamorphic, but has only mono audio.
The European Region 2 release by Medusa has an anamorphic video transfer, with no English audio. English subtitles are included, and the feature has a slightly longer runtime of 111 minutes (PAL). Judging by other reviews, the additional footage is pretty superficial and of no real concern.
The German 2-disc release by Dragon is reportedly the same longer cut as the Medusa, with basically the same features as our R4.
Region 1 wins for now, however it is clear that a definitive release of this film on DVD is yet to surface.
The video transfer is decent, but lacks 16x9 enhancement.
The audio transfer is faithful to the original stereo effort, but deserves at least a six channel remix.
There are a good selection of extras on offer.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-525, using Component output|
|Display||Panasonic TX76PW10A 76cm Widescreen 100Hz. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Denon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.|