Horror Movie Review: Phenomena (1985)

Phenomena is a 1985 Italian giallo-horror film directed and co-written by Dario Argento.

After missing a bus in the Swiss countryside, a 14-year-old Danish tourist, Vera Brandt, tries looking for help. She comes across a cottage and is attacked and beheaded by a stranger. Eight months later, her case is being inspected by forensic entomologist John McGregor and Inspector Rudolf Geiger of the Kantonspolizei. They note that Brandt is but the first of a series of murders against young girls, including McGregor’s former assistant.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Corvino, the daughter of a famous American actor, arrives at the Swiss Richard Wagner Academy for Girls. Chaperoned by Frau Brückner, she places Jennifer with roommate Sophie. While sleepwalking through the academy and out onto the roof, Jennifer witnesses a student being murdered. She awakens and flees into the woods, where McGregor’s chimpanzee, Inga, finds her and leads her to him. Upon noticing the affection his captive insects have for Jennifer, McGregor comes to believe that she has a telepathic link with them. Back at the academy, the headmistress has Jennifer medically tested via EEG for her sleepwalking. The procedure makes Jennifer uneasy when she gets brief visions of the previous night’s events.

The following night, the murderer kills Sophie, mistaking her for Jennifer as she is wearing the same sweater she wore when she witnessed the prior murder. Jennifer sleepwalks again and is led by a firefly to the scene of Sophie’s death. There she finds a maggot-infested glove. She shows it to McGregor, who identifies the maggots as the larvae of Great Sarcophagus flies. They are drawn to decaying human flesh. He theorises that the killer is a necrophile who has been keeping his victims close to him post-mortem. Thus, unintentionally collecting the maggots on himself.

Later, when the other students taunt Jennifer over her connection to insects, she summons a swarm of flies that covers the entire building, then faints.

Can Jennifer figure out what’s going on before the murderer comes for her too? Watch and find out.

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If you ever thought that Labyrinth was Jennifer Connelly’s weirdest movie then you haven’t seen what she filmed just a year earlier.

At the very least you know if Dario Argento is at the helm then you’re going to be rewarded for your patience and be in for a memorable as hell ending. Unfortunately, you definitely do need patience this time around. With a near 2 hour runtime you’re lead through an interesting albeit very slow paced film. Unlike Suspiria, Phenomena lacks the striking colour palette and visuals. Set against the back drop of the Swiss Alps, there’s sights to be seen but nothing that pop like his usual works.

Despite the insane ending, the rest of the film has very tame horror elements. There’s a lot more that could have been done with Jennifer’s insect power. But I guess the only thing trainable was flies.

The acting is hit and miss throughout but Jennifer Connelly certainly does incredible with the physicality of it all. And she does so with grace and skill. Her co-star, Donald Pleasance, acts well too. He has decent chemistry with Jennifer and works very well with the chimp.

Overall, warts and all, this is definitely an Argento movie. From the randomly placed and hilarious Italian dubbing to the memorable ending and never knowing what’s coming next. A unique experience as always.


  • Sally Powell

    Editor/Writer - Stay at home mum educating the horror minds of tomorrow. If it's got vampires or Nicolas Cage in it, I'm sold. Found cleaning bums or kicking ass in an RPG. (And occasionally here reviewing all things horror and gaming related!)

  • The Final Score - 6/10
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