Dario Argento’s “Phenomena” (1985)

Similar to the theme about the young woman with psychic powers in Stephen King’s Carrie, this above-par occult horror film stars Jennifer Connelly as Jennifer Carvino, a fragile-looking waif whose unusual power to control insects comes in handy when she is psychologically brutalized in a nightmarish Swiss boarding school. Two vicious teachers and students who constantly taunt her out of jealousy (her father is a famous movie star), make Jennifer’s life at school an inferno. When she calls on her insect friends for help, the school becomes victimized by swarms of nasty flies. But in the meantime, more serious evil is afoot in the mountains: some sort of monster is murdering young girls and the only one who seems even close to catching the killer is a wheelchair-bound scientist who specializes in insects (Donald Pleasance). He has the bright idea of unleashing a “sarcophagus fly” that will find decaying corpses and thereby lead Jennifer to the dead victims and it is assumed, the killer as well. Director Dario Argento’s trademark dream/nightmare sequences add their own horrific content to the story, and the few plot holes here and there are offset by some mind-numbing images that are expected by any cognoscenti of this genre.

This is easily a film that would have been dismissed as “Satanic”  during the 80’s, and the possibility is addressed within the film itself.  After the infamous fly scene, Jennifer visits with the scientist and discusses how she was accused of being “diabolical” by her classmates.  The scientist scoffs, reminding us that the real evil is the killer who has not yet been caught.  I’d like to think this is Argento’s way of telling us that evil is often misconstrued by people, especially with the Satanic Panic being in full swing.  Movies, music, books, games, comics, television shows, you name it… they were all easily dismissed as Satanic in the 80’s.  It must seem silly to younger readers, but it really did happen.  I grew up in a very religious “Born Again” family, and something like this would never have been allowed, but kudos to Dario Argento for knowing he faced this sort of nonsense and addressing it in his movie.  It’s a classic of the genre!

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