Phenomena (released in English-speaking countries edited as Creepers) is a 1985 Italian giallo/ supernatural horror film directed by Dario Argento and starring Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, and Donald Pleasence. Its plot focuses on a girl at a remote Swiss boarding school who discovers she has psychic powers that allow her to communicate with insects and uses them to pursue a serial killer who is butchering young women at and around the school.
|Directed by||Dario Argento|
|Produced by||Dario Argento|
|Edited by||Franco Fraticelli|
After its release in Italy, Phenomena was purchased for distribution in the United States by New Line Cinema, who excised over 20 minutes of the original cut, releasing it under the alternate title Creepers. This shortened version was also released in the United Kingdom the following year in the spring of 1986.
After missing a bus in the Swiss countryside, a 14-year-old Danish tourist, Vera Brandt, tries looking for help. She comes across a home and is attacked by a stranger, who proceeds to behead her with scissors.
Eight months later, Jennifer Corvino, the American daughter of a famous actor, arrives at the Swiss Richard Wagner Academy for Girls, chaperoned by Frau Brückner, who places her with roommate Sophie. While sleepwalking through the academy and out onto the roof, Jennifer witnesses a student being murdered. She awakens and falls, fleeing and becoming lost in the woods. Forensic entomologist John McGregor's chimpanzee, Inga, finds her and leads her to him. Witnessing her apparent interaction with his insects, McGregor comes to believe she has a special gift for telepathy with them. Inspector Rudolf Geiger is on the case alongside McGregor. 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.
Following a tryst the same night, Sophie is murdered and Jennifer sleepwalks again. When she goes outside, a firefly leads her to a maggot-infested glove. The next day, she shows it to McGregor, who identifies the maggots as Great Sarcophagus flies, which are drawn to decaying human flesh. He theorises that the killer has been keeping his victims close to him post-mortem, unintentionally collecting the larvae on himself whilst physically interacting with the victims. They are dealing with a psychopath.
Later, when the other students taunt Jennifer for her connection to insects, she summons a swarm of flies that covers the entire building, then faints. Convinced that Jennifer is "diabolic" and possibly responsible for the killings, the headmistress arranges for her to be transferred to a mental hospital. Jennifer flees to McGregor's home. He gives her a glass case with a Great Sarcophagus fly and suggests she use it to track the murderer. The fly leads her to the same house Vera had found earlier and Geiger talks with the real estate agent.
That night, McGregor is murdered in his home. With nowhere left to go, Jennifer calls her father's lawyer Morris Shapiro for help. He alerts Brückner, who offers to let the girl stay at her house overnight. Brückner insists that Jennifer take pills before she goes to bed; when she does so, she becomes sick and assuming that the pills were poisonous, coughs them up. She attempts to call Morris but is knocked unconscious by Brückner. Geiger arrives and is attacked by Brückner.
After waking, Jennifer engineers her escape through a large hole in the floor that leads into a basement. There, she falls in a pool infested with maggots and dead bodies. Geiger is in the room, above Jennifer, struggling to free himself from chains attached to his wrists. Brückner taunts Jennifer, but Geiger frees himself and furiously beats Brückner long enough to let Jennifer escape.
Jennifer passes a room from which she hears sobbing. She finds Brückner's son, who has a hideously deformed face; the result of a rape when Brückner was in a psychiatric asylum. He chases Jennifer onto a motorboat and tries to kill her, but she summons a swarm of flies that attack him, causing him to fall into the water. Jennifer is also forced to jump into the water as the motorboat explodes, whereupon the child grabs her, but he is eventually killed. Jennifer reaches the shore just as Morris appears. An severely injured and disfigured Brückner decapitates him from behind with a metal sheet and then leans over Jennifer, threatening her with the same fate before madly confessing that she murdered McGregor and Geiger out of fear that harm would have befallen her and her son. A wrathful Inga attacks Brückner and brutally kills her with a straight-razor in retribution for her beloved master.
With the ordeal over, Jennifer and Inga embrace.
- Jennifer Connelly as Jennifer Corvino
- Daria Nicolodi as Frau Brückner
- Dalila Di Lazzaro as Headmistress
- Patrick Bauchau as Inspector Rudolf Geiger
- Donald Pleasence as Professor John McGregor
- Tanga as Inga
- Fiore Argento as Vera Brandt
- Federica Mastroianni as Sophie
- Gaspare Capparoni as Karl
- Fiorenza Tessari as Gisela Sulzer
- Mario Donatone as Morris Shapiro
- Francesca Ottaviani as Nurse
- Michele Soavi as Kurt, Geiger's assistant
- Franco Trevisi as Real Estate Agent
- Davide Marotta as Frau Brückner's son
Unlike Argento's previous films, Phenomena adopts a mid-1980s trend of containing popular songs in the soundtrack. This includes original compositions from artists such as Bill Wyman and Claudio Simonetti, with the solo soprano voice of Pina Magri, heavy metal music by artists like Iron Maiden as well as goth favorites such as Sex Gang Children.  The band Goblin is credited as contributing to the score, including two cues from their score from Dawn of the Dead, which are faintly heard when the character Sophie watches television in the film as well as a handful of original themes recorded for the film and credited to the group.
Cinevox released the soundtrack to the film in 1985 on vinyl, which included parts of the film's score and the rock music tracks. A compact disc edition was released by Cinevox in 1987. Enigma Records issued a vinyl release in 1985 bearing the Creepers title in the United States.
In 2018, the complete soundtrack was released for the first time by Waxwork Records on a double LP. It included alternate, bonus, and unused tracks.
Phenomena was released theatrically in Italy on 31 January 1985 with a 116-minute running time. This version of Phenomena is often referred to as the "integral cut". A shorter version of the film was prepared for international release that had a 110-minute running time. This version of the film only cuts out minor material from the "integral cut" with most being a few frames at the end and beginning of shots.
In the United States, the film was acquired for distribution by New Line Cinema, who released it on 30 August 1985 under the alternative title Creepers. This version of the film was truncated to 83 minutes, with scenes cut entirely and other scenes being re-ordered. Creepers also had music segue between scenes where previously they had no music and the loss of the song "Locomotive" by Motörhead. Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films described Creepers as being the last of Argento's films to receive "any kind of meaningful theatrical release" in the United States. The film was released in the United Kingdom in its shortened cut as Creepers in April 1986.
Jon Pareles of The New York Times reviewed the Creepers cut of the film, finding that it "creaks along for its first hour or so, failing to work up any chills" and found the acting poor, writing that "The best acting is by an expressive, resourceful chimpanzee - definitely the year's Best Supporting Primate." Kim Newman (Monthly Film Bulletin) said the film contained "astonishingly awful performances" and that the dialogue contained several unintentionally humorous lines, which Newman attributed to a language problem. Newman discussed the film's look and style, opining that "Argento's films have their stylishness to fall back on, but here he is experimenting with a washed-out blue look influenced by Possession that works in short scenes but becomes wearying after a few minutes". Newman commented that Argento "goes for sickness after the manner of Lucio Fulci", noting gross-out scenes involving vomiting and violent deaths of actors portrayed by Argento's daughter and wife. The Guardian declared that Creepers was "Argento at his most throw away" and that the film paled in comparison to earlier efforts such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) or Suspiria (1977). Commenting on the acting, the review stated that "Pleasence does his best with the script, Jennifer Connelly doesn't even bother to do battle".
The New York Daily News published a review in which they deemed Creepers "a boring, poorly told exercise in gratuitous nausea and Grand Guignol gore, padded with seemingly interminable stretches of static filler," though they conceded that it "boasts a semi-original premise for a slasher movie." The Times found that the film contained traces of previous Argento films, "But the march of time and commercial success seem to have dulled the director's previous panache: Creepers just drags its feet from one absurdity to the next." The Sunday Times found Creepers "only intermittently frightening" and an audience with "a taste for discreetly revealed schoolgirl thigh and/or insects will not be completely disappointed".
Malcolm Johnson of the Hartford Courant criticized some of the film's special effects, but concluded: "Otherwise, Argento displays his customary skill at horror chic. He plays Old World elegance against horrific sights as electronic scoring and macabre rock songs by Bill Wyman, Iron Maiden, and others give Creepers a loud, mad buzz."
In retrospective reviews, John Kenneth Muir discussed the film in his overview of horror films from the 1980s, finding Phenomena to be "unusual" as well as "strangely stirring", and that the imagery in the film is "nothing short of amazing, even if the narrative is muddled."
Creepers was released in the United States on VHS and Betamax in 1986 by Media Home Entertainment. This release still had the shorter theatrical run time. By March 29, Creepers entered Billboard's Top Videocassettes Rentals chart. This chart was compiled from a national sample of retail store rental reports. By April 5, the release was at number 29 in the charts.
The film was first released on DVD in North America by Anchor Bay Entertainment as Phenomena, where it used the 110 minute version of the film. Synapse Films released the film on Blu-ray in the United States on 15 November 2016, which included the shorter version titled Creepers as well as the 116 and 110 minute versions of Phenomena. Arrow Video released Phenomena in the United Kingdom in 2017 including the integral version, the international cut and the Creepers version. Arrow's Blu-ray was among the top ten top-selling home video releases in the United Kingdom on its initial release. In February 2022, Arrow reissued the film in 4K UHD Blu-ray format in three different limited editions, each featuring alternate artwork; one of the editions, available only through Arrow's online store, features artwork bearing the Creepers title. Synapse Films also reissued a 4K UHD Blu-ray in North America.
- Newman, Kim (May 1986). "Phenomena (Creepers)". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 53, no. 628. p. 152.
- "Creepers Italian 2p '85 Dario Argento's Phenomena, best art of Jennifer Connelly by Sciotti". www.emovieposter.com. Retrieved 2 August 2017.
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- Newman, Kim (May 1986). "Phenomena (Creepers)". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 53, no. 628. p. 152.
Phenomena is Dario Argento's first film to be shot and written in English
- Howarth 2015, p. 121.
- Howarth 2015, p. 122.
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