Originally released in Italy a whole 30 years ago today, Phenomena is generally seen as one of Dario Argento's last great movies (his next film, Opera, being sometimes described as the beginning of the end). It doesn't seem to be as highly regarded as now canonical works such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria (and by extension, the more underrated Inferno) and Tenebre, where Argento was seen to be at the height of his powers. But for me personally, this film still feels very much like a director at his creative peak. Admittedly I am biased as this is my favourite Argento movie but I think it's with good reason, as I'll attempt to illustrate.
Before we continue, I should also say to anyone who hasn't taken the plunge into this director's work or the wider weird and wonderful world of Italian horror cinema that this is arguably an ideal place to start... in fact, and as I heard someone suggest recently, probably more so than the more lauded Suspiria, which can be a hard sell for some people. And assuming not everyone reading this has seen Phenomena, I'll try my best not to spoil some of the wonderful surprises contained within...
Set in Switzerland, the film opens with a young girl (played by Dario's eldest daughter Fiore) left stranded by a country road, after missing her bus. As she walks off to find assistance, a jaw dropping crane shot begins, the camera climbing over tall trees as the credits roll. As it passes over the tops we see the girl heading towards an isolated house. The accompanying music, beautiful but icy and eerie, imbues the whole landscape with a sense of mystery and potential menace. When she reaches the house, this suggestion practically becomes a promise as we see chains attached to a wall being pulled violently, threatening to come loose.
Needless to say (and this being the opening, it's not a spoiler), things don't end well for poor Vera Brandt. But about this introductory sequence I'll say no more as you really need to see it for yourself. For me, it's as audacious and spectacular an opening as any of Argento's best and gives a clear indication of the wild ride the viewer is in for.