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Phenomena (Blu-ray Review)

Synapse Films finally dropped their bombshell news we have been waiting almost five years for last week; the US Blu-ray release of their meticulous 4K remaster of Dario Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria. Lest ye not be forgotten, they do have another Argento classic coming to Blu-ray soon as well. Phenomena was released last year from them in a limited edition steelbook, but its general standard release is now coming from them. This one is basically the two Blu-rays from the limited edition in a standard amaray case.  You can grab this one from various retailers like Amazon rather than just the Synapse site or Diabolik. It’ll be released on September 12th (And you surely are the coolest if you pre-order yours from the link below). 

Film 

The young Jennifer Corvino is sent to a private Swiss academy for girls where a vicious killer is on the loose, brutally murdering students. Jennifer is a “gifted” girl with the strange ability to communicate with insects, and Dr. McGregor enlists her to help locate the killer. Jennifer finds herself in a bizarre murder plot with maggots, mutants, and razor-wielding chimpanzee mayhem! Can she uncover the killer’s identity before becoming a victim herself?

Following a one-two trip to the supernatural in Suspiria and Inferno, Dario Argento went back to his giallo roots with Tenebrae and then right back to supernatural in Phenomena. However, compared to all his films, this is one that really felt different. It didn’t look like the rest. Yes, there are common Argento things or revisits within this story, and it definitely has the Italian flare, but if you’re a fan of his work, this one is a standout for being its own among his catalog up to this point. It may be that its kind of a more commercial looking and feeling film, but it really feels he’s trying to do something a hair more friendly and commercial.

An aspect that really makes it more appealing to some and memorable is that he has two name actors in the fold for it. The young Jennifer Connelly is our lead her. And I must say, she’s much better here than she was in Labyrinth, which is her more known and popular child acting feature. Joining her in the fold is veteran actor and horror icon Donald Pleasence. He gets to have a pretty interesting part in the movie, though he’s confined to a chair and a house for most of it. But, it also has the distinction of being that movie where Donald Pleasance acted with a monkey. Argento regular Daria Nicolodi rounds out familiar faces in the cast, and once again cement another rather memorable role/moment in his catalog.

Phenomena’s soundtrack uses some metal songs to it, but Goblin is back in the fold. Dario Argento and Goblin are two peas in a pod. Its almost underwhelming if you don’t see Goblin (Or one of the band members from) in the opening credits. And this is for a filmmaker who started out with Ennio Morricone scoring his films. Goblin’s work here is a little more understated than their other contributions. It has a nice distinct and memorable sound though, and it honeslty could have been played more. The music is a mix of some synth and rockin music, with the synth sort of making me think of the insects in the movie.

While I think Phenomena is overall a popular film in the Argento catalog, some are divisive on it. There are things regarding the conclusion that some embrace and others don’t. Personally, its one of my favorites of his work and one that is a true standout. Not just from Argento, but there aren’t really many horror movies like it even today. One of the things I love about the film is the photography and how big this, honestly little, movie feels. Moments range from beautifully haunting to nightmarishly grotesque. The finale is a doozy in terms of this. Some say its Argento’s last “great” film. I don’t find that necessarily true as a few that followed this a pretty good in their own right. Phenomena is an interesting notch in a horror master’s filmography and one I’ve always enjoyed going back to.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Phenomena features a transfer with its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio intact. Now, I know Arrow sucked the air out of the balloon on this one not too long after its release by doing a 4K remaster, but this one from Synapse is no slouch and garnered some raves upon release. It features a crips, clean and very new feeling image. Details are really strong and the movie just looks like you’ve never seen it before. It really does give the photography for the film its fair due, with good attention its natural coloring and overall look. The film looks quite effective and right off the bat, you’ll really feel the scale of it as this one looks quite big and grand over all. For those unable to grab the Arrow release, don’t feel bad, you’re still getting a terrific product here.

Depth:  The image carries a pretty good multi-dimensional look as the foreground and background features a nice, loose separation. Movements are smooth and filmic in their performance. No distortions of any kind, blurring or jittering, came with the faster more raucous movements.

Black Levels: Blacks are very impressive in this image. They let on a very deep look, but the lighting work and shadows in the film are very well done as no details are lost and only enhanced. Jennifer Connelly’s dark hair still is able to show every follicle. No crushing witnessed during the watch for this film.

Color Reproduction: Colors hold on to a pretty natural look. Some very nice greens are on display in the yards, showing both bold leaves and bushes as well as the faded ones. Red of course looks quite nice on the gory, bloody murders. The color that might really impress most of all is white. There is a lot of usage of white via clothing or some sets and it all handles very well.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are just a hair cool by design and maintain that same look from start to finish on the film. Facial features like blemishes, lip texture, stubble, make-up, freckles, dried blood, moles, freckles and really anything you’d want from a great transfer are here in medium and close up shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA, Italian 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA (116 min version only)

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Dynamics:  Phenomena’s stereo mix is quite clean and fresh, sounding very new. The music from Goblin sounds lovely. There is a great mixture and blend of the film’s effect, score and vocals throughout. The effects are well layered and can get stingingly loud for effect at times and don’t peak or get sharp. Everything here is pretty loose and free of one another.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are good, clear and crisp catching all sounds of word dictions. Dubbed voices are pretty obvious and feel different in the mix, but that’s pretty unavoidable.

Extras 

Phenomena is a 2-Blu-ray Disc set that features 3 cuts of the film. The cuts are the English/Italian hybrid version that clocks in at 116 minutes, the International Version (110 min) and the US cut entitled Creepers (83 min).  The cover art is reversible and features the poster art from Creepers on the other side.

Audio Commentary

  • International Version – From Argento Scholar and Author, Derek Botelho and Film Historian, Journalist and Radio/Television Commentator, David Del Valle

Dario Argento’s World of Horror: A Documentary (SD, 1:10:51) – A fascinating look at the early films of director Dario Argento, including Phenomena, Suspiria, Demons, Dawn of the Dead, Inferno and more. Gives a look into the mind of Italy’s Master of Horror. This documentary was produced at the time that Phenomena was being made and is a fun little nostalgic peek in to this window of time.

Interview With Andi Sex Gang (SD, 3:57) – Looks like its from some old interview on video, where he tells a story about meeting Dario Argento in the studio (including an anecdote about flirting with his girlfriend).

Phenomena: International Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:35) 

Creepers: US Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:25)

Creepers: Radio Spots (HD, 1:03)

Summary 

Phenomena is a top notch supernatural thriller from master Dario Argento. This living nightmare looks especially delicious in Synapse Films’ transfer. Like I said before, I don’t have the Arrow 4K restoration, so I can’t compare, but this one still looks and sounds fabulous. Extras are pretty solid here (I wish we could have a Jennifer Connelly interview on here, but that’s a tough get), covering some new and some vintage. Overall, if price was a problem with Phenomena for you before, it shouldn’t be now. Its something horror fans should have in their collection, especially the Argento enthusiasts.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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