Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Phenomena (1985, Dario Argento)

Jennifer Connelly had a busy year with both Labyrinth and Phenomena, both strange films although only one is a Dario Argento horror film. This is one of the stranger Argento movies, even by his standards, because in this film Connelly’s Jennifer has the ability to communicate with insects. This ability is established early on when a bee lands on her finger and does not sting her, as if it has become her friend. Of course this film also opens with a typically horrific and startling Argento style murder, and in a way this film reminded me of Suspiria since both movies take place at boarding schools for young women. Naturally both involve the supernatural, too, something that Argento also touched upon in Inferno and some of his later movies, too.

Not only do you have horror icon Donald Pleasence playing a professor stuck in a wheelchair but you also have Argento veteran Daria Nicolodi as Jennifer’s chaperon. Plus there is even a ridiculously smart chimp named Inga, who assists Pleasence and proves to be important later on in the film. You have numerous nasty murders, Jennifer summoning up insects after the students foolishly mock her, and a cool traveling sequence where Jennifer puts her bug powers to investigative use. All set to a wicked soundtrack featuring Goblin and songs by Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Bill Wyman and Andi Sexgang. Even though some of the movie doesn’t quite work (a few of the scenes come off as silly, not magical or creepy) this is still a wonderfully eerie and well made film. Oh and I’m naturally biased in favor of movies with a monkey as one of the main characters for some reason. Perhaps they amuse me.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Tenebrae (1982, Dario Argento)

Opening in front of a crackling fire with a narrative voice over describing an unknown person sitting and reading a novel, Tenebrae  begins in typical Dario Argento mysterious fashion. Clearly we are being shown the murder of his film, and yet the black gloves and shadow cast by the deranged psychopath are the only clues given to us, the viewer. A famous novelist named Peter Neal is the creator of the book read by the killer, and upon arriving in Rome to promote his latest book and also pen another one he is beset by threats from the murder. Early on we get a horrific and shocking kill, where a young woman is slaughtered brutally in her apartment while having pages from Tenebrae shoved into her mouth. Even by Argento standards I found the murder to be rather graphic, and illustrated the film’s bleak tone early on. Sure all of Argento’s films are that way, yet I found Tenebrae to be almost beyond the pale, and even more nasty than his other films that I’ve viewed so far (most of his 70s works and two 80s films-this one and Inferno). That’s something that makes it arguably the best out of the ones I’ve seen, and yes I’m placing this movie above his other classics Deep Red and Suspiria.

Plus the fact that in some ways this is Argento discussing his own work, or at least critiques of it, as filtered through Neal’s works. Just like Argento Neal is responsible for works that feature graphic murder, sex and violence, and in one scene Neal is even attacked by a female journalist for what she argues is his “Hatred of women.” There is also the classic scene of the seemingly tortured killer, portrayed in strange vivid flashbacks that are haunting to watch. Yet at the same time Argento puts on display his technical prowless as well in a fantastic tracking crane shot that covers an apartment building housing two women lovers who end up being attacked later on. With the theme music, as scored by the remaining members of Goblin, no less. It’s an amazing moment that feels as if you are looking over a beautiful woman, peeking into her secrets-or in this case, the windows of two females. Watching them in a voyeuristic manner, which is what the killer is doing anyways.

What especially stood out to me besides the gruesome kills was that unlike some of Argento’s other films there is little humor involved, no silly moments. This was meant to be an unflinching and completely stark portrayal of a person’s murderous rampage, reportedly inspired by the works of Peter Neal. The fact that Argento made this film after receiving threats from an unhinged fan only gives the film an added dose of realism and additional terror. Sporting one of Goblin’s best soundtracks and existing as a pure form of death onscreen, Tenebrae just could be Argento’s masterwork. Love that ending, too-absolutely bone chilling.

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