Phenomena is a 1985 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento. An edited version of the film was released in the United States under the title Creepers. Phenomena is cited as being a possible influence on the video game, Clock Tower: The First Fear, along with Suspiria and The Burning.
Jennifer Connelly stars as a young girl who arrives at an eerie Swiss boarding school where the students are being butchered by a serial killer. With the help of a wheelchair user entomologist (Donald Pleasence), she discovers she has special psychic powers, and uses them to pursue the killer. It was Argento's first film to be shot in English, although only the scenes of Connelly and Pleasance together were shot sync sound.
Argento himself stated: "Phenomena was inspired by something I heard about insects being used to solve crimes, and because insects have always fascinated me I began to make a story around this idea. You know, it's a terrible thing, but there are many insects that are disappearing. Becoming extinct. But most people only want to kill them. You know, insects have souls, too; they're telepathic... amazing. People want to save the whales and dolphins, but nobody wants to save the insects. I'm a vegetarian, because I don't want to kill things to eat."
A lost tourist, Vera Grandt (Fiore Argento), is chased by an unseen assailant and beheaded in the Swiss countryside. Sometime later, her head is taken to forensic entomologist John McGregor (Donald Pleasance) by Inspector Rudolf Geiger (Patrick Bauchau) and his assistant, Kurt (Michele Soavi). McGregor estimates the time of death as eight months prior.
Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), insect-loving daughter of a movie star, arrives at the Swiss Richard Wagner Academy for Girls, chaperoned by Frau Brückner (Daria Nicolodi), who places her with roommate Sophie (Federica Mastroianni). While sleepwalking through the academy and out onto the roof, Jennifer witnesses a student being murdered. She awakens and falls, fleeing into the village and eventually becoming lost in the woods. McGregor's chimpanzee attendant Inga (Tanga) 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. After sheltering with him overnight, she returns to the academy and is subjected to a brain scan by the school doctor (Antonio Maimone) in a bid to cure her somnambulism.
Following an illicit tryst the same night, Sophie is murdered. Sleepwalking once again, Jennifer finds herself outside the school building and in guided by a firefly to a maggot-covered glove. When other students taunt Jennifer for her connection to insects, she summons a swarm of flies which covers the entire building, then faints. Convinced that Jennifer is insane and possibly responsible for the killings, the headmistress arranges for her to be transferred to a mental hospital for the criminally insane. Jennifer flees to McGregor's home just in time to evade the transfer.
McGregor identifies the maggots as those of the Great Sarcophagus fly, which is drawn to decaying human flesh. He gives one to Jennifer in a glass case and suggests she use it to help track the murderer. Near the now abandoned house where Vera Grandt was attacked, the fly becomes agitated, leading Jennifer to discover a severed hand but she is frightened off by a real estate agent. Inspector Geiger arrives moments later and learns that the house was abandoned eight months ago.
Later that night, McGregor is murdered in his home after Inga is distracted and locked outside. Wandering the woods, the chimpanzee discovers a straight razor in a garbage bin. With nowhere left to go, Jennifer calls her father's lawyer Morris Shapiro for help. Instead of sending cash for a plane ticket, however, he alerts Brückner, who finds Jennifer at the bank waiting for the money to be wired. Jennifer agrees to stay at Brückner's house overnight.
Once there, Brückner explains that the mirrors are all covered because they upset her son, who is profoundly mentally disabled. She then demands that Jennifer take some anti-fever pills. Jennifer agrees and locks herself in the bathroom for privacy, but after finding more maggots in the room she purges the pill. Enraged that Jennifer did not take the pill, Brückner knocks Jennifer unconscious and imprisons her in the house.
Meanwhile, Inspector Geiger arrives after learning that Brückner was the tenant of the house where Vera Grandt was attacked. Shortly afterward, he can be heard screaming as Jennifer engineers her escape through a large hole in the floor that leads through a tunnel to a dungeon. Geiger, disfigured and chained to the wall, grabs at her and she tumbles into a pool full of decaying, maggot-infested corpses. Brückner appears and attempts to finish them off, but Geiger frees himself and holds her off long enough to allow Jennifer to escape.
In the basement, Jennifer finds Brückner's son, Patua (Davide Marotta), with a hideously deformed face. He chases Jennifer onto a motorboat and attempts to kill her, but she summons a swarm of flies that attack him. They eat away large portions of his flesh before causing him to drown in the lake.
Swimming ashore, she is greeted by Morris Shapiro (Mario Donatone), who has arrived in response to her earlier phone calls. Before he can rescue her, Brückner appears out of the darkness and decapitates him. Moments later, Inga arrives and kills Brückner with the razor.
For its US release, Phenomena was retitled as Creepers by New Line Cinema and heavily edited to remove nearly thirty minutes of footage. The murder sequences were shortened by several seconds to remove gore, a sequence where the second victim is spotted and chased by the killer was removed, and two lengthy scenes (which make up the bulk of the missing footage) involving Jennifer Connelly's character telling her roommate the story about how her mother abandoned the family on Christmas Day (as Argento's own mother had done) and her character receiving a brain scan after the second murder were removed for the purposes of speeding up the flow of the film.
It was released in the summer of 1985 to American theaters and drive-ins from New Line Cinema.
Anchor Bay released the film to DVD in 1999; restoring the film's proper name and restoring all missing scenes from the original US release. The original cut (or Integral cut) of the film is available in Europe, on Region 2 DVD. The Integral cut (or Integral Hard, as it is known in Japan) never existed in English, but only in the dubbed Italian version, and adds only a few seconds of cut footage to some scenes, mostly of B roll material.
- It was shot in English and dubbed into Italian.
- Most of the Italian and other non-English speaking actors/actresses actually dubbed their own voices into English for the USA and UK distribution.
- A sequel to Phenomena was going to go into production in 2001 but it was canceled due to Dario Argento's contract with Medusa.
- The larvae were created by placing vermiculite in water and adding liquid chocolate and essence of mint.
- Director Dario Argento often cites this film as his personal favorite among his works.
- The trained chimpanzee that plays Inga escaped into the woods at one point during shooting. After a few hours of searching she was found and returned to the set.
- Jennifer Connelly said in an interview that she was bitten by the chimp in this film. Apparently during one scene the chimp kept turning around and Dario Argento, not wanting to film her behind, asked Connelly to place her hand on the animal to stop her from turning. But when she attempted to do so, the chimp became enraged and bit her; and then became very hostile toward Connelly for the rest of the film.
- The film was inspired to Dario Argento after he learned that insects are sometimes used during murder investigations.
- The story Jennifer tells about her mother abandoning her was an actual story from Dario Argento's own childhood.
- The name of Brückner's son, Patua, is most likely a reference to Patau syndrome.
- The role of creepy Patua Brückner was played by a 26 year old dwarf in heavy makeup.
Similarities to Clock Tower
- Both of the main characters are named Jennifer and they have very similar appearances. Jennifer Corvino mentions she is vegetarian, while Jennifer Simpson refused to eat red meat.
- A woman takes in both of the main characters. Mary and Brückner both share similar haircuts, and have a deformed son hidden away. Patua and Bobby share the exact same deformed face and same hairstyle. Both use blades or scissors to slash their victims.
- Both Brückner and Mary, bring girls to their sons to kill (unconfirmed) and they themselves kill the girls too. Both love their deformed sons so much to kill for them.
- In Phenomena, Brückner works at the school which Jennifer goes to, and takes Jennifer with her home, while in Clock Tower, Mary works at the Granite Orphanage and decides to take Jennifer and her friends to the Barrows mansion.
- In Phenomena, Brückner imprisons the inspector before he exposes her crimes, in Clock Tower, Mary imprisons her own husband in a cage, for trying to kill her after he finds out that she wants to sacrifice people for her rituals.
- The deformed son ends up chasing the main character trying to kill her, but ends up being killed by the main character.
- In Phenomena, Patua dies by being burned on the boat, in Clock Tower, Dan also dies by being burnt by the same protagonist, Jennifer.
- Both have maggots-in-a-sink scenes.
- In Phenomena, Brückner uses pills to drug Jennifer and in Clock Tower, Mary can use a drink to drug Jennifer.
- In Phenomena, insects save Jennifer, while in Clock Tower, crows save her.
- In Phenomena, Brückner says "You killed my son" near the end, similar lines of dialogue are said by Mary in Clock Tower and again near the end.
- In the Clock Tower ~The First Fear~ - Method to capture victory Bobby is attacked by the crows who Jennifer saved, while in Phenomena, Patua is attacked by the insects who hear her scream for help.
- In Phenomena, many girls die first and Jennifer survives, as in Clock Tower.