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Italian horror master Dario Argento has a strong following in the United States, yet his films always proved difficult to see in unadulterated form on this side of the Atlantic. PHENOMENA ($30) was severely cut (by 28 minutes) when it played theatrically in the US, plus the film suffered further indignities when it was given the inane title CREEPERS by its American distributor. Fortunately, Anchor Bay Entertainment acquired the rights to PHENOMENA and has released the full-length European version of the film on DVD.

Like most Dario Argento films, the plot of PHENOMENA has a low believability factor. Instead, PHENOMENA relies upon the Argento's ability to create stylish, unadulterated horror visuals to drive the film forward. PHENOMENA stars Jennifer Connelly as Jennifer Corvino, the teenaged daughter of a noted film actor, who is sent to a private girl's school in Switzerland. Upon her arrival at the school, Jennifer discovers that there is serial killer is on the loose in the surrounding area. Now as it turns out, Jennifer isn't like most teenage girls- somehow, she can communicate telepathically with insects. PHENOMENA also stars Donald Pleasence as Professor John McGregor, the local entomologist, who encourages Jennifer to use her special gift to aid in the search for the serial killer. As I said, the plot has a low believability factor. Still, Argento delivers the requisite shocks and gore that his fans have come to expects. Plus the film has a surreal, nightmarish quality that makes PHENOMENA much more than a sum of its parts. The cast of PHENOMENA also includes Daria Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro and Patrick Bauchau.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has done an impressive job in bringing PHENOMENA to DVD. My only real complaint about the DVD is the fact that the Letterboxed presentation lacks the 16:9 component for wide screen televisions. Framed at 1.66:1, the transfer offers PHENOMENA the way Dario Argento meant for audiences to see it- uncut and uncensored. The transfer itself is quite good, delivering a sharp, well-defined image that is a perfect representation of the film's cinematography. Dark scenes contain respectable shadow detail and limited appreciable film grain. Colors tend to be muted; however the disc offers a number of intense hues which reproduce flawlessly. Blacks are true and the overall contrast is quite good. Digital compression artifacts never became noticeable thanks to solid DVD authoring (by Crest National) and the use of dual layer technology.

The soundtrack has been effectively re-mixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 by the folks at Chase Productions. While not as intense as a new Dolby Digital soundtrack, PHENOMENA has a highly charged sense of atmosphere and some well placed directional effects. Even the surround channels are well deployed in the mix. Music, which plays an important part in the film's soundtrack, is given a boost by the Dolby Digital re-mix. Additionally, dialogue is always clean and intelligible. A French monaural soundtrack has also been encoded into the disc.

The interactive menus contain animation, sound and are a bit more stylish than those on earlier Anchor Bay DVD releases. Through the menus one can access the standard scene and language selection features, as well as the DVD's supplements. Extras include a very interesting audio commentary featuring director Dario Argento, make-up artist Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and journalist Loris Curci. The DVD also contains a theatrical trailer, a Behind-The-Scenes segment, two music videos and a Dario Argento interview from The Joe Franklin Show.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has done a terrific job bringing the uncut version of PHENOMENA to DVD- the disc looks and sounds great. PHENOMENA is a film that Dario Argento fans and horror fans in general are certain to want to own on DVD. Recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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