Phenomena (1985)

Food: (Drink)

Festive Cocktail #1: Cricket Infused Phenomenon

As our heroine has a special connection to insects, it is only fitting that this drink is insect-infused. The Dromedary (created by Michael Lombardozzi of Dromedary Bar in Brooklyn, NY) is infused with Critter Bitters – made with toasted crickets, which can be eaten as an alternative protein source, while also adding sweet, nutty notes to the drinks.

The Dromedary
Courtesy Michael Lombardozzi, proprietor, Dromedary Bar, Brooklyn, NY

2 ounces Myers Original Dark Rum
½ ounce Barbadillo Pedro Ximenez Sherry
½ ounce lime juice
1 ounce orgeat (almond syrup)
2 dashes Critter Bitters
3 pineapple leaves, for garnish
“In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine first four ingredients. Shake well, and strain into a hurricane glass over crushed ice. Top with two dashes of Critter Bitters. Garnish with pineapple leaves and a plastic camel, if desired.”

Enjoy!

Halloween Italian Horror Series #1:

“Phenomena” (1985) directed by Dario Argento and starring a young Jennifer Connelly is a bizarre and electric tale about a girl who has a special connection to insects, and uses this sixth sense to help solve a series of murders happening at her Swiss boarding school. Dario Argento is an Italian filmmaker who was most known for his influential work in the horror genre during the 1970s and 1980s – particularly developing a subgenre known as “giallo.” He became referred to as the “Master of the Thrill” and the “Master of Horror.” “Giallo” is the Italian term for “yellow” which was a reference to the cheap paperback mystery novels with yellow covers that were popular in Italy which, in the context of films, came to refer to murder mystery and horror thrillers of all kind.

This film is one of his later projects, as he had already established himself as an important filmmaker the decade prior. One of the more varied elements of this film, compared to his others, is that he went with a different musical sound, developing a soundtrack that matched the mid-1980’s time period, with vibrational rock and electronic compositions. He worked with artists such as Bill Wyman (the bassist from The Rolling Stones from 1962 – 1993) and Claudio Simonetti (Italian composer who worked on other Argento projects, including the famous “Suspiria” in 1977) to create original music. The soundtrack also included heavy metal songs from Iron Maiden, and goth hits from Sex Gang Children. The band Goblin also contributed their efforts, and notes from their score in “Dawn of the Dead” is incorporated into this film when one of the characters hears it on television. More recent films, like “It Follows” (2014), were highly praised for their use of high-tech heavy beats in the score to heighten the thrilling moments, but it is clear that Argento had established this technique many moons ago.

Demonstrated through expert cinematography by Romano Albani, the concepts in “Phenomena” are made more gruesome and frightening in small, but notable ways. Argento replaces the typical, expected knife with a pair of scissors, a chain replaces a rope. Where a young woman would likely have just fallen down a waterfall, there is a tourist-designated glass staircase, which presents a perfect opportunity for glass to shatter down her face in slow motion during an attack. Not to mention, the insect plotline allows additional gore to be added to all the most distressing shots, and now a rotting decapitated head is accompanied by a slew of maggots, a rainy window pain is brimming with flies, and all the investigation scenes are met with extreme close up portraits of everything from scorpions to bees.

Budding actress (at the time), a fifteen year old Jennifer Connelly as Jennifer Corvino, gives a decent performance as an outcast transfer student who struggles with sleepwalking and her unusual connection to bugs. She bonds with a local entomologist (Donald Pleasence) and his assistant, a chimpanzee. Her school masters and peers continue to press her about her night terrors, fearing she might endanger them and develop a schizophrenic personality. Her father, an always busy businessman, is out of touch. The school is facing an ever-increasing threat of a serial killer as young women are being taunted and murdered one after another in the night. Jennifer only slowly begins to understand that her connection to insects could be telepathic and could lead her to the source of the killings, only if she is able to harness her abilities.

As we follow the “Lady of the Flies” through the Swiss Transylvania, “Phenomena” delivers heart-pounding thrills, innovative storytelling and is genuinely entertaining, even 35 years later. It can drag at times, but the captivating shots make the film a visual feast worth watching through and through. It is a perfect, understated old-school Halloween pick and an excellent introduction to Italian horror cinema.

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