Creepers (AKA Phenomena)

Chimps in mourning
★★★
☆
Released: 
1985
Director: 
Dario Argento
Starring: 
Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolondi, Donald Pleasance, Dalia Di Lazzaro
The Setup: 
There’s a killer stalking a girls’ school… good thing Jennifer has control over insects.
Discussion: 

So me and this friend of mine started this movie night at a local bar here, and one of the things I had to do was plan various themes we might group movies into... and one of those themes was: WTF??? For those movies that are just SO bizarre you really have no idea what you’re going to see next. And this definitely falls squarely into that category! The version I have of this film is the 82 minute version known as Creepers, while it is also known as Phenomena, the original title, in its 110 minute form. I did a little research to find out the difference, and found out the bulk of what’s missing is a bit of gore and two very long conversations, which is fine with me, as brevity is a virtue, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway. Here we go!

We open with this girl getting left behind on a school trip to the country. What these girls were up to in the middle of nowhere is not explained, but the girl wanders until she finds a house. She goes in, and we see something pulling on—and finally breaking—these chains that hold it to the wall. She is attacked in the house, then runs outside, where she ends up in these caves. I would like to be chased by a psycho at some point to see if I would really do something as dumb as that when under stress, or if movie people really are incredibly moronic. These caves actually look suspiciously like a tourist attraction. Anyway, the girl is finally stabbed in the stomach with a pair of scissors, then her head falls back, breaking the window behind her, causing broken shards of glass to fall right on her face, but without cutting her. Then we abruptly cut to her severed head falling down the waterfall—I KNOW some footage was missing there. Anyway, welcome to Creepers!

We now join Donald Pleasance as Professor John McGregor, having a conversation with a chimpanzee. He tells the others gathered “Yes, she’s my friend, too!” They have a severed head in a bag—the girl’s—and it’s all maggoty and worm-eaten because it’s three weeks old. We get several loving close-ups. Then fifteen-year-old Jennifer Connelly [this was made even before Labyrinth] as Jennifer Corvino is being sent to this Swiss girls’ school. The headmistress, Frau Bruckner, tells her that the region is known as “The Swiss Transylvania.” A bee comes in and sits on her hand, and she’s cool with that, although Bruckner freaks out and the car almost crashes because of it. Jennifer forthrightly says “I love all insects,” which I thought was a little odd for her to be so explicit with, but hey, she’s an odd girl. We also find out the the school is located in the former home of Richard Wagner. Did Wagner really live in Switzerland? Oh, I guess I don’t care enough to look it up. It’s interesting to see young Jennifer Connelly here, as she sounds like a completely different person than the woman she’s grown into, but every now and then one can hear a trace of what would become her familiar tone of voice. Anyway, turns out she’s the daughter of a movie star, Paul Corvino, who her roommate Sophie makes clear would bed at a moment’s notice. She also casually lets Jennifer in on the fact that there’s a psychopathic killer killing the students one by one. They NEVER mention that in the welcome kit!

We have to start the spoilers early here, because some of the shit that happens here is TOTALLY unforeseen.

SPOILERS > > >
So Jen is asleep and having a dream, and starts sleepwalking in real life! She somehow ends up way up on this ledge, and soon sees [in real life, apparently, I sort of thought it was the dream at the time] a girl get killed right in front of her. She then falls, her nightgown catches on the ledge, and she swings upside-down by her nightgown! This was the point at which I was like I CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT I AM SEEING HERE. So then she’s wandering through the roadway—she’s stone trippin’, seeing everything as really bright—and she gets hit by a car! These are these two horny boys, who pick her up in the car, but when she doesn’t let them have their way, THROW her out the car, where she rolls to a stop at the bottom of the hill! The boys briefly look after her, then decide to just drive on. She looks up—and there’s the chimpanzee! Who leads her out of the forest. I’m telling ya, you really cannot predict what you might possibly see next with this one.

The monkey leads her to Donald Pleasance [she obviously picked the wrooooong monkey] who is an…. You know, one of those guys that studies bugs, and he soon realizes that Jennifer is a bug’s best friend when some beetle, famous for being in a bad mood, takes to her instantly. He wants her to “make an old man happy” and come visit him again. He also teaches her to say to herself “I am sleepwalking. I must wake up,” which you think will prove important later, but… well, maybe in one of the scenes that got cut. Then Jen goes back to class where the exasperated teacher asks if the students don’t care about Richard Wagner, and this girl in a fabulous Bee Gees T shirt with Barry Gibb’s face as big as dinner plate instead indicates that she cares about “Richard Gere!”

Jennifer confides to Sophie that she’s so worried about sleepwalking again and running into the killer! She begs Sophie to watch over her, but of course with the first snore, Sophie has snuck out to see her boyfriend, telling him what a loon Jennifer is. Meanwhile Jennifer of course sleepwalks, accompanied by this crazy cheese hyper techno Italian 80s beat. She follows a fly to a glove with larvae in it, and takes it to McGregor. He is not surprised that if Jennifer is telepathic that she should communicate with insects, because “It’s perfectly normal for insects to communicate telepathically.” Oh, it is? And I suppose you have evidence to support this? Jennifer returns to the school, where by now all the other girls think she’s a freak. They all get in on the act, sneering at her for supposedly controlling insects, and repeatedly chant “We worship you! We worship you!” [i.e. as if they’re insects]. Jennifer gets the mysterious wind in her face that signifies psychic power in use [see Firestarter] and says “I love you all,” which you think is an awfully brave sentiment in the face of adversity, but then it turns out she’s actually talking to the masses of flies now covering the window. I was getting juiced to see the flies break through and devour one or more of the girls, but no, Jennifer just passes out.

Soon she ends up back at McGregor’s house. The worms she found are a kind that only feed on corpses, so he suggests that she follow this special fly to the killer’s house. She rides a bus along until the fly starts getting all excited, then gets out, releases it and follows the fly. Now you may be thinking “McGregor can’t REALLY be sending a 15 year old girl RIGHT to the killer’s house, can he?” But hello—it’s an Argento film. So yes, he is. She finds the house and goes right in, wandering around, and finally climbing up on [and breaking] these bookshelves before getting frightened off. Meanwhile the chimp’s “chimpy sense” starts ringing, and he rushes home, trying to get in. This scene is good, because you think maybe the chimp IS the killer, and you don’t know what’s going on. Then you see McGregor [who is in a wheelchair] coming down the stairs in his little electronic elevator thing—and taking his sweet ol’ time about it, too, seeing as his chimp is FREAKING and there’s got to be some reason for that—but then he gets killed, right in front of the chimp! Then—chimps CAN mourn! And then: Chimp car attack! CHIMP CAR ATTACK!!! There is simply no way to prepare yourself for what you’re going to see here.

Then Jennifer goes back to school and insists that she be taken out of this school, like, NOW. She is informed that her dad is unreachable for a few days, but soon after Frau Bruckner shows up and says Jennifer can leave immediately. She also spills to Jennifer that she has a deformed son that she keeps out of school because everyone makes fun of him. She then suggests that Jennifer might sleep better if she takes a sleeping pill. Then she insists that she take the pill. Then she screams at her to TAKE THE PILL! Jennifer takes it into the bathroom, closes the door, then—takes the pill? Girl, what are you, fucking DUMB? Then she says “Poison!” and spends a rather inordinate amount of time puking it up. Then she opens the bathroom door—and leaves the uningested pill in the sink! What is this girl’s PROBLEM?!? Then Bruckner intimates that she was sexually assaulted by… the chimp or something? In either case it pulled her against the bar of its cage so badly that she still has scars, and I’m quite sure this is where her bizarre deformed child is from. So Jennifer REALLY has to make an important phone call, and she grabs the phone and the, like, 200-foot cord and starts crawling down into these tunnels. Dragging the phone? Apparently. Then she’s just about to make that important call when she’s pulled back into this room, and falls into A HUGE SWIMMING POOL FULL OF ROTTING BODIES! And of course she can’t get out, despite several [i.e. SEVERAL] tries. And there is this guy, shackled to chains like we saw at the beginning. Blah, blah, Jennifer finally gets out [passing a pipe spewing out water, which amazingly gets her white shirt and skirt completely clean for the rest of the movie, despite the fact that she was submerged in rotting human flesh one second before. That pipe must have been filled with MIRACLE KLEEN!] Anyway, Jennifer is running out, trying to get away from the pursuing psycho murderer, when she spies this little boy of about six, crying with his face to the wall. Of course Jennifer runs into comfort him—that psycho murderer on her tail can wait, I guess—and here was one of my favorite touches. Jennifer is all soft and warm and comforting about how she accepts him, no matter what he looks like, and how he “doesn’t have to be afraid of mirrors anymore,” and then, when his defenses break down, and he finally believes that maybe there’s one good person in this world, someone who can look beyond his hideous visage and see the beauty of his soul, so he finally overcomes his fear and turns toward Jennifer… and she screams in horror and runs! LOVE it.
< < < SPOILERS END

So I had heard that this movie has a CRAZY ending, and when Jennifer fell in the pool of bodies, I figured maybe that was it. And then the thing with the deformed boy, maybe that was it. And then I noticed that there’s a good 6 minutes left by this point, and with each successive turn of events I would think “HOW can this movie possibly go on any longer? WHAT could possibly happen after THIS?” Well let me tell you: Plenty. And I’m not going to spoil any of it for you. Because that would be wrong. It turns out to be just Jennifer’s stroke of luck that she can call on her insect friends when she’s really in a jam—how very convenient! WHAT luck!—but there is a LOT more than that, and seriously, with each one I was like “Was THAT the shocking ending? Was THAT the shocking ending?” There are also not enough WTF’s in the world to handle all the ones you’ll be saying in regards to this movie. There really is just no way to foresee what’s coming here.

Overall, it's intriguing and very fun and just about as crazy as you can imagine. I say go for it!

Should you watch it: 

You betcha, especially if you like Argento and/or like movies that are completely off their rocker.