"Creepers," a.k.a. "Phenomena" (1985) Review
I think I need to see Phenomena at some point, just to compare and contrast.
The movie I saw was called Creepers, the American version of the Italian horror film Phenomena. That information is crucial to understanding the countless failings of Creepers, a horror film that feels like it's missing about a quarter of its own story.
And that's because it is.
Phenomena ran for 116 minutes in its longest version, but did have a slightly cut down version at 110 minutes, not too severe of a loss in footage. But the American theater re-edit, titled Creepers, was cut down to 83 minutes. I literally don't know what scenes were lost since I've never seen the actual film, but I'm not sure it would be enough to save this movie, one of the later entries of the legendary career of Dario Argento.
Dario Argento is one of the most famous names to ever be associated with Italian horror, right up there with the likes of Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, just to name a few. His most legendary works have left a permanent mark on the entire horror genre, Deep Red and Suspiria in particular. I'm not here to debate Argento's place in the horror canon though. I'm here to talk about an unfortunate re-edit of one of his movies, and maybe his 116 minute or 110 minute versions of this film are good. Creepers is not, and it's what I have to work with.
The story (or what little there is) involves an American girl named Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) going to a Swiss boarding school. She's arrived in town at a bad time though, as girls her age are going missing, rumored to be murdered by a lunatic. Jennifer has an odd quirk of her own though, an ability to communicate telepathically with insects. Her powers will put her on the path of tracking down the killer with the help of Scottish etymologist Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance) and his pet chimpanzee Inga (Tanga).
You have to roll with a LOT of punches to get behind a story like that, but the movie is jarringly put together, so clearly cut down to the bone in the editing room that characters seem to enter and exit the narrative at complete random. Scenes cut back and forth with no logic whatsoever and the editing of the scenes themselves is completely off. Narratively, this movie is nothing short of disaster, with so little connective tissue that even when the movie settles into a truly scary horror sequence, it barely registers.
It would all be kinds of miserable if it wasn't so completely bonkers. The borderline X-Men powers that Jennifer Connelly's character wield are kind of cool when they actually get used, with one set-piece involving teasing girls at the boarding school being a true highlight of the movie. The bug powers mostly get used in pretty banal ways, but when you want their to be swarms of bugs, they usually show up in earnest.
But the best animal in this movie has to be Inga the Chimpanzee. Look, I never ever thought in all the years I've done write-ups on movies that I was going to write the following, but it's admittedly cool to watch a movie that features a "Chekhov's gun" in the form of "Chekhov's chimpanzee wielding a razor." I'll leave that at that.
In a horror movie like this, you have to rely on either the style of the movie to carry it or the creativity of the kills. The kills aren't different enough though, and while the movie's cinematography is striking and gorgeous at times, it never hits the highs of Argento's stone-cold classics like Suspiria. However, there is one bit of style here that really stands out: The music. There are a surprising number of needle drops for bands that honestly shouldn't have been anywhere near this movie, with an Iron Maiden song popping in on a scene that literally shouldn't have it. The music is a mixed bag, but it does bring something unique to the table.
Creepers is a narrative disaster that's not quite stylish enough to even recommend. I imagine a longer version of this movie might be better, but I don't think it's enough for me to revisit this any time soon.