By 1985, Dario Argento had already become synonymous with the macabre and had established himself as a dominant force in international genre cinema. Prior to that year’s release of PHENOMENA (later re-titled CREEPERS in the US), Argento had titillated and terrified audiences worldwide with films like BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), DEEP RED (1975) and SUSPIRIA (1977); but none of this could have prepared audiences for PHENOMENA, which features his most sinister sequence of all: Jennifer Connelly eating baby food with a tooth brush. And that’s just in the first act.
CREEPERS – as it is being presented here – is likely the strangest thing that Argento has made in his nearly fifty year career to date. Without venturing into synopsis, it features (a very young) Connelly as young woman that can communicate with insects in ways that Rex Harrison couldn’t fathom and Donald Pleasance as an entomologist with an equally off kilter relationship with his chimpanzee assistant, that luckily doesn’t venture into MAX MON AMOUR (1986) territory. Despite its eccentricities, however, CREEPERS is an appropriate amalgamation of the tropes and stylish flourishes that had defined Argento’s career thus far, offering his most inspired pairing of the traditional giallo storytelling of his early work and the more erratic supernatural work leading up to this.
As mentioned above, CREEPERS was originally titled PHENOMENA overseas and does retain that title now on DVD in the US, but the title isn’t all that is different. When originally released – and in its form now available on video – Argento’s film was 109 minutes and was later cut to 82 for domestic release by New Line. Most of the cuts were in the interest of speeding up the pace of the film for American audiences with pre-determined short attention spans, including lengthy sequences with Connelly’s character either talking with her roommate or undergoing a medical ENT scan. As with most of Argento’s work before and after, some shots were also shortened to garner the highly coveted R-rating in the US, though this is amongst his more tame output of the time period.
Despite the trimmings for various reasons, CREEPERS is not an inferior – or any less bizarre – experience than PHENOMENA. Both feature the aforementioned baby food sequence (which is followed by the line “Don’t let me forget, I owe you a meal”), an “It’s a bee!” scene that wouldn’t be out of place in THE WICKER MAN remake and enough close-ups of maggots that would make a 9-to-5 garbage man wretch. And then there’s the soundtrack. Argento famously worked with rock group Goblin on his more well known works, but here he assembles a more ‘traditional’ soundtrack featuring the likes of Iron Maiden and Motorhead. If you ever wanted to hear Bruce Dickinson wail while Sarah from LABYRINTH (1986) is brought to seeming insanity over communicating with maggots, now is your chance!