25 June 2012

Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen

Italy – 1969
Director – Ruggero Deodato
Wizard Home Video, 1984, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 26 minutes

It is no exaggeration to say that Wizard Video’s 1884 big-box version of Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen is the most shocking of VHS disappointment in recent memory. Wizard was Charles Band’s first distribution enterprise specializing in graphic exploitation films. Ruggero Deodato may not be one of the finest directors that Italy has offered up, but without regard to the quality of his work, he is one of the more interesting. As I slowly work my way through Wizard’s and Deodato’s respective catalogues (which only overlapped here,) I have come to expect at the very least banal entertainment.

Here we have the famous mask of Tutankhamen, stolen from a museum and replaced with a forgery the night before the opening of its Paris exhibition. The forgery is passed off as the original and then stolen, the original passed off as a forgery and one or the other put in place of the original. Several groups of shady characters vie for the treasure which never appears after the opening scene. Phenomenal is actually the name of a masked character who pops up randomly throughout the film to fight people involved with the thievery and keep the mysterious quotient unnecessarily high. Actually the dwindling plot is so bent on confusing the real identity of both Phenomenal and the authenticity of various copies of Tut’s mask and who has them that I got tired of the switches. I actually sat through it twice, but stopped giving a fuck about 30 minutes in.

I am looking for someone or something to blame for Phenomenal’s great disappointment. There are a number of factors that are important to consider here when looking for a suitable culprit, let us start with the sources. Production funding for Phenomenal was provided by star Mauro Parenti. Based on the result, most of it funded his vanity. Not to be forgotten is that Phenomenal is a knockoff of the already intellectually undemanding formulaic heist/caper movie pattern that gave us the James Bond franchise and Danger: Diabolik; the ad-nauseum repetition of predictable individualistic male-fantasy violence and sexual innuendo. It is also important to remember that Phenomenal was also Deodato’s first feature length film. He was fresh from assistant directing various exploitation movies as assistant to better known genre mentors like Antonio Margheriti.

But in my opinion the most important thing to consider is Wizard Video’s big box release which I have in my possession. Although they’re known for packaging low budget films in great box art, but it’s not looking promising here. This is the only version that I know of available in the States. It runs a generous 85 minutes, yet clearly lacks the “rampant nudity” which Fab Press's book on Deodato had promised. If you’ll forgive my shallowness in lieu of the foregoing evidence, breasts might have been a welcome relief from the tedium which I have just twice undergone for the sake of “history.”

Although theis scene was in the movie, all nudity has been cut from the Wizard cassette.
 Each of these elements is necessary for Phenomenal’s failure, but none is alone sufficient. The catastrophe that has just unfolded makes me glad for the concept of director as auteur/artist and the invention of the “Director’s Cut”. Unfortunately though, if such a version of Phenomenal were to exist it would likely still be hard to watch. That box is so big and beautiful and I wanted so badly to enjoy myself, but such a thing is not to be.

A slightly different version of this review originally appeared in Paracinema # 12. Lost Video Archive appears in each issue of Paracinema. Number 16 is coming out soon, with a new installment of LVA, we of course recommend that you pick it up ASAP

The two smaller images come courtesy of Tele Port City whom was also rather disappointed with this film..

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