Horror, Thriller

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

Comments Off on The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) 29 September 2017

Stendhal

Studio: Blue Underground

Theatrical Release: January 26, 1996 (Italy)

Blu Ray Release: July 25, 2017

Director: Dario Argento

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal’s syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.—Wikipedia

Remember the heyday of the gloriously gruesome 1980’s when film directors would churn out classic after classic? John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Lucio Fulci, and of course, Dario Argento all were at the top of their career during that decade. Argento, whose career started in the 70’s, made several wonderful films all of which are now classics such as Deep Red, Susperia, Tenebrae, Phenomena, and Opera. And like his contemporaries, once the 1990’s started, the quality of his films suddenly dropped. While I would love to write a paper or a journal entry about the decline of horror starting in the 1990’s, this is not the place to do so. I am here to review Blue Underground’s gorgeous transfer of the humorless and slightly disappointing The Stendhal Syndrome, a surreal horror film that seems to lose steam mid-way through the film. 

Argento’s own daughter Asia Argento stars as Anna, a pretty young woman who, while searching for someone or something in Florence’s Galleria deli Uffizi becomes hypnotized by the gorgeous paintings, faints and suffers temporary amnesia. Not knowing exactly who she is or what she does, she soon pieces together clues that leads her to remember that she is a police officer tracking down a serial rapist who is now starting to murder his victims. 

Anna eventually meets the rapist, Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann from 2005’s King Kong remake) a blonde, good looking but overall crazed psychopath who shoots a victim point blank in the face in front of Anna before he rapes and beats her. Alfredo rolling of a razor blade inside his mouth, eventually using the blade to slice Anna’s lips while he kisses her, tasting her blood is quite sick and may turn off some sensitive viewers. 

Trying to recover from this horrific event, Anna travels to Rome, cuts her hair, and decides to go back to her hometown to stay with her family as she puts her life back together. Anna also needs to go before the police board to defend her actions on how she handled the pursuit and eventual failure of capturing the rapist. Psychologically scarred, Anna’s own personality changes as she starts to take boxing classes and even tries to rape her own boyfriend. In one bizarre sequence, Anna covers her naked body in paint, as she stills suffers from the stendhal syndrome. 

Alfredo eventually returns and kidnaps Anna, taking her to a secluded area where he ties her up on an old mattress and once again rapes her. As he leaves her there to go to work, Anna is able to free herself but refuses to leave and waits for her capteur to return. When he does so and is close enough, Anna springs free and drives the mattress springs that are tied to her wrists into his neck while beating him senselessly, even plucking out his eye. Tossing him into the river, Anna tells her superiors what has happened to her but questions are raised when Alfredo’s body is not found. 

In fear of being attacked by Alfredo, Anna buys a blonde wig and starts to distance herself from everyone except her psychiatrist who doesn’t really offer much advice to Anna. Anna eventually meets a French art student and the two form a relationship. That is, until Alfredo begins calling her again and stalking not only her, but those close to her. 

For those that have seen a few horror films, it is fairly obvious how the third act ends and what the twist will be as we see Anna again and again taking pills, showing signs of sudden personality changes, etc. etc. That may be one of my biggest complaints with The Stendhal Syndrome is that there is no surprise or shock ending, in fact her beating of Alfredo feels like the film’s climax when it happens only in the middle of the film. Maybe my love for Argento’s earlier horrific films has somehow muddled my opinion of The Stendhal Syndrome. The 1990’s seemed to have been flooded by serial killer films thanks to the success of Silence of the Lambs that by 1996, this type of thriller seemed old hat. Maybe if The Stendhal Syndrome was more closer to a giallo, I may have enjoyed the film more. Not to mention, throwing in strange CGI POV shots like pills being swallowed or bullets traveling through flesh is not only dated but unnecessary, coming off as silly, thus pulling the viewer out of the film. 

I did however enjoy the brave performance by the then 21 year old Asia Argento whose quite good as Anna. Originally Papa Argento wanted Bridget Fonda for the role of Anna when he was going to shoot the film in the U.S. before the funding fell through. While Fonda is a great actress, I think shooting in Italy and using the talented young Argento was the right choice, giving the film a more mysterious aura. In fact, I think if the film was more non-linear the movie could have played much better instead of the typical and predictable serial killer storyline. 

Not to sound like a broken record but Blue Underground once again has released a stellar blu ray package, a 3 disc set that is well worth the price. Fans may still have nightmares over the Troma DVD that was released years ago. Even the 2007 DVD by Blue Underground wasn’t perfect. Ten years later, this is the version one will want. 

The transfer is downright gorgeous. The transfer is a 2K restoration from the original camera negative. It boasts beautiful bright colors, still retains the film grain but never looks fuzzy or soft. I even caught myself muttering to myself during the opening sequence how gorgeous the transfer looked. Blue Underground has caused me on several occasions to talk to myself as they continue to impress with their transfers. The audio tracks are just as good, giving the viewer three options: a brand new 7.1 DTS soundtrack, the 5.1 dolby digital surround soundtrack, and the Italian 2.0 DTS soundtrack. Please note, there is a small minor compression issue regarding the English dub, where a few lines of dialog are suddenly missing, including a scream. Blue Underground had this to say:

“Recently, we were made aware of a minor compression issue and 2 bits of missing audio (English version only) on the new STENDHAL SYNDROME Blu-ray. We investigated and have now corrected the Blu-ray. We will be offering a replacement V2 disc for those with concerns about the aforementioned issues.
If you purchased the new 3-DISC LIMITED EDITION and the
Blu-ray disc art does not have “V2” on it, you may request a replacement Blu-ray
Disc by emailing us at StendhalBDreplacement@gmail.com. You MUST include the following information in your email to qualify for a replacement disc:
· Your Name
· Mailing address
· Copy of receipt showing purchase of THE STENDHAL SYNDROME 3-Disc Limited Edition
The V2 Blu-ray Discs will be available to mail out in approximately 4 weeks. We thank you for your continued support and patience!”

Rounding out the special features are all of the 2007 extras ported over such as an interview with Dario Argento, psychological consultant Graziella Magherini, special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and finally the assistant director Luigi Cozzi. These interviews are all on their own disc. 

The new special features include an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly So Perverse who gives some great insight on the making of the film and admits that this is not one of Argento’s most fondly remembered films (even though Howarth praises it any chance he gets). There are also new interviews with Asia Argento who still looks amazing and even gets choked up talking about the film and how it holds a special place for her, co-writer Franco Ferrini, and make up artist Franco Casagni. Finally the theatrical trailer and poster / still gallery are included as well. The third disc in the set is a DVD of the film along with the new special features, for those of you who still watch only DVD’s (what is wrong with you people?).

While it doesn’t hold a candle to his earlier films, Dario Argento’s thriller The Stendhal Syndrome is worth a look as it does have a few decent scares, a great soundtrack (Ennio Morricone!) and a suburb performance by the lead actress. 

Movie Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Blu Ray Rating: ★★★★½ 

 

 

 

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