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The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

Blue Underground
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/25/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/25/2017

Throughout the 1970s, Italian director Dario Argento worked pretty prolifically, turning out 6 movies between 1970 & 1980. And while it would be easy to assume that a workload like that would dilute the quality, I think that most would agree that Argento's best films were made during this period. (Although, my favorite Argento film is 1982's Tenebre.) From 1982-1990, Argento made four movies, and for many this would mark the end of his truly creative period. The 1990s is where Argento’s name began to stop carrying much weight in the horror world. While he continued to make movies, they didn’t measure up to his earlier work, even when his mimicked previous films, such as with The Stendhal Syndrome.

The Stendhal Syndrome introduces us to Police Detective Anna Manni (Asia Argento), who is visiting an art museum. While there, she faints and she’s helped by a man named Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann). Later, Alfredo appears in Anna’s hotel room and attacks her. Anna is able to escape and she surmises that Alfredo may be the serial killer that she’s been looking for. Shaken by the attack, Anna goes to live with her father and attempts to maintain a normal life. However, she can forget about Alfredo and she’s on the lookout for her chance to get revenge.

To put it mildly, Argento’s films never followed the rules of a traditional narrative and never attempted to play like anyone else’s films. Many of his early movies were basically murder-mysteries, but they certainly didn’t adhere to the classic Agatha Christie “clues and suspects” rules. Although, he dabbled in the supernatural, Argento always came back to movies which were crime thrillers in some form. The Stendhal Syndrome certainly follows this pattern, although it eschews the murder-mystery format for the most part, as we are fairly certain that Anna has the right guy with Alfredo. (If you walk around with a razor blade in your mouth, you’re probably a killer of some sort.)

But, if you look beyond that, you’ll see that The Stendhal Syndrome is much more of a drama than anything else. Yes, the movie contains some very violent scenes and two people get shot through the face, but those moments only make up a small part of the movie. While some of the film plays like a psychological thriller, there is also heavy dose of drama here. The middle part of the film portrays a semi-accurate portrait of a rape-survivor, as Anna withdraws from the world and changes her appearance. We also get several scenes of Anna working with her therapist. It’s not until the third act that The Stendhal Syndrome truly transforms into a thriller, as Anna begins to truly succumb to her issues. The problem here is that the final twist bears a very strong resemblance to one of Argento’s earlier hits.

The truly weird thing about The Stendhal Syndrome is that it doesn’t use its titular device enough. Stendhal Syndrome is an actual condition where, when confronted with a moving piece of art, the individual will experience sweating, a racing heart, hallucinations, and fainting. We see Anna go through this in the first act, and Argento uses this as an opportunity to deliver some surreal moments and a nicely done scene in which Anna magically leaves her hotel room. Yet, this subplot goes away in the latter parts of the film, leaving us with a fairly standard thriller. This is a perfect example of how scattershot The Stendhal Syndrome is. It jumps from genre to genre, never finding a rhythm and often feeling like a few films sewn together. Despite the bleak tone and a few action sequences, for the most part, the movie is somewhat boring. The worst part is that it makes us yearn for the Argento of old.

The Stendhal Syndrome gives fish-lip-kiss a new meaning on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 21 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a trace amount of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image does good somewhat soft in some shots, but the picture shows off a nice amount of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound action really jumps out at us during the opening act, and we get an idea of the work which went into making this mix. The stereo effects do a fine job of alerting us to sounds coming from off-screen and display some nice details at times.

The Stendhal Syndrome Blu-ray Disc contains several extras which are spread across two Discs. The Blu-ray Disc kicks off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from So Deadly, So Perverse author Troy Howarth. "Three Shades of Asia" (20 minutes) is a modern day interview with Asia Argento who discusses how she got the part (?!), the making of the film, and the film's themes. "Prisoner of Art" (14 minutes) offers Co-Writer Franco Ferrini a chance to describe what it was like to work with Argento in this new interview. "Sharp As a Razor" (10 minutes) has Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni describing his work on the film, focusing on the gore effects and never mentioning that weird fish. We also get a THEATRICAL TRAILER and a "Poster & Still Gallery". A separate DVD, which is labeled as "2007 Featurettes", offers additional extras. Things get started with a 20-minute interview with Argento himself, as he delves into the particulars of The Stendhal Syndrome. "Inspiration" (22 minutes) allows "Psychological Consultant" Graziella Magherini to describe her work in the film and her contributions to the story. "Special Effects" (16 minutes) has genre veteran Sergio Stivaletti talking about his relationship with Argento, the early CG effects, and finally, that fish. We hear from another Italian legend, Luigi Cozzi, in "Assistant Director" (22 minutes). "Production Designer" (23 minutes) gives Massimo Antonello Geleng an opportunity to talk about the look of the film.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long