There have been a number of times that I’ve changed my mind about a particular film, instances where I’ve gone from hating a movie the first time seeing it, only to enjoy it immensely during my next visit. That seems to be the case, once again, with Dario Argento’s 1996 film, The Stendhal Syndrome.
Officer Anna Manni (Asia Argento, Demons 2, The Church) is trying to catch a serial killer that the department has been tracking for months. Once inside the art gallery with which she is told he will be, she experiences slight hallucinations and faints unexpectedly. Upon regaining consciousness, she can’t remember her name and is met by a man who helps her gather her belongings. The man just so happens to be the serial killer Anna was after.
That night, Anna is awakened in her home by the killer, Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann, Dracula 3D, Resident Evil: Apocalypse), who rapes her. She is then forced to watch another woman get raped and murdered, before she is able to escape. After Anna’s episode at the gallery and encounter with the killer, she starts exhibiting strange behavior, cutting her hair very short, dressing like a man, and, many times, causing herself to bleed.
After a short getaway at her family home in Viterbo, Anna is greeted once again by the now obsessed serial rapist and murderer. This only causes her hallucinations to get worse, bringing her to the very edge of sanity. This doesn’t bode well for Alfredo, once Anna escapes his restraints this second time. Even after he is gone, however, Anna’s grip on reality does not tighten. In fact, her mind slips further into insanity with no sign of return.
One of the later films in Argento’s filmography, The Stendhal Syndrome is a return to his signature giallo formula. It was filmed entirely in Italy and features a cast and crew of long time collaborators, including composer Ennio Morricone (who received an Academy Award for his score to Quentin Tarantino’s film The Hateful Eight in 2016) and of course his daughter, Asia Argento.
The performances throughout The Stendhal Syndrome are extremely well-done. Asia Argento is brilliant as she crosses the line between sanity and insanity multiple times throughout the film’s 119 minutes, having to go through some pretty powerful scenes. Equally so, Thomas Kretschmann does a wonderful job in his extremely effective portrayal of our creepy antagonist, the suave and clean-cut serial rapist.
With this film, Dario Argento decided to opt of using the Euro-rock group, Goblin, that so many other Italian films featured and return to his roots with an eerie and perfectly fitting score by Ennio Morricone. Morricone’s choice of sounds and composition really assists in getting the audience in the proper head-space, as they watch Anna lose her mind. The score is amazing from start to finish and I couldn’t imagine watching The Stendhal Syndrome with any other soundtrack.
I would like to note that Argento decided to incorporate quite a bit of animation and CGI into the first act of the film. While it doesn’t look the greatest, it is certainly a good way to illustrate what Anna is envisioning, herself, and to have the audience relate to the psychotropic-like state that she is now in.
The Stendhal Syndrome has a rather slow pacing at times, but it does seem to work for this type of commentary. It has an interesting plot, impressive performances from Asia Argento and others, and although it isn’t the most gory horror film, it does feature quite a bit of blood. I recommend it to any and all fans of Italian cinema and of the maestro himself, Dario Argento.
Once again, Blue Underground has outdone themselves with their newest iteration of the film’s home release. The 3-disc set contains the film on both newly remastered Blu-ray and DVD, a disc of all of the featurettes from Blue Underground’s 2007 release of the film, and all new bonus features. Among the new features are interviews with Asia Argento and co-writer Franco Ferrini and commentary with author Troy Howarth. Even though I own the previous Blue Underground release of the film, I could not be happier to own this particular one, as well. The bonus content and reversible artwork are worth it alone, but the film also looks and sounds better than ever before.
If you have not seen The Stendal Syndrome before, I highly recommend you do so. I give this flick 4 slow-mo gunshots to the side of the mouth out of 5.