Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

This somewhat overlooked gem in the careers of both legendary director Dario Argento and his movie star daughter Asia Argento deserves much more attention than it ever seems to get. While the dub is dubious and there are some dated special effects, it is a highly entertaining and unsettling film that satisfies the need for both visceral blood and psychological tension.

I find it an addictive viewing experience that continues to improve with repeat viewings for several reasons. There always seems to be something else to notice. I like that in a film. Makes it worth your money.

The Stendhal Syndrome is a film that splits opinion, with many deriding it as one of Argeento's weakest efforts and others talking of its brilliance. I fall somewhere between the two camps, as while it's no Suspiria or Inferno, it's certainly not his worst film by a long way.

Asia plays a cop called Anna who becomes drawn into a world of madness by a rapist and murderer who discovers he can play on the fact that she suffers from the titular syndrome, which causes people to become mesmerized by art, inducing a trance-like state. Forced to witness his atrocities, Anna soon becomes a victim herself and thus begins a tense game of cat and mouse mixed with some very stylish visuals and what was at the time the first ever use of CG special effects in Italian cinema.

Thomas Krestchmann is on fine form as the lunatic serial killer, taking on a part originally (and quite clearly) intended for Julian Sands. He does a good job with the psycho role, and he and Asia are far and away the best elements of the cast. Their extremely complicated relationship makes for gripping viewing, and the overall effect of the film is somewhere between arthouse and grindhouse.
It has less power when viewed with the English language track on, as it's a terrible dub job, but it still hits home when it matters the most. If you can get the English subtitles to actually work on the Arrow Films DVD (which I've bought for this review), then the original language track is much more fitting, but either way it stands as a fine film that may even be a good place to start for those of you unfamiliar with the work of Dario Argento and the Giallo genre.

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