A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?” For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep. The Stendhal Syndrome 1996, Italy. Written and directed by Dario Argento. Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi. It’s okay to have mixed feelings about Dario Argento. While not a household name in the United States, not even among all horror fans, there is something greatly divisive about Argento among those who are familiar with his work. Every one of his movies from THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) to OPERA (1987) has been granted instant classic status, while just about everything since then has pretty much been trashed. It’s not hard to see why. Sometimes there seems to be both a profound cinematic genius and a bumbling novice at work in his filmography, often even within the same film. Maybe it’s because his movies seem to start in one place, but then fragment into a bunch of luminous, kaleidoscopic pieces of convoluted plotlines, ridiculous deaths, and operatic psychosexual drama. Which is not to say that any of this is necessarily bad. If I’m having a psychosexual drama, please let it be as beautifully, colorfully horrific as any of the images from SUSPIRIA (1977), INFERNO (1980), or DEEP RED (1975). When he’s at his best, Argento is an utter master at wrapping surreal inside of scary, of gutting a mystery until a pile of other mysteries falls out onto the floor. THE STENDHAL SYNDROME more-or-less starts where his earliest films started, with a little detective work from someone we don’t even know is a detective. Argento burst from the old-school Italian horror of Mario Bava, bringing his own kind of blood-drenched, Hitchcock-influenced giallo to the screen. Giallo, literally “yellow” in Italian, alludes to the covers of the pulp mystery novels popular in that country. Most are a twisted take on Raymond Chandler and film noir. Some dirty deed has been done just before the story begins, which gets the narrative moving, but then all kinds of new mayhem ensues. Giallo films are all about haunted protagonists on the edge of madness, psychopaths as bizarre as they are brutal, and lots of skin-tight black gloves. This particular one, while catching Argento several years past his prime, is what might happen if Alfred Hitchcock met Thomas De Quincey at Brian DePalma’s house, smoked a bunch of opium, and then went to the art gallery. We watch as a beautiful woman makes her way through the crowded streets of Florence, seemingly on some kind of mission. She enters Italy’s famed Uffizi Gallery and immediately starts to become overwhelmed. Her eyes dart from the ceiling to the walls, taking in each work of art as if it were alive. The sound of horses neighing and stomping their feet oozes from a painting. The winds howl against Venus as she rises out of the sea. Medusa screams from a painted canvas. The woman stands in front of Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus and the watery landscape rushes forward to engulf her, while she falls to the gallery floor, smashing her face into a display stand. A tall blonde man, who had been watching, races to help her to her feet. When she staggers outside, he is close behind with the purse she had dropped. His name is Alfredo, but she can’t remember who she is. Curiously, his response is, “Great works of art have great power. Most of them don’t understand, but I do.” She has no identification, but there is a hotel key in her purse. As she raises the window of a taxi, the strange man’s face is briefly superimposed over hers. In her room at the hotel, she learns that her name is Anna Manni, and she is a detective in search of a serial rapist who has just begun to kill his victims. It doesn’t take a mental giant watching this movie to figure out who the rapist is (hint: it’s the guy who looks like an even crazier Roy Batty from BLADE RUNNER). For the time being, however, Anna pulls a deep red curtain on the outside world and tries to fall asleep. But the painting on her hotel wall is full of sound. A framed print of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, she creeps closer to throw a blanket over its rabble of voices and commotion. The sounds continue even when she can’t see the picture. Yanking the blanket from the painting, she looks at the scene of 17th century policemen at work . . . and smiles. The painting seems to melt off the wall, leaving a gateway to another crime scene. One that she is apparently investigating. When she returns from her possibly delusional excursion, she stands in front of the painting again. Reflected in the glass behind her, another figure appears. It’s Alfredo. With a razorblade smile. He and Anna are about to become inextricably linked in a dark game of cat-and-mouse that won’t end as easily as it seems. Argento initially tried to get Bridget Fonda, and then Jennifer Jason Leigh, for the role of Anna, but it eventually went to his own 21-year old daughter, Asia. So these scenes where he’s directing someone on how to properly rape and brutalize her for the big screen must be one of the most screwed-up incidents ever of a parent bringing their child to work. Can we get Dr. Freud on the line here? But whatever awkwardness they experienced at the dinner table was entirely worth it for the viewer because she is really quite amazing in the role. With only four previous acting credits (two of them in horror flicks related to Daddy), she is convincing in every aspect of a character who flies from confused to vulnerable to ferocious. She’s particularly good at ferocious, most notably in a halftime scene of revenge. The director said that he experienced the titular syndrome as a child. While touring Athens with his parents, he ascended the steps of the damn-near mythical Parthenon and was overcome by a kind of trance, which he didn’t emerge from for hours. When he read Graziella Magherini’s 1989 book on the subject, it all came flooding back to him. He had the seed for his next movie. Named for the first recorded incident, when French writer Stendhal momentarily lost his mind in a famous Tuscan church, this is an actual disorder whose victims suffer from disorientation, seizures, and hallucinations when exposed to larger-than-life works of art. Apparently, thousands of Florentines have been afflicted while staring at the masterpieces of Raphael and Michelangelo. They enter a kind of surreal fugue state upon being emotionally overwhelmed, resulting in an increased heartbeat, dilated eyes, and the world receding momentarily around them. Most of us only feel that way when we see Asia Argento. THE STENDHAL SYNDROME isn’t my favorite Argento. Like just about everyone else, that would probably be SUSPIRIA or DEEP RED. Maybe one of those DEMONS movies he wrote for Bava’s boy, if you catch me in a demonic mood. There are numerous flaws in this flick, from the baby-steps CGI – the first time for any Italian film, right here, folks! – to a couple of unnecessary visual flourishes by a director who’s known for them anyway. There are a few piles of poo in the narrative logic as well, but these are present in Argento’s best work and everyone just walks around them. When I first saw this movie, my reaction was simply, Huh. But it improves and rewards upon subsequent viewings, even though most people are going to watch it endlessly. For me, though, seeing it again last night revealed a few moments of the genius that critics says retired after OPERA. Not his best, no, but I think it can stand with some of the movies everyone considers his classics. See larger image Stendhal Syndrome [Blu-ray] DARIO ARGENTO’S Masterpiece Of Terror Uncut, Uncensored And Newly Remastered! When beautiful police detective Anna Manni follows the bloody trail of a sophisticated serial murderer/rapist through the streets of Italy, the young woman falls victim to the bizarre “Stendhal Syndrome” a hallucinatory phenomenon which causes her to lose her mind and memory in the presence of powerful works of art. Trapped in this twilight realm, Anna plunges deeper and deeper into sexual psychosis, until she comes to know the killer’s madness more intimately than she ever imagined. Horror maestro Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA, OPERA) reaches new heights of florid fantasy and Grand Guignol with this warped work of art starring Maxim Magazine’s “Sexiest Woman in the World” Asia Argento (LAND OF THE DEAD, XXX), Thomas Kretschmann (DRACULA 3D, KING KONG) and Marco Leonardi (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3, CINEMA PARADISO). Previously edited outside of Italy, Blue Underground proudly presents THE STENDHAL SYNDROME in a gorgeous new 2K restoration from the original camera negative and bursting with brand-new Extras exclusive to this release! Special Features: Director: Dario Argento Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi Production Designer: Massimo Antonello Geleng BONUS Collectable Booklet with new essay by author Michael Gingold New From: $19.98 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.