The Stendahl Syndrome

The Stendahl Syndrome (1996)
Cast: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Luigi Diberti
Extras: Commentary Track, Ruggero Deodato Remembers Cannibal Holocaust, Interview, Biographies

By the 1980s, Dario Argento, heir-apparent to Mario Bava, was considered the new Maestro of international horror. The 90s were less kind to him, but the 1996 release of ’The Stendhal Syndrome’ reminded many viewers of the power of his cinematic vision.

Asia Argento, Dario’s daughter, plays police inspector Anna Manni. The trail of a serial rapist/murderer leads her to Florence and the Uffizi museum. Here she discovers that she suffers from ’Stendhal Syndrome’, a debilitating affliction which causes such susceptibility to art that a viewer experiences the work as reality. Recovering in her hotel room, Anna soon finds her own life in danger and learns just how close she is to the killer.

For me, this film marked a return to form for Argento; perhaps not up to the masterpiece level of ’Suspiria’, but better than many of the factory-line products the horror industry churns out these days. His work is always pure cinema, and the power of his visual style is well served by the art-as-experience aspect of the story. Though a bit uneven-it suffers an identity crisis halfway through-this is a powerful and dark fantasy.

Troma used a nice, clean print for this transfer, which is letterboxed at 1.66:1. The transfer itself, however, falls short. Chroma noise and serious compression artifacts are noticeable in many scenes, resulting in a soft and washed out look that noticeably lacks definition. There is also an unintentional graininess in scenes with heavy shadows – unacceptable in an Argento movie. After the recent and gorgeous DVD of ’Deep Red’, this DVD comes as a disappointment.

The soundtrack is Dolby Pro Logic Surround; it’s very clear and the sound stage is effectively used to enhance many of the more interesting scenes, such as when Anna gets drawn into a painting and finds herself underwater. The score, by the great Ennio Morricone, is moody, evocative, and generally outstanding.

There are quite a few ’extras’ on this disk, though they fall into narrow categories. There are several interviews with the director (the best of which is with Lenny Svenson, who probes Argento about specific projects), and one with special effects man Sergio Stivaletti. The sound and image quality of these range from OK to terrible. Bios of Dario and Asia are included as well. Other extras…and there are many…all serve to promote Troma Studios in one form or another. These can be fun or stupid, depending on your mood.

Inferior transfer notwithstanding, ’The Stendhal Syndrome’ is Dario Argento’s key film from the 1990s; reason enough for any horror fan to view this disk.