The Stendhal Syndrome

Viewed – 22 December 2007  DVD

Special Edition

Ok, lets begin by saying this is probably the best release of this underrated Dario Argento film thus far – easily matching the former best version, the Medusa Italian DVD, which it has to be said was not so easily obtainable, therefore making this release a sigh of relief for fans.

Asia Argento’s (XXX, Scarlet Diva) second film under the direction of her father, horror movie icon Dario Argento, is one of the films that has divided opinion amongst fans. Some just can’t take to it, while others regard it as a triumph.  A departure of sorts from Dario Argento’s usual theme of black gloved killer who’s identity isn’t unmasked until the very end, this slow burning, creepy psychological horror follows the story of Police Woman Anna (Asia Argento) who suffers from an unusual illness called The Stendhal Syndrome, brought on after exposure to works of art, resulting in hallucinations.  After an unnerving experience at a gallery whilst on the trail of a serial rapist, Anna is attacked and raped. What begins as a who-dunnit soon turns into a disturbing battle of the sexes, ands its not until the film takes a sharp change in direction half way through, that you can appreciate just how intelligent this film really is.

Dario here shows another string to his directing bow.  Breaking away from his normal routine, he delivers a very different but no less effective chiller.  It is also one of his most powerful films, especially as we watch Anna’s gradual descent into madness (a wonderfully subtle performance), and Dario’s quality camera work and eye for the unexpected (a woman is shot, and we see the bullet pass in slow motion through her cheek and come out the other side) once again impresses.  Such a shift in style may cause you to overlook this film’s many strong points, as for me I only really got to understanding it after my third viewing.

As this version is the full extended cut of the film, I am pleased to say it features a few new scenes, although these add nothing to the experience, and as they are subtitled and clearly of varying picture quality, their inclusion seems unnecessary – but not too intrusive.  It’s by no means the travesty of Anchor Bay’s Deep Red which splices previously missing scenes into the film, although as they were originally intended, but ruin the experience due to frequent jumps from subtitles to english dubbing.American label Blue Underground though have once again done an Argento classic justice (I thoroughly recommend their release of his debut, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage), with attractive menus, some solid extras that really unearth some good information on the making of the film and those involved, and this time the picture quality is good – even if dark scenes still feel rather too dark, but its a vast improvement all round from the Dutch Film Works release, especially with Dolby Digital 5.1 ES and 6.1 DTS soundtracks, as well as similar fair for Italian.

Verdict:  4 /5

Further reading

DVD Times review

(from fellow Argento fan Michael Mackenzie)

Dario Argento – a reflection

With moderate hype surrounding his latest opus, The Mother of Tears…I thought it would be a good idea to post my thoughts on his back catalogue of films, especially the ones I have collected on DVD.  The other year you see, I went about collecting the best versions of his films on DVD, and have built up an admirable (in my opinion) set of DVD releases, and here are my thoughts on them… 


Dario Argento with daughter Asia


My favourite Argento film (aka Terror at the Opera in the UK), that I own in the limited edition Anchor Bay version comprising the the film, completely uncut and in a brilliant widescreen transfer and THX optimized 5.1 Dolby Digital EX and 6.1 DTS sound.  We also get a 36 minute documentary, trailers and music video.  Add to this the soundtrack on a seperate CD – and I am proud to have this in my collection.  I think the only thing missing from it is a commentary.  This film itself is an explicitly-violent, masochistic take on the Phantom of the Opera story, and has some of Argento’s best set-pieces, of which I won’t spoil for you here.  With a great soundtrack by Goblin (an Argento regular) and a great lead performance by Cristina Marsillach, the only downside to this great film is a rather wierd ending that seems tacked-on and a little out of flavour to the rest of the film.


One of Argento’s more recent efforts seems to me like a best-of, throwing together some of his greatest trademarks such as the black-gloved killer, eerie soundtrack by Goblin and grand, bloody murder set pieces.  For me the opening train sequence is the best the film has to offer, but its classic who dunnit plot is gripping and has a great performance from Max Von Sydow as a retired Cop investigating a series of murders seemingly linked to a past, unsolved case.  This is classic Argento, and so far the last really good film he has made.

The DVD release I own is the UK M.I.A. release that boasts a second DVD with the really rather excellent An Eye For Horror doumentary hosted by UK film critic Mark Kermode.  The film itself is presented in a quality widescreen transfer and is in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, that is all the better for Goblin’s superb theme playing thoughout.


This is probably his most famous film, and an essential part of any horror-fans collection.  Unlike most of his other films, this is more fantastical and mysterious and isn’t really a murder-mystery.  Set in a high-class ballet academy, this spooky film follows the story of a young student who gets mixed up in a series of murders and disappearances and uncovers a witches coven as a result.  This very distinctive film in Argento’s career forms the first part of his Three Mothers Trilogy, which also encompasses Inferno and soon The Mother Of Tears, and is a stunning assault on the senses that may not be to everyone’s taste.

The U.S. Anchor Bay release is the best you can find, and the one I own is a 3 disk set with a stunning wide-screen transfer in 5.1 Dolby Digital EX, 6.1 DTS aswell as an option for Italian and French soundtracks.  We also have poster galleries, a 25th Anniversary documentary and the original soundtrack on a seperate CD.  If u can find this still online anywhere – u have to own it.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

Argento’s 1970 debut, inspired by the novel The Screaming Mimi, is a classic who-dunnit with many trademarks that shaped the rest of his career.  With a stand-out lead performance from Tony Musante this stylish thriller is still one of Argento’s finest films.  With a great soundtrack from seasoned master Ennio Morricone, this formed the first part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which also includes Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet, and was heavilly influenced by many similar films of the era, especially those of his mentor Mario Bava.  Not as grizzly as much of his later releases, this still has some shocking moments and probably his finest script.

The DVD I own from U.S. label Blue Underground is probably the best to go for, presented on 2 disks with a commentary by Argento biographer Alan Jones and UK film critic Kim Newman that is well worth listening to.  The film is presented in a very-good (if slightly grainy) widescreen transfer and has 5.1 Dolby Digital and 6.1 DTS sound.  Add to this interviews with Argento, cinematographer Vittorio Sotraro,  composer Ennio Morricone and actress Eva Renzi  – and this is the kind of treatment a classic film such as this deserves.


Other films from Dario Argento I heartilly recommend, but thus far don’t all have the deserved DVD treatment as those mentioned, include:

Tenebrae – still boasting some of his best camera-work and set-piece murders, and a great performance from Anthony Franciosa. We also get a rare audio commentary by Argento alongside composers Claudio Simonetti of Goblin.  I own the UK Anchor Bay release, that unlike the U.S. equivalent boasts a quality anamorphic widescreen transfer (which if u know anything about wide screen TVs, is the one to go for).

Deep Red – the only versions we have are the censored UK release from Platinum Pictures or an uncut Anchor Bay / Blue Underground release (that I own) which jumps from dubbed English to Italian at an alarmingly frequent rate, although does have a full Italian soundtrack to compensate.  The film itself is another who-dunnit but has some fantstic murders and a great soundtrack, again from Goblin – and is also one of Argento’s most acclaimed films after Suspiria.

I am also looking forward to the Blue Underground release of The Stendhal Syndrome, one of Argento’s most misunderstood films, with daughter Asia Argento as a rookie cop investigating a serial rapist.  This is not pleasant viewing but does have some great moments and stylish direction throughout.

Update:  See my review of the recent Blue Undergrund release HERE