The Stendhal Syndrome steps away from the traditional giallo formula. There's no need for masks or black leather gloves this time around -- the identity of the killer is never in question -- and Argento is less fascinated by elaborate, operatic murders than he has been in years past. The body count is low, but this is by design; The Stendhal Syndrome is ultimately about the torment being inflicted on Anna and how ravaged she is by these attacks. Argento is daring enough to structure the film far away from convention, creating what amounts to a two-act story that caught me off-guard my first time through.
There's a rawness and savagery to these attacks that are far removed from Argento's trademark operatic flair. The rapes and murders aren't elaborately staged, bathed in candy-colored lighting, or set against blaring rock music. The movie doesn't
There are very few faults to be found throughout The Stendhal Syndrome. One misstep doesn't date back to the original photography, though. The movie was filmed with the expectation that its dialogue would be re-recorded after the fact, and the actors brought in to record the English soundtrack are wooden, stilted, and extremely unconvincing. The Italian recording isn't perfect either, but it makes for a considerably more engaging experience, and I'd recommend that over any of the three English tracks on this Blu-ray disc. The Stendhal Syndrome was the first Italian feature film to make use of digital effects, but its stabs at CGI wouldn't have been convincing back in 1996 and look especially ridiculous now. This is Argento, though, so it goes without saying that the effects are ambitious: a bullet slowly piercing the cheek of one of the maniac's victims, the camera following two pills Anna swallows as they course through her body, and that dreamlike imagery of Anna stepping through paintings. These sorts of effects are used sparingly and are only a brief distraction. My only real disappointment is with the uneven pace, particularly throughout the second half of the film. With tighter editing and a more competent English dub, The Stendhal Syndrome might be much better appreciated than it is now.
Rather than retreat to familiar territory on his return to Italy, Dario Argento decided instead to craft a bleak, somber, and experimental thriller. This is the closest Argento has come to making a character piece, and this series of risks resulted in perhaps his strongest work of the 1990s. I wouldn't recommend The Stendhal Syndrome as a starting point for the uninitiated, but this is a movie well worth discovering on Blu-ray for established fans of the director, and those who've already picked up earlier DVDs ought to consider giving the film another look in high definition. Recommended.
This Blu-ray disc features
Although the clarity and detail within this lightly pillarboxed 1.66:1 image aren't especially dazzling, the flawless reproduction of the film grain suggests this is a limitation of the original photography. It's still a noticeable improvement over previous releases, and Argento fans who've only been exposed to the borderline-unwatchable DVD released by Troma years ago ought to be floored by The Stendhal Syndrome in high definition. Black levels are consistently robust throughout, its palette is less stylized than Argento's best known work but reflects the stark reality of so much of the movie, and the transfer is free of any flaws or wear worth noting.
There's no trace of any sort of visual processing at all: I couldn't spot edge enhancement anywhere throughout, and the consistently grainy texture never shows any sign of being smeared away by heavy-handed noise reduction. This isn't conventional home theater eye candy by any stretch, but I've been very impressed by the work Blue Underground has invested into their first couple of Blu-ray releases, and Argento's legions of fans ought to be pleased with how faithfully the original photography has been reproduced in high definition.
The Stendhal Syndrome features a slew of different audio options: 7.1 lossless soundtracks in both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbps) tracks in English and Italian. This is a particularly immersive remix, with an unrelenting sense of atmosphere, devastating nightmares, and Ennio Morricone's haunting score swirling from every direction. The English dialogue was re-recorded after the fact, and although it does sound canned and unconvincing, it's technically reproduced well enough. A noticeable hiss lurks in the background, but it's not heavy enough to distract. The lower frequencies are modest, and effects aren't especially full-bodied, but it's still a strong effort. I have to admit that rather than have a pair of lossless English soundtracks, it would've been nice to see Blue Underground offer one in English and another in Italian. Even though the Italian dialogue was looped in post as well, there's an intensity to it that better suits the tone of The Stendhal Syndrome.
Optional English subtitles have also been provided. Because some of the scenes in this unrated cut of The Stendhal Syndrome were never dubbed into English, brief portions of the film are in Italian only and are subtitled.
The Stendhal Syndrome carries over the feature-length series of retrospective interviews from Blue Underground's two-disc DVD set. All of its extras are presented in standard definition, and these Italian interviews are accompanied by English subtitles.
The Final Word
The Stendhal Syndrome melds Dario Argento's dreamlike imagery with an intense, visceral, and disturbingly realistic brutality, making for one of the director's strongest thrillers of his later period. It's not a perfect movie, no; the early stabs at CGI haven't aged well at all, the poorly looped English dialogue can be distracting, and its slower pace saps away some of the intensity. Still, I'd reach for The Stendhal Syndrome over any of the films that Argento has helmed since Opera, and it's an underappreciated thriller that the director's fans ought to find worth rediscovering on Blu-ray. Recommended.