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Blue Underground presents
The Stendhal Syndrome: 2-Disc Special Edition (1996)

"Inside it was really weird. Strange atmosphere. The paintings...they seemed to be floating."
- Anna (Asia Argento)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: May 30, 2008

Stars: Asia Argento
Other Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli, Julien Lambroschini, John Quentin, Antonio Marziantonio
Director: Dario Argento

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence. language)
Run Time: 01h:59m:23s
Release Date: September 25, 2007
UPC: 827058201490
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-A A-

DVD Review

The Stendhal Syndrome is one of Dario Argento's later works, released in 1999. Never one of his major go-to titles when his name is bandied about—that's usually reserved for films like Deep Red, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Suspiria—yet this is likely one of his most eerie and mature projects, certainly one of the most visually arresting.

As the police hunt for a murderous rapist (Thomas Kretschmann) who has nifty oral talents with razor blades, one of the lead investigators (Asia Argento) becomes the hunted, as a nightmarish encounter in a crowded art museum interconnects their relationship in some coarse, ugly ways. Casting daughter Asia (here not quite not the sexy genre icon she would soon become) and subjecting her to the indignities inflicted upon her here are best left between Dario and his therapist, though he is clearly not shy about putting her in some nasty scenarios. And whether Asia looks a bit too young and fragile to supposedly be a hardened detective is a minor speed bump that is overshadowed by the way the director works visually here, mixing visions, dreams and madness together into a tight, disturbing little ball. Plus, when Asia decides to uncork an ass-kicking, she can uncork an ass-kicking.

The syndrome referred to in the film's title is real; it occurs when someone is in the presence of powerful works of art, and who then begins to experience extreme and debilitating hallucinations. Unbeknownst to her, Asia's Detective Anna Manni suffers from this affliction, and the opening sequence—set in the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence—is a trippy setup for what's to come, as the sudden rush of visuals, whispering voices and the ability to cross the threshold into a painting allows director Argento the opportunity to really tilt the canvas, so to speak. A smoochy Stendhal-y encounter with large fish is one of the first indications that poor Anna is having some big personal issues, and things only progress wonderfully from there, into a heap of eerie beauty.

Running just under two hours, Dario Argento appears to have split the storytelling into an equal pair of rather separate chunks. It's a curious change, as the first hour or so deals directly with Anna and her involvement with the murderer/rapist, building to a genuinely creepy sequence where assorted graffiti begins to come to life. It's at this point that suddenly Argento shifts the focus, as poor, defiled Anna spends the remaining hour decked out in a hideous blonde wig, exploring her own mass of personal demons as the bodies continue to pile up, as a final encounter between good and evil eventually plays out.

Even with the abrupt shift in the plot, there's much to like to here, from the oddness of the dream-like visuals to the moody Ennio Morricone score, and Argento refrains from moving this purely into the horror realm. The beauty of the film's final shot is one of those moments that has a lingering magical quality to it, especially if you make Argento's connection. And kudos to Asia Argento (believable as a cop or not), who shows the genre promise that was to come in later work, and she is a mass of conflicted emotions throughout. The scenes where she is manacled to a dirty mattress are purposely unpleasant, and her display of abject fear is a real piece of work that makes the sequence properly squirm-worthy. On the downside, a couple of very primitive CG effects stand out (in a bad way), and thankfully they are kept to a minimum here.

Ditch that old Troma release of The Stendhal Syndrome with the muddy transfer, because Blue Underground deserves all sorts of high praise for this 2-disc release. An impressive uncut and uncensored transfer, along with an assortment of strong audio choices, have given this film an entirely fresh look, and another chance to see this one in all of its beautiful bad dream ugliness.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It is now officially safe to pitch that fugly 1999 Troma release of The Stendhal Syndrome in favor of this attractive 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. And what a difference nearly a decade makes. A hail-worthy and stellar job from Blue Underground, as the blemish-free print sports a set of deep, warm colors, making some of Asia Argento's early "Stendhal" moments appear especially beautiful and dreamlike. Some light grain is evident, and black levels are fairly strong, but do come off a bit thick in spots, most notably as the film moves into its final act.

The imperfections are truly minor, and Blue Underground deserves a hearty high-five from Argento fans for the work done here.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Italianno
Dolby Digital
English, Italianno

Audio Transfer Review: As with the image transfer, Blue Underground has dramatically upped the stakes on the audio side of things. English language tracks are offered in DTS-ES 6.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and 2.0 stereo, with Italian choices available in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and 2.0 stereo.

Considering The Stendhal Syndrome was shot with the largely Italian cast speaking English phonetically, only to be dubbed later by different actors, this is one of those instances where the actual English dub is not that far off. One could complain that the voice used for Asia Argento is distracting in its squeakiness, and certainly a far cry from her own sultry scotch-and-cigarettes growl. But the flow of the dub works fairly well here, and certainly much less of a distraction than the Italian tracks. The frequent use of swirling disembodied voices comes flying out of all channels, adding an improved upon level of creepy atmosphere.

Whether using English or Italian, the real treat is how both the DTS and 5.1 mixes give a lift to creating the proper mood for the stark Ennio Morricone score, represented here with bouts of deep bass and a generally wide-bodied presence.


Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase in sl
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This 2-disc set is packaged with a slipcover over a clear plastic hinged case; the artwork for both the external and internal covers are identical. Disc one carries the feature, split into 24 chapters with optional English subs, as well as an English language theatrical trailer.

Blue Underground has really dug up the goods for disc two, with five strong interview features that cover all the key areas (all presented in Italian with optional English subs). Director: Dario Argento (20m:02s) is a revealing conversation covering the origins and filming of this film, and he mentions his own Greek culture-based bout with the titular malady. Probably the most fascinating supplement here is Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini (20m:39s), in which the weird facts of the real-life Stendhal Syndrome are discussed at length. Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi (21m:50s), a prolific director in his own right, discusses his working history with Argento, while Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti (15m:47s) and Production Designer: Massimo Antonello Geleng (22m:39s) each go in-depth on the specifics of the film's striking iconic visuals (even if a couple of those Stivaletti CG effects look a little primitive today). The work of Stivaletti and Geleng is really pivotal to the moody success of Argento's work here, and giving them their just desserts on this set is a nice plus.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Perhaps something of a minor work in the director's catalog, there is absolutely nothing minor about the way Blue Underground has gussied up this 2-disc release. The uncut/uncensored transfer is a beaut—besting previous releases by a light years—and the array of audio choices (including DTS-ES 6.1) is equally impressive.

Less horror than psychological thriller, The Stendhal Syndrome easily carries some of Argento's most haunting and nightmarish visuals, and the added presence of Asia Argento as a troubled detective on the trail of a murdering rapist (or is it the other way around?) just gives this one an added kick.

Highly recommended.


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