Saturday, July 22, 2017

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996) 3-Disc Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)

3-Disc Limited Edition

Label: Blue Underground

Release Date: July 25th 2017 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 119 Minutes
Audio: English and Italian Dolby Digital and DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0, Surround 5.1, Surround 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli

Synopsis: 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.
In Dario Argento's arguably last really good film we have his daughter Asia Argento (Land of the Dead) portraying an Italian policewoman, Detective Anna Manni, travelling to Florence, Italy on the trail of a serial killer/rapist. An anonymous tip sends her to a fine art gallery on his trail, but while there she is overcome by a condition known as stendhal syndrome, a real condition wherein she is completely overwhelmed by the surrounding works of art, her head begins to spin, she experiences auditory hallucinations, and then begins to hallucinate that she is inside one of the paintings. In a grand dream like sequence she is plunged beneath the surface of the ocean where she encounters a nightmare-fuel vision of a fish with a very human looking face, it's unsettling, bizarrely she begins to make out with it and wakes up from her trance-state confused and a bit lost. A man named  Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann, Peter Jackson's King Kong) attempts to help her, but she heads back to her hotel alone, still disoriented. 

It turns out that the man she encountered at the gallery is the very serial killer/rapist she is looking for, back at the hotel she again begins to experience the disorienting effects of the syndrome, when she is attacked by Alfredo, who forces her onto a bed and stuffs a gun into her mouth, perversely slicing open her lip with a razor blade before brutally raping her, all the while trying to keep her conscious as she begins to pass out. eventually she passes out and awakens in a car parked on the street where Alfredo is raping another woman right in front of Anna, before shooting her in the face. Anna is able to escape but is scarred by the traumatic experience. In the aftermath she cuts her hair shorter, her personality begins to change, and she becomes obsessed with capturing the serial killer, and visits a therapist to help her sort through the traumatic experience. 

Meanwhile Alfredo is still on the loose, he continues to mind-fuck Anna in a perverse game cat and mouse, eventually kidnapping her and taking her to his graffiti covered sewer-lair where he rapes her again. Left alone for hours tied to a grungy mattress she again experiences the effects of the syndrome, the graffiti images around her come alive, including flying syringes and a strange creature with a large cock, which is glimpsed only briefly, but it's very strange indeed. Again, Anna is able to escape but chooses not run, instead she becomes the aggressor leading to what in any other film would be a logical end, but Argento keeps this psycho-sexual thriller rolling along, exploiting the devastating effects of Anna's damaged psyche for some full-on Psycho fun. 

Asia Argento is great in the triple-threat performance as the cop on the trail of a sadistic killer, despite her young age I think she does a commendable job playing a detective role that seems beyond her years, going through the varied emotions and physical and psychological torments with a good deal of believability, she's really put through the emotional wringer, raped multiple times, subjected to humiliation and physical pain. At the time and in the years since the fact that it was the actress's own father that put her through the on-screen torments has not gone unnoticed, but I will leave the family therapy to the Argento clan, all I can say is she does a great job with the character and her tribulations, making them believable within reason. Thomas Kretschmann is also quite good as the rape-y, sadistic killer, a brutal presence, unhinged and not someone you'd hope to ever encounter. Also showing up in smaller roles you might spot Italian familiars Marco Leonardi (Cinema Paradiso) as a cop and The Beyond's Cinzia Monreale as a victim's wife. 

The movie has a strange story structure, with what feels like the main climax coming towards the middle of film, it seem like the natural end to the story, but Argento prolongs it and explores the fallout from the trauma, with Argento again changing hairstyles, transforming from a boyish short-crop cut to donning a blond wig, giving the movie a bit of a Hitchcock blond, and further exploring the psychological underpinnings of the stendhal syndrome and the trauma caused by the brutal rapes. I think the unorthodox story structure makes the final reel fizzle just a little bit, but this is a movie that I feel has only gotten better with age, each viewing bringing with it a new appreciation as one of Argento's more solid entries during his late-era, and one of Asia Argento's strongest performances to date. 

The special effects are decently bloody, the violence is visceral and most of the effects hold up well aside from a few early digital effects, which are most noticeable during scenes of swallowing pills and another of a  bullet being fired through the face of an unfortunate victim, the latter of which feels like an early attempt at the type of effects shots we would often see later on the C.S.I. TV shows, with bullets being tracked through the body causing damage, and also a bit of a nod to Daria Nicolodi's death scene in the superior Opera (1987). The more unfortunate digital pill-swallowing felt like something out of the Lawnmower Man, not good. One area where the effects are well done and hold up even with the digital stuff are the scenes of the Stendhal syndrome in full-effect, as Anna walks into the painting, overwhelmed by them, it's not quite seamless but it is pretty cool, and Morricone's dizzying score further accentuates the surreal imagery.     
Audio/Video: The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) arrives on 3-disc limited edition Blu-ray/DVD from Blue Underground with a brand-new 2K scan of the original camera negative, framed in the proper 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and this is the first home video release to frame it in the proper widescreen aspect ratio, all previous versions have been cropped 1.66:1. The results are pleasing, a crisp and vibrant image with a tighter grain structure, colors are vivid, a nice step up from my Blue Underground 2-disc edition DVD. That said, there are some compression issues present throughout the presentation, while I honestly didn't take note of it during my initial viewing, after some online comments regarding the issue came to light I did see some of what has been described during my second viewing. Blue Underground are aware and are looking into the issue as stated on their Facebook feed: "We’ve received a few emails from customers noting a possible compression problem on The Stendhal Syndrome Blu-ray. We are in the process of investigating this issue with the facility that authored the disc. We will post an update as soon as we have further information.". So, the issues that have been reported are being looked into to, not sure if these are authoring issues, but hopefully we will know soon enough. 

Audio options on the Blu-ray include both English and Italian Dolby Digital and DTS-HD MA mixes in Stereo 2.0, Surround 5.1 and Surround 7.1 with optional English subtitles. The lossless 7.1 audio mix is fantastic, there's a nice spacial filling of the room, the Italian track is the one to go with here, it's powerful, robust and well-mixed, the English-dubbed audio is weird, and Asia did not dub the English track, her natural voice is more pleasing on the Italian options. The Ennio Morricone score is highlighted throughout, lush and rich compositions that pleasantly tickle the ear-holes, Morricone scored Argento's first three films, the animal trilogy, before the director joined forces with prog-rockers Goblin, it's great to hear/see their work melded together again onscreen. 

Of note, apparently the audio is not without controversy either, the English dubbed audio has been reported to be missing a few seconds of audio and dialogue, one instance around the 51:08 mark seems to be missing a few short lines of dialogue. As I preferred the Italian mix it didn't effect my viewing experience but it is an issue worth knowing about going in. Also in question is some missing additional audio of Anna screaming that appears to be missing around the 20:28 mark, though when I watched it it doesn't appear that the character is screaming at that moment, but apparently there are other releases said to include the additional audio cue.  

Onto the bountiful extras Blue Underground carry over all the features from the previous 2007 Blu-ray, over 103-minutes of interviews with Argento, special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti, psychological consultant Graziella Magherini, assistant director Luigi Cozzi, and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. All of these are conducted in Italian with English subtitles. These are presented on a separate DVD in standard definition. 

Ltd. Edition (500)slipcover available
only from
Blue Underground have also created several brand new extras exclusive to this release, these are on the main Blu-ray disc and on the identical DVD presentation, beginning with a top-notch commentary from with Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse, Howarth goes deep with loads of information about the origin, making and reception of the film, it's distribution and adding many of his own insights and readings about the psychological thriller. There's never a dull moment and he keeps chipping away throughout the entire movie. 

There are also brand new interviews with star Asia Argento (20 min), Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) and Co-Writer Franco Ferrini (14 min), all in HD, spoken in Italian with English subtitles. Rounding out the extras is a trailer and a gallery of poster and stills. There's also a 20-page color booklet with a new essay by author Michael Gingold including images from the film and posters. 

The release comes housed in a Criterion-style oversized clear Blu-ray keepcase, with a sleeve of reversible artwork.  Inside are three discs, a Blu-ray and DVD containing the same feature and extras, plus the bonus DVD disc containing the extras from the 2-disc DVD edition from 2007.  Also of note, the first 500 copies order from will include an exclusive limited edition embossed, raised lettering slipcover with unique artwork as pictured above.  

Special Features: 

Disc 1/2 Blu-ray/DVD Extras:
- NEW Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse
- Three Shades Of Asia – NEW Interview with Star Asia Argento (20 min) HD  Interview with Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) HD Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Prisoner Of Art – NEW Interview with Co-Writer Franco Ferrini (14 min) HD  Interview with Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) HD Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Sharp As A Razor – NEW Interview with Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) HD Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- Poster and Still Gallery

Disc 3 DVD Extras: 2007 Extras 

- Director: Dario Argento (20 min) Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini (22 min) Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti (16 min) Italian with English Subtitles
- Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi (22 min) Italian with English Subtitles
- Production Designer: Massimo Antonello Geleng (23 min)Italian with English Subtitles 
- 20-Page Collectible Booklet with new essay by author Michael Gingold

The Stendhal Syndrome has aged surprisingly well despite some goofy, early digital special effects, it's a brutal film with some truly interesting psychological twist and turns, it may not shine as bright as some of the gems in Argento's prime-era canon but it is a damn good watch. This is an Argento entry deserving of some serious reassessment, there's a lot to love about it, and while it might not be the best Argento had to offer it is a solid psychological-thriller with some tasty giallo-esque moments.