Stendhal Syndrome

Written & Directed By: Dario Argento
Asia Argento
Thomas Kretschmann
Marco Leonardi

As great as weekends are, there’s another night of the week that I look forward to: Monster Movie Mondays. These nights consist of a selection of diverse people coming together, armed with essentials (generally pizza, beer, and occasionally 3D glasses), and a desire to watch good horror films. Sure, the group isn’t always the same (sometimes there’s only three or four of us sitting around my small apartment) and we don’t all like the same types of horror films (my motto might be “keep it sick, keep it bloody, and keep the gore flowing” but it’s certainly not everyone’s) but it always makes for a memorable get-together. It didn’t take long, however, before we decied to try and create themed movie nights. It also didn’t take long before we decided to have an evening entirely devoted to the horror classics of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento.

I can remember the first time I saw Suspiria — many years ago when I was lurking horror forums trying to expand my knowledge of horror, two names continually emerged: Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I was fortunate enough to find a copy of Suspiria (having no real experience of foreign horror films I had no idea what to expect), but without a doubt I’m glad that it was the first Argento film I saw. In my mind, it’s still the best movie he’s made — certainly the most profound and shocking. And don’t get me wrong, I consider myself fully an Argento fan — I just mean that Suspiria is so good, it casts a dark shadow across the majority of his other films. All of that said, Argento is consistent in that he has a style all his own (love it or hate it) and Stendhal Syndrome is pure Argento.

As with other reviews, I hate delving too deep into the plot for risk of ruining any details (those looking for plot synopses alone should instead frequent the IMDB) but essentially the film explores and seeks to capture the effects of the illness from which the movie derived it’s name: the Stendhal Syndrome. Named after the 19th century writer Henri-Marie Beyle (better known by his pseudonym Stendhal), the Stendhal Syndrome is a psychosomatic condition which can induce dizziness and even hallucinations when exposed to art. The person afflicted with this condition in the film is Anna Manni (played by the director’s daughter, Asia Argento) who finds herself in Florence in pursuit of a brutal serial murderer and rapist (Thomas Kretschmann). Needless to say, in typical Argento style the film is filled with an enormous amount of uncomfortable scenes, generally involving the abnormally sweaty sociopath assaulting, mutilating, or murdering women. More plot than this is really not essential.

Argento himself has stated that he experienced Stendhal Syndrome as a child; when climbing the steps of the Parthenon in Athens he was placed into a daze which lasted for hours. In 1989, author Graziella Magherini released her book “La sindrome di Stendhal“, which Argento immediately identified with and sought to translate to film. Argento intended to direct a follow-up sequel, but when it came time to do so his daughter Asia was unavailable. Thus, he was forced to change the main character’s name to Anna Mari, and the film was released under the name The Card Player.

While the film is generally remembered for it’s graphic visual effects, it is interesting to note that Stendhal Syndrome was the first Italian film to employ the use of CGI. Although in this reviewer’s opinion, the film would have been better without certain CGI moments (the early computer effects were used to create out-of-place, pseudo-C.S.I. scenes). But in addition to being a forerunner in CGI, the film also employs an effective plot twist that has been used again in recent horror films.

Overall, Stendhal Syndrome is recommended, but not as an introduction to Argento. It may put some people off, and is certainly not for the squeamish or easily offended.