Monday, June 30, 2008

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996)

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME was Dario Argento’s final great film. Not that I knew it the first time I watched it. That first time through I enjoyed it but was disappointed in the rather downbeat and slightly unsatisfying ending. But I liked it enough to watch it again and on that viewing it opened up like a flower stretching toward the sun. My god! What a beautiful but deadly thing. Much like a gorgeous plant far too poisonous to touch THE STENDHAL SYNDROME is easy to admire but nasty in its effects. Bleak to the point of teeth gritting nausea it boasts a rape and murder scene that is rough even for a horror movie veteran like me. And the thing the killer does with a razor blade still makes me flinch just to think of it. But alongside these terrible things are some wonderful moments of cinematic excellence. This was the last time I could feel that Argento really had a handle on what made a thriller work. Not that he hasn’t made some interesting stuff since then but THE STENDHAL SYNDROME was the last time I felt he made an entire film that stood up and rewarded repeated viewings. It also has one of the most surrealistic scenes I have ever witnessed in a horror film involving Asia Argento kissing a fish. This has to be seen to be believed if not understood.

Of course, the film has its share of problems- all Argento movies do. There is some dodgy CGI that doesn’t quite work, some of the dubbing is bad and at least one character is too poorly defined for the ending to really be effective. But still…..this is a good movie. It’s got a great twist, some amazing set pieces, a truly scary villain and Argento’s last great use of color. Not to mention the sense of dread and horror that breaks at the half way point only to slowly build again in the last half. There are few things scarier than the fear that you are going mad and this film gets that across almost without you noticing.

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