Lush photography and a nice score by Ennio Morricone don't save this overly experimental film from Italy's horror maestro Argento.
Argento's gorgeous daughter Asia stars as a woman suffering from the Stendhal Syndrome, a mental illness that causes people to faint whenever they're in the presence of fine art. She's a cop on the trail of a rapist who finds herself overwhelmed when confronted with paintings at a museum.
What her condition has to do with the maniac rapist-killer on the loose is never made clear. Needless to say, Asia becomes one of the maniac's targets, is stalked and captured by the good-looking young killer, and actually gets into a bizarre dominant-submissive relationship with him, somewhat reminiscent of what we saw in Almodovar's "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down."
The "syndrome" scenes involving classic works of art are effectively directed by Argento and are among the most stylish scenes the filmmaker has ever delivered. Unfortunately, "Stendhal" doesn't stack up as one of the director's better works.
It comes across as a failed attempt at making an Almodovar movie, straying way too far from Argento's schlock roots. Argento seemed to want to make a film that could play in art houses. He should have realized that he could never rise (or I should say sink) to that level. David Cronenberg tried the same thing, and his "art house" movies sucked quite hard.
As a result of this misstep, "Stendhal" isn't a whole lot of fun. There are no good scares in this film, precious little gore and only a few cool hallucination scenes. The killer's face is revealed early on, so we don't get to see the leather-gloved hands normally at work in an Argento murder mystery.
The "twist" ending is typical of Argento and you should be able to see it coming a mile away.
All in all, the film is a huge disappointment. Argento should have stuck to the giallo formula that has worked so well for him in the past.
At the time of this writing, the film was due to be released on tape in the U.S. by Troma, but had already been widely distributed by Internet bootleggers who had made copies from the Japanese laserdisc release.