Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Stendhal Syndrome

Despite being one of the most stylish filmmakers to emerge in the past couple of decades, as proven by such films as Suspiria and Tenebre, Italian director Dario Argento has never gotten beyond a level of relative obscurity in America. Inspired heavily by Alfred Hitchcock, Argento's horror and suspense films bring style front and center to create a visceral cinematic experience; to watch the first 15 minutes of Suspiria is to know just how thrillingly frightening a movie can be. Argento's latest to be released here, however, is not one of his best. Seen elsewhere in 1996, The Stendhal Syndrome starts promisingly enough but never really finds its footing. Asia Argento (Dario's daughter) stars as a police inspector with a strange and dangerous tendency to be overcome by the presence of works of art, a psychological impairment worthy of Hitchcock if ever there was one. In pursuit of a serial killer and rapist, Argento finds the disability working against her, and eventually used against her. While the director does find some use for digital effects, using the still-developing technique's tendency to look fake to good effect in a series of hallucinatory sequences, little else about The Stendhal Syndrome indicates just how good Argento can be. Complicating matters is the uncomfortable knowledge of the relationship between star and director, particularly in scenes that find the younger Argento subjected to rape, torture, bad wigs, and other humiliations. Sure, it's just a movie, but some things are difficult to put in the back of your mind. Much more enjoyable, if undeniably a lesser film, is The New Gladiators, a just-resurfaced effort by Lucio Fulci. An Italian contemporary of Argento, the late Fulci provided C-movie counterpoints to Argento's superb B-movies with films like Zombie and The Beyond. The New Gladiators sees Fulci breaking from his favored horror genre for a tale of a dystopian future dominated by violent entertainment and giant computers with many blinking lights. In this 1983 cross between Spartacus and Death Race 2000, Dallas dreamboat Jared Martin and blaxploitation star Fred Williamson play two criminals recruited to participate in a revival of the gladiatorial arts for fun and profit. Only the climax disappoints in this camp classic waiting to be rediscovered, a film much more entertaining than its close thematic counterpart, The Running Man, and much easier to take than its close geographic counterpart, The Stendhal Syndrome.