Spirits of the Dead
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Spirits of the Dead (a.k.a. "Histoires Extraordinaires") is an eerie film based on the grotesque and macabre stories of 19th century author Edgar Allan Poe. Three separate tales, each created with style and flair by three top directors--Federico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim.
An irresistible and guilty pleasure, this anthology based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe is a rare opportunity to see three of the biggest names in 1960s European film direction working in the short form. The results are uneven, but so what? They're also plain outrageous. Roger Vadim's Metzengerstein stars real-life siblings Jane and Peter Fonda perversely cast as lovers. When the latter dies, Jane's character turns to a mysterious black stallion for companionship, the suggestion being that the dead man's spirit is within the horse. Both corny and vaguely lurid, this ghost tale is Vadim all the way. Louis Malle's William Wilson is an in-your-face take on Poe's classic doppelgänger fable, starring Alain Delon as a blackguard who gets his comeuppance from a nicer variation of himself. More craftsman-like than cinematically bold, the film displays the kind of crisp wit Malle didn't display often enough. Finally, Federico Fellini's Toby Dammit proves to be the most interesting piece in the trio, featuring Terence Stamp in a terrific performance as an actor at the end of his rope (the equivalent of Mastroianni's burned-out director in Fellini's 8½), who has come to Rome to star as Christ in a New Testament Western. Dense with Fellini's dreamy textures and iconic clutter, Toby Dammit is a fun experience. --Tom Keogh
- Aspect Ratio : 1.75:1
- MPAA rating : s_medR R (Restricted)
- Product Dimensions : 7.5 x 5.38 x 0.6 inches; 4 Ounces
- Director : Federico Fellini, Louis Malle, Roger Vadim
- Media Format : Color, Letterboxed, Widescreen, NTSC
- Run time : 2 hours and 1 minute
- Release date : May 20, 1998
- Actors : Jane Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Terence Stamp, James Robertson Justice
- Dubbed: : English
- Subtitles: : English
- Language : English (PCM Mono), French (PCM Mono)
- Studio : IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT
- ASIN : 6305079250
- Writers : Bernardino Zapponi, Clement Biddle Wood, Daniel Boulanger, Edgar Allan Poe, Federico Fellini
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #239,523 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The original French title of the film, Histoires Extraordinaires (Extraordinary Stories), is more fitting. It is not a cohesive film, but three shorts (~30 mins.) loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe stories. I haven’t watched the first two shorts in their entirety, but what I did see did not impress me. The Fellini feature is the reason to buy this.
A few other details - I purchased the “multi-format” version and received a UK blu ray. It is region ABC, however, and it played just fine in my North American blu ray player. There are a few different language & subtitle options, including dubbed English versions. In the case of Toby Dammit, Terence Stamp’s original English lines & voiceovers are restored. (This is not the default, however; the English dubbing option must be selected.)
Top reviews from other countries
In the Sixties it seemed you could hardly move for Continental `portmanteau' films - collections of short films by major directors sharing a common theme like Paris Vu Par, Ro.Go.Pa.G or Love at Twenty, which offered marketable but cost-effective international co-production possibilities that could attract big stars for a week or two's work. Spirits of the Dead aka Histoires Extraordinaires was one of the more intriguing ones, offering three of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination (one of the film's many alternate titles) directed by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Federico Fellini with an all-star cast. Despite being similarly less than faithful to their source, the result is a world away from Roger Corman's remarkable run of Sixties Poe films with Vincent Price (and might have been even more different had original co-directors Orson Welles and Luis Bunuel stayed aboard), though that didn't stop the US distributors adding an introductory voice over by Price to forge a link in audience's minds. Critics weren't kind to the first two stories, alternately hating or being bored by them, but absolutely loved Fellini's, and that acclaim has cast a pall over the rest of the film ever since.
Despite the general disdain meted out to it, Vadim's take on Metzengerstein is surprisingly successful on its own terms. The then-Mrs Vadim, Jane Fonda, stars as a perverted and sadistic countess who, when her cousin (Peter Fonda) spurns her advances, burns his stables for revenge only to inadvertently burn him as well and unleash a black stallion that no-one else can approach and with which she becomes ever more fatally obsessed. Neither Fonda is exactly taxed in the acting department, Peter particularly monolithic and wooden, but Jane at least, still in her bimbo days, is suited well enough for her part that it's less of a problem in her case. The opening but far from explicit depravities, with Jane wearing even more outrageous costumes than Barbarella as she has her wicked way with men and women alike, gradually gives way to a convincingly dreamlike dread that may not actually chill but does summon up the spirit of Poe in its restless way, with Claude Renoir's cinematography of burning buildings and thick black smoke blocking out the sunset heralding an increasing feeling of a pending storm about to break. It's the kind of thing that'll either lull you along with it or bore you into hitting the fast forward button, but it does create an atmosphere.
Louis Malle's involvement was purely pragmatic: unable to raise the backing for Le Souffle au Coeur/Murmur of the Heart after both Viva Maria! and The Thief of Paris failed to set the box-office on fire, William Wilson with Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot probably seemed like a good way to raise his profile without taking all the blame if this one flopped as well. He never made any secret that it was work for hire rather than a personal piece, and it shows in a solid but uninspired bit of storytelling that runs efficiently through the plot without ever really conjuring up much in the way of atmosphere or the growing paranoia the tale demands. Even the perversion and sadism is fairly matter of fact, though that sometimes works in the episode's favour as Alain Delon's thoroughly nasty sociopath casually bullies and debauches his way through boarding school, medical college and the army - his idea of bullying involving pits of rats and his idea of debauchery involving scalpels and a whip - only to be constantly plagued by a double with the same name who spoils his fun and destroys his self-confidence until he can bear it no more. It's an elegant production, but, like its blithely monstrous protagonist, it lacks character.
The third story was originally to have been a composite of The Masque of the Red Death and The Cask of Amontillado directed by Orson Welles, but when that fell through Federico Fellini, heavily in debt after a science fiction film collapsed in pre-production, filled the gap with his very loose adaptation of Never Bet the Devil Your Head as Toby Dammit, and took what critical praise was going. When the film was subsequently restored and screened as a solo short, it was proclaimed as a lost masterpiece. It's not, but it is a remarkably stylish fever dream - or rather nightmare - that could only possibly have been directed by Fellini
Terence Stamp is the self-indulgent and obnoxious movie star jetted into Rome to make the first Catholic Western, haunted by the image of a malignantly grinning child playing with a white ball and consumed by pain and pathetic self-loathing which he expresses with a variety of infantile expressions caught somewhere between a grimace and silent laughing at a dirty word as if never knowing whether to laugh or scream. He's every untalented, selfish, immature and self-destructive egotist who thinks living the rock'n'roll lifestyle and behaving badly is their full time day-and-night job rolled into one manic-depressive bundle of nerves. He knows he's squandered his talent and that he's not just impossible to work with but impossible for even him to stand anymore. He's beyond redemption and working his way down to damnation one infernal circle at a time, from the surreally sun-bleached airport arrivals lounge to a grotesque awards ceremony before driving the new Ferrari that's his only reason for making the film straight into the mouth of Hell. And Fellini films it all from right inside his fevered head as his disorientation at finding himself the centre of attention in an increasingly nightmarishly strange world is mirrored in a visual and editing style that's like you've been spun around the room despite having a drunken headache and can't make much sense out of what's around you.
It's easily the trippiest and most visually striking of the three, with Giuseppe Rottuno's vividly stylised photography far more ambitious than anything his two predecessors in the film cooked up, while Nino Rota's signature Fellini sound stamps the master's signature all over the proceedings. It's an exercise in excess and atmosphere that creates a very Felliniesque phantasmagoria that may not be something you'll hold close to your heart but certainly leaves your senses assaulted in a way the other two episodes don't.
Arrow's UK Blu-ray release is a bit problematic - at once a clean and pin-sharp restoration but at times looking too clean, as if it's had some of the sin scrubbed out of it and the brightness boosted. This is particularly noticeable in the first story that looks far more atmospheric in the unrestored French version also included on the disc, which shows some signs of color fading but at least looks like it's been graded with an eye for the decadence of the story. No such problems with the other two, though the multi-lingual soundtrack curiously doesn't include Terence stamp's opening narration in English but uses an Italian voice-over artist instead before reverting to Stamp's voice for the remainder. The English dub track is also included on the restored version. Extras are a bit lighter than the packaging makes it seem - the international trailer and Vincent Price's voice-over narration from US version, though the initial copies also came with an impressive 60-page book reprinting the original Poe stories.
You can tell when the films were made, by looking at the females clothes
Nice to see, but not that you want to see again