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Let us get him out of the way - Roger Vadim was a pretentious horny goat who treated Jane Fonda as Bo Derek. You are better off with Jean Rollin - at least he has a heart.
Louis Malle was a director of the humanist Truffautian variety. Not really comfortable showing Alain Delon lashing out atrocities. Around this time, as censorship all but collapsed, America reached for the bullets, while Europe went flog-happy. Good times, eh? A director such as Ken Russell would have made this a more poignant entry about class and privilege. This segment could be renamed "I`ll blink when I`m dead".
Fellini`s effort has a great airport-as-the-entrance-to-hell start, and a terrific high-strung ending. In the middle you must endure the usual parade of uncanny characters, and a parodic movie awards ceremony. This is basically 8 1/2 cranked up to 11. Satyricon aside, Fellini never made a horror film. Pity.
Spirits of the Dead is a fantastic film. It is about a cruel princess who is haunted by a ghostly horse, a sadistic young man who is haunted by his double, and an alcoholic actor who is haunted by the Devil. Jane Fonda and Brigitte Bardot give excellent performances. The screenplay is well written. Louis Malle did a great job directing this movie. I enjoyed watching this motion picture because of the mystery and fantasy. Spirits of the Dead is a must see.
Interesting takes on some of the lesser known poe's. One of them by Fellini.
They're all very experimental and kind of ways for these directors to exercise their vision in a different format, making them interesting but hard to grasp. Fellini's is leagues beyond the first two as a competent and well directed film and mostly beautiful and hilarious.
To adapt the literary works of Edgar Allan Poe is essentially a Kilimanjaro better not to be climbed unless your name's Roger Corman. Because Poe's a whiz kid when it comes to constructing horrors so ghastly they seem to dwell in a nightmarish universe all their own, it takes a filmmaker capable of construing a time and a setting that also feels singular. Half ass it and you seem like the hack that never was.
1968's "Spirits of the Dead," a French horror anthology that gives cinematic weight to Poe's more obscure works, suffers from that said half-assed hackery. Comprised of three short movies, one directed by Roger Vadim, the next by Louis Malle, and the last by Federico Fellini, it's an omnibus all dressed up with no place to go. Because these directors are, respectively, known as maestros of the erotic drama, the social piece, and the surrealistic, existential comedy, their styles (with the exception of Fellini -- his sequence, while not stylistically cohesive with the outputs of his collaborators, is entrancing) struggle to line up with Poe's unnerving fixation on the macabre.
The first vignette, "Metzengerstein," is based upon the short story of the same name and stars the buxom Jane Fonda as Countess Frederique de Metzengerstein, a sadomasochistic tigress with a cackle to rival Maleficent's. Spending her royal afternoons partaking in casual sex and wasting her evenings away with balls and other hedonistic activities, Frederique has strictly lived a life devoted to serving herself and herself only. To be concerned with another's well-being is an unknown to the self-serving her.
So danger arrives when she finds herself suddenly falling in love with her cousin and neighbor Baron Wilhelm (played by none other than Fonda's own brother, Peter) after he saves her from a bear trap while out roaming her property's backwoods. Because of their long-standing family feud, though, Wilhelm refuses to reciprocate her dedication to him (she's devilish, first of all), prompting Frederique to set his cherished stables afire -- with him in them -- in an emotional tizzy. Consequences, of course, prove to be deadly.
But since Vadim's the kind of minimally talented filmmaker who can photograph great beauty convincingly but cannot present humanism to back up his obsession with aesthetic pleasure, "Metzengerstein" is a laughable endeavor that highlights all his weaknesses. It's a bland "... And God Created Woman" (1956) intermixed with Caligula imitating debauchery and barely there morbidity. Representations of romantic longing hit as hard as a Danielle Steel induced fantasy, and horrors are malnourished enough to appear as nuisances rather than, er, horrors.
It's artistically rousing, at least -- leopard pups, parrots, jewels, and spontaneous bisexuality boost its sheen of ritzy epicureanism -- but, also being so technically inept, with instances of shoddy editing and patchy aural compilations prolific, "Metzengerstein" is inadequate in even causing so much as a single goosebump to pop out of one's flesh.
Malle's segment, a reworking of Poe's "William Wilson," makes for noticeable improvement but, as it went for Vadim, also encounters difficulty in paralleling Poe's effortless ability to set his parasitic stories loose to burrow under our skin. The sketch follows Alain Delon's eponymous Wilson as he tells a priest, in confession, of how his immoral life has led to his discovery of his ruthless doppleganger, also named Wilson and also an embodiment of his wicked ways. The existence of that deadly double, though, is enough to drive Wilson completely mad.
Co-starring an underutilized Brigitte Bardot as a femme fatale Wilson plays cards with during one of the sequence's pivotal scenes, "William Wilson" is more unsettling than painfully frightening, but it's exceptional at giving the terrors of the mob mentality and the abuse of power affecting depth. It's an exercise in stone faced sadism with the good sense to calibrate itself with the operatic cum realistic sensibilities of Caravaggio. Problem is is that Malle knows how to adorn the material but doesn't know how to tell it with urgency.
Federico Fellini's addition, titled "Toby Dammit" and an adaptation of the conclusion of "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," is the most successful entry of "Spirits of the Dead": Fellini's standing as an auteur uncomfortable with convention makes him a logical choice for a filmmaker able to align his personal style with Poe's. Both are apt at fleshing out unique, unforgettable otherworlds for us to get lost in, comfortably or otherwise.
The segment stars a roughed-up Terence Stamp as the titular figure, a washed-up Shakespearean actor wasting his career away with a bottle in hand. Haunted by visions of death (personified by a ghost white girl carrying a rubber ball around like a baby), we watch him navigate through his latest project, an Italian film shooting in Rome.
But, in a typical move for the always trippy Fellini, "Toby Dammit" feels more "8 1/2" (1963) with the twists of a night terror than Poe. And that's its best achievement. The other directors of "Spirits of the Dead" are subconsciously afraid of the author they're paying respects to and, ultimately, get flat results in their efforts to keep their personal styles minimal and their source's sizable. "Toby Dammit" is anything but flat: it's a highly energetic, and highly unnerving, take on the pitfalls of celebrity culture and on the uselessness that is transcendentalism. Stamp gives an exhaustive, strung-out performance, and the imagery, clammy and mystical, makes for some of the best of Fellini's career.
But aside from "Toby Dammit" is "Spirits of the Dead" mostly a wasted opportunity. Talented filmmakers and actors cannot change the reality that these stories are buried under the weight of aspiration to achieve note perfect homage. There isn't enough humor, nor enough dedication to actually scare us, for the movie to get its grizzled paws on a product that gets the blood curdled.
? Metzengerstein ? & ? William Wilson ? were alright, ? Never Bet The Devil Your Head ? sounded kinda boring however.
Pacing can be off and some stories don't work as well as others, but it's Italian, made by some masters, and pretty interesting in parts.
Spirits Of The Dead is a 1968 horror anthology based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, & with each section being directed by gifted professionals each one deserves an individual review.
Directed By Roger Vadim, this first segment focuses on a debauched heiress leading a life of Caligula would commend. The countess becomes tormented by the denial of her incestuous desire for her cousin. Upon hearing of his death she becomes convinced that his spirit lives on inside his horse. Starring Jane & Peter Fonda, this one is a bit on the weird side & is also a bit slow on pace. Jane Fonda's performance however outshines this story as she gives a wonderful performance, sadly I didn't enjoy this first section as it is actually pretty well produced.
Louis Malle directs Alain Delon As William Wilson, an Austrian soldier who is haunted by his doppelgänger, tormenting him when he is most cruel & sadistic. Wilson is also a well written piece with a great performance by Delon. A well produced short thats also entertaining. Also stars Bridget Bardot.
Federico Fellini's closing story stars Terence Stamp as Toby Dammit, an actor arriving in Italy to meet the producers of his new film, the first catholic western. Drugged & drunk, Dammit is disturbed by the haunting image of the devil, which like Mario Bava's "Kill, Baby... Kill!" & Bunuel's "Simon of the Desert", is actually a young girl, ominously bouncing a ball. Dammit is the best of all the segments its a weird and thoroughly entertaining tale of man's decent into madness through alcohol and hallucinations. Excellently developed with an incredible performance by Stamp.
It's worth watching just for the Toby Dammit story. My favorite Fellini short film.
An enjoyable prestige Portmanteau film with contributions from Vadim vapid, Malle middling to good, and Fellini fantastico.