Spirit of the Dead is a title that would not be one that would normally turn up here at Attack From Planet B, with its art-house directors and icons of stage and screen. However with such buzz surrounding this release we thought we must take a look into this to see what all the fuss was about.
Brought to us by Arrow Films, the new transfer is pristine with vivid colours and deep blacks with minimal if any damage to the print and new and restored audio tracks are available for each segment. Also a wonderful 60 page booklet accompanies the release, which details in-depth the source material of Edgar Allen Poe short stories along with a retrospective essay by critic and author Tim Lucas on the film.
So what is Spirits of the Dead? Well, it is a collection of three short stories by the master of the macabre, Edgar Allen Poe, with each story being directed by a different master of his craft, with an ensemble cast of the great and the good of American and European talent of the time.
The first story is that of Metzengerstein directed by Roger Vadim, a tale of passion and revenge by the Contessa Frederique de Metzengerstein (Jane Fonda – Barbarella and The China Syndrome), a woman of such cruelty and debauchery that she could but Caligula to shame. The Contessa who has vast wealth and is more than happy to flaunt by throwing banquets and hunts to those she seems fit to be at her table.
Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing (Peter Fonda – Easy Rider and Futureworld) is the cousin of the Contessa and has always been mocked and derided by her but has never raised to the bate and kept himself to himself. However, after being caught in a trap the Baron comes to the aid of the Contessa and from then on she is infatuated and intrigued by this man she once mocked. Though the Baron spurns her advances, causing the Contessa to seek revenge by burning down the stables of the Baron, along with the Baron inside by accident. The Contessa is now haunted by a black stallion that appears at here castle they day of the fire and at the same time a tapestry of said horse is destroyed by fire within her castle.
The Contessa starts to become more and more withdrawn and spends all her time with this mysterious horse as the tapestry is being repaired and is finally consumed by her own grief and the flames in which she dies within.
Next up is the story of William Wilson, directed by Louis Malle. A man, William Wilson (Alain Delon – The Girl on a Motorcycle), who is haunted by a figure, tells the story of his life to priest after confessing to killing a man. The story that he tells the priest is that from his childhood to the death of this man. Wilson has never been the best of men, from his school days torturing and attacking he fellow students to performing autopsies on frightened young girls to cheating at cards to get his way with beautiful ladies (Brigitte Bardot – And Woman… Was Created and Viva Maria!). Though at each point of when a fatal dead is about to be committed a twin of him appears and stop what is happening.
Constantly haunted by this doppelganger at every point he final confronts him and believes he must kill him to continue his life, however before the twin is killed he tells Wilson that if he kills him, he too will also die. So with no chance of redemption from the priest or from his now dead doppelganger, Wilson throws himself from the top of the church tower.
Final we have Federico Fellini’s offering of Toby Dammit based on Poe’s story Never Bet the Devil your Head and is the most avant-garde, bizarre and surreal of the three films within Spirits of the Dead. Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp – Superman and Young Guns) is an actor suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse, heading towards the end of what seems a very short but successful career.
Toby Dammit is invited to an award ceremony in what looks like Rome, but is portrayed by Fallini as Hell, with hues of oranges and reds abound and odd characters scattered throughout the landscape of the film, making the piece other worldly and surreal.
Haunted by his demons of lack of talent and immense success, Dammit is given a number of chances to redeem himself but chooses not to and runs from the ceremony to drive through the streets of Rome/Hell on final joyride to face Satan, which he sees a little girl dressed in white playing with a ball.
As a piece of film-making it is a powerful if but detached piece of art. Though not to everybody’s tastes, mine included, it is an excellent example of what film can achieve in the hands of auteurs such as these. Along with an excellent star cast it is a film that should be seen, if not just to have something to chat about in the smoke filled jazz clubs followers of these films will be hanging out in.
Brigitte Bardot … Giuseppina (segment “William Wilson”)
Alain Delon … William Wilson and his double (segment “William Wilson”)
Jane Fonda … Contessa Frederique de Metzengerstein (segment “Metzengerstein”)
Terence Stamp … Toby Dammit (segment “Toby Dammit”)
James Robertson Justice … Countess’ Advisor (segment “Metzengerstein”)
Salvo Randone … Priest (segment “Toby Dammit”)
Peter Fonda … Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing (segment “Metzengerstein”)
Peter O’Toole was originally cast as Toby Dammit. After he pulled out, Federico Fellini contacted a London casting agency and asked them to send the most decadent actors they had to Rome to see him. They sent Terence Stamp and James Fox, and Fellini chose Stamp.
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