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Terence Dammit Stamp
A.W Richmond29 December 2004
Three Edgar Alan Poe stories, three directors, a genius director, a great director and a director. The top international stars of their day: Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Terence Stamp, Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot. The Roger Vadim episode with the two Fondas is quite terrible, Jane with her left over costumes from Barbarella, is always watchable but what a mess. Delon and Bardot are fun to watch but the piece looks more a rehash of one of the weakest Hammer horror flicks than a film signed by the great Louis Malle. However, I wouldn't mind sitting through those turkeys once again for the sheer pleasure of the third segment: Fellini's "Toby Dammit" with a superlative Terence Stamp. Unique, unnerving, jaw dropping, funny, delightful gem of a film.
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Young Fondas In Love, A Gorgeous Villain, and Toby Dammit
winkies8 March 2005
I'm a big fan of horror anthologies, especially the Poe/Hawthorne ones from Roger Corman and the Amicus films. Spirits of the Dead, based on Edgar Allen Poe stories and directed by Europe's most acclaimed filmmakers of the time, didn't disappoint...well, except for the first story.

#1, "Metzengerstein," directed by Roger Vadim. A cruel nymphomaniac countess (Jane Fonda) destroys the one man she can't have (Peter Fonda). That's right, this segment's biggest distinction is that it features a romance between real-life siblings Jane & Peter. Maybe I'm just a boor with no appreciation of high art, but watching those two gaze longingly at each other gave me the serious skeeves. Somewhere amongst the implied incest, the near- implied bestiality, and Jane's leftover costumes from Barbarella is the very thinnest of plots and narrative structure. Vadim doesn't seem to have any comprehension of suspense or what it takes to present a story that, if not scary, is at least spooky. You'll be constantly looking at your watch, but don't let "Metzengerstein" discourage you from seeing the other two stories.

#2, "William Wilson," directed by Louis Malle. An angel-faced but throughly rotten and sadistic man (Alain Delon) is hounded by a mysterious man that shares his name. This was a tight, satisfying little story. In contrast to Vadim, Malle is so talented at the art of suspense that he can make a simple card game exciting. Some reviewers have been put off by the scenes of misogyny--and to be honest, they did seem to spill over into exploitation. But I think it was necessary to present just how horrible the main character was, and to contrast it with how attractive he is physically (which to me was the most fascinating aspect of the segment). I found the ending slightly confusing, but still effective & tragic.

#3, "Toby Dammit," directed by Federico Fellini. This segment is so virtuoso and packed with Higher Meaning and Symbolism and Commentary On The Nature Of Man, God and the Devil that it really feels like its own movie. A jaded, alcoholic actor is invited to Rome to film a spaghetti western based on the life of Jesus Christ and attend a bizarre Italian version of the Oscars. The world as seen through Toby's eyes is populated with freaks, liars, and soulless puppets-- no wonder he prefers the Devil (uniquely and quite chillingly presented as a little girl). The scene where he is driving the Ferrari is a little overlong, but the ending is quite jarring and the last shot one of the unforgettable images of cinematic horror. The only real negative is that Terrance Stamp, who gives an incredible performance, has his voice completely dubbed by a French actor. If only we could have heard his own voice! It would be nice if Criterion could put this segment out on its own and give it the attention & study it deserves.
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Cut out the first two segments and you've got a great Fellini film.
doktor d28 February 2003
'Spirits of the Dead' (1968), a French-Italian production narrated by Vincent Price, features three Edgar Allan Poe stories adapted for the screen and directed by three of Europe's most fascinating filmmakers of the period (choke!).

Vadim's segment (‘Metzengerstein'), starring Jane and Peter Fonda, is a real stinker. Has Vadim ever made a truly good film? Not really, so at least he's being consistent here by turning Poe's tale into a dull, silly mess. Striving hard for art's sake, he misses the mark each time. Q: Who wants to see Jane Fonda falling in love with Peter Fonda? A: Not me.

Malle's segment (‘William Wilson') is solid but not worth repeated screenings. Of note: Brigitte Bardot gets naked, verbally abused and whipped. No comment as to the merits of these actions or her presence; nevertheless, the tale's ending doesn't quite work.

Fellini's 'Toby Dammit' is classic, freakshow Fellini. Terence Stamp stars as a wasted British film star (looking like an effeminate junkie) and gives an awesomely convincing performance. Ultimately, his character gets a bit out of hand and, uh, loses his head. Good stuff that. It's probably fortunate that Fellini's is the longest and last segment; it is easily the film's strength and highlight. Unlike the first two tales, ‘Toby Dammit' was also released theatrically on its own, yet it is not available separately on dvd.

The ‘Spirits of the Dead' dvd first hit the market as an Image release. This is not the version to purchase. Image used a less-than-satisfactory source print, and the transfer looks crummy. Also, the menu is poorly designed and doesn't work quite the way one wants it to. Later, Home Vision released a higher quality version with four additional minutes of footage, using much finer source material. --- david ross smith
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Three beautiful and memorable short films make a wonderful anthology
Galina21 December 2006
"Spirits of the Dead"(1968) - adaptations of three Edgar Allen Poe stories by three European directors, Roger Vadim's "Metzengerstein" with Jane and Peter Fonda, Louis Malle's "William Wilson" (with Alain Delon and Briget Bardout), and Federico Fellini's "Toby Dammit". The universal opinion is that only Fellini's entry is worth watching and it is indeed, spectacular with Terence Stamp fitting so well in the Fellini's freak show that it is impossible to take your eyes off him. The reason I wanted to see the movie so much was the CD that I bought some time ago - a compilation of some of the most beautiful themes composed by Nino Rota for the films of Federico Fellini. "The Ultimate Best of Federico Fellini & Nino Rota" includes the tunes arranged in the medleys for 16 films directed by Fellini. These are the full orchestrations (as heard in the movies they come from) and just listening to the familiar melodies brings back the memories and the images. There was one track I kept listening to over and over. It was written for the Fellini's episode in the "Tre passi nel delirio" aka "Spirits of the Dead" (1968), "Toby Dammit". The soundtrack for "Toby Dammit" simply stands out among the romantic and poetic gems. It is rich, obsessive and creates uneasy and creepy atmosphere which is quite appropriate for an episode that features a desperate actor (Terence Stamp) in a pact with the devil. Besides the score "Toby Dammit" has plenty of great typically Felliniesque images , an unforgettable ending, and not the least, Terence Stamp who might've played one of his best roles as the famous English actor, drugged and drunk out of his mind who arrived in Rome for the Italian Film Academy Awards ceremony. Toby was also offered the role of Jesus in the Catholic Western but all he remembered that he had been promised a Ferrari for participating in the ceremony and Ferrari he will get...with the ride to hell that looks exactly like Rome at night where every turn takes you to the dead end and the Devil only knows the way out but you will pay him a price...

I found all three films interesting and involving in their own terms. I don't agree with the comments that call Vadim's adaptation a failure - it is certainly not. If anything, it is beautiful to look at and listen to and any film featuring Madam Roger Vadim (Jane Fonda was married to the director at the time) wearing the costumes that were certainly inspired by or even reused from "Barbarella" that was released in the same year, 1968 is worth watching. Vadim changed the short story by transforming a protagonist, 18 years old Baron Frederic Metzengerstein into 22 years old Contessa Frederica but he did not change her character. She is rich, bored, corrupted, and ruthless, a "petty Caligula", until she meets her cousin Wilhelm (played by Jane's brother, Peter Fonda). Making siblings playing cousins in love tells us something (or maybe a lot) about Vadim and his mysterious Slavic soul and reminds about Poe's own dramatic love for his first cousin, Virginia Eliza Clemm, whom he married when she was only 13 and whose death at the age of 25 from tuberculosis could have let to decline of his own mental state and his untimely death less than three years after her.

Poe explores in "William Wilson" very popular in the Art and literature subject of a man and his double that represents his conscience, his dark and hidden side. The short story brings to mind such famous works of literature as Hans Christian Andersen's "The Shadow", Adelbert Von Chamisso's "Peter Schlemiel: The Man Who Sold His Shadow", Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray".

In Louis Malle's short film, Wilson (Alain Delon) confesses his sinful and dreadful life to the priest recalling the outrageous and vicious deeds that have been prevented or disclosed by his exact double whose name is also William Wilson. Two scenes of the short film stand out. The first is a simply chilling Wilson's attempt to perform an autopsy on a living woman and the second – Wilson plays cards, cheating shamelessly, with rich and arrogant Giuseppina (Brigitte Bardot almost unrecognizable in a black wig that does almost impossible – makes her look ugly). While it may be not the best Poe's adaptation and perhaps the weakest of three films in the anthology, two Delons for the price of one is reason enough to see it. I am glad that I finally saw the film that has achieved a cult status with years but is not easily available (I had to wait for several weeks for it from Netflix even after I had bumped it to the top). What started with my interest in the musical score by Rota, ended as a memorable watching experience.
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Three top European directors take on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
capkronos12 May 2003
Roger Vadim's "Metzengerstein" is incredibly beautiful. It was shot around great-looking, crumbling oceanfront castles and is remarkably photographed, costumed and scored, it's just a shame the core plotting is so weak. The evil Baroness Frederique (Jane Fonda, the directors wife at the time) is an insatiable tyrant who presides over orgies and sadistic, dehumanizing games. When she destroys a pure soul, her distant cousin Wilhelm (Peter Fonda), horses and fire play a key role in her demise.

"William Wilson," by Louis Malle, is an entertaining reworking of the old doppelganger theme starring Alain Delon as a pure lout AND his better half, a exact copy who drives him crazy by putting a halt to his evil impulses. Odd story structure here and Brigitte Bardot (in a black wig) is good support during a fateful card game. And then comes the really good stuff.

"Toby Dammit" (released separately as "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"), a brilliant and sometimes chilling piece of enigmatic film-making from Federico Fellini. Terence Stamp is a marvel of facial expressions as boozy, obnoxious British movie star Toby Dammit, who falls apart at the seems upon arriving in Italy to start production on a Western reworking of the story of Christ. Instead he becomes imprisoned in his own personal hell. In every possible technical department, this segment is a triumph and the creepy finale (borrowing a key image from Mario Bava's KILL, BABY, KILL!) has lost absolutely none of its impact.

The score by Nino Rota and cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno deserve special recognition, as well. The version I saw (titled TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION) is subtitled, but a dubbed version also exists featuring narration by Vincent Price.
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Skip to Fellini
johnston.scot6 August 2001
Three separate stories:

  • Skip the first one. Just do it. If you really must ogle the young Jane Fonda, get Barbarella.

  • Your call on the second one. Okay, but not memorable.

The third story makes the film. It's "Fellini-esque"! Fellini's wild imagery makes narrative sense (well, sort of), when applied to the story of an addled English actor stumbling around Rome at breakneck speed. The segment also features a startlingly original image of evil (an "Anglican devil," I think that's the Terence Stamp character's phrase). Maybe it's just me, but the segment's conception of the devil is among the spookiest things I've ever seen on film; and when you get right down to it, it makes a lot more theological sense then ugly, scaly guys with tails.
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Toby Dammit
kevino-410 September 2003
My vote of 9 is only for Fellini's entry, Toby Dammit. The other two are below the level of the average Twilight Zone, in my opinion. But Toby is so fine that I wish it could have been expanded to feature length. Perhaps the tone of agonized despair wouldn't have held up for 90 minutes but it certainly is great for 40. Stamp is superb. His role isn't easy, he's in every scene and has to descend from a very low point to an even lower one. Terence is completely believable the entire time. I'm not a fan of Fellini but perhaps he found his metier in humanistic horror.
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If only Toby Dammit was feature-length...
tomgillespie200218 September 2011
Also known as Histoires Extraordinaires, this film combines three short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, and has each segment directed by a different European director. The first, entitled Metzengerstein, is directed by the man that helmed Barbarella, Roger Vadim. It tells the story of a beautiful yet debauched countess Federica (Jane Fonda) who falls in love with her family rival, Baron Wilhelm (Peter Fonda - bit weird, them being real-life brother and sister), who frees her leg from a trap in the woods. After he rejects her, she orders the burning of one of his villages, and the Baron is killed when attempting a rescue of one of his horses. The horse is taken in by Federica, who becomes obsessed with it once she notices its resemblance to the one painted on a damaged tapestry.

The second story, William Wilson, is directed by French film-maker Louis Malle. It tells a familiar doppelgänger story of the wicked William Wilson (Alain Delon) who is also interrupted by his 'better half' who shares his name and his appearance, but none of his evil ways. After winning a card game against Giuseppina (Brigitte Bardot) through repeatedly cheating, his other half exposes him, and the two face a duel. The third, directed by Federico Fellini and entitled Toby Dammit, follows alcoholic Shakesperean actor Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp) who is brought to Rome to star in an adaptation of the story of Christ, re- imagined as a western. Haunted by visions of a blonde girl who has lost her ball, he goes on a drunken ride through Rome in a Ferrari.

The biggest problem with this film is the variations of quality in the different episodes. Vadim's opener is a pretty poor effort, with a strange storyline focusing on a woman's obsession with a horse. It seems to be nothing more than an excuse to get Jane Fonda into some skimpy medieval outfits. That is all well and good (it was one of the key reasons why I loved Barbarella!) but it's a silly story and a waste of some beautiful cinematography. Malle's second story is a big improvement, but it is clear that his heart is not really in it. Apparently he agreed to take on the job in order to raise money for Murmur of the Heart, and compromised to make the film more accessible to mainstream audiences. But the eroticism of the card game, and the strange atmosphere that is evident throughout make it an enjoyable 40 minutes.

Fellini's final segment is very much the director's own vision. It is so far gone from anything resembling Poe's original vision, it could be easily called Fellini's own. Thematically similar to most of his key works, Terence Stamp's crumbling lead character is the main focus, and his disintegrating sanity is laid out on the screen with a collection of flashing images, bizarre characters, and unconventional camera-work. It is also an attack on celebrity, as the characters that Dammit comes across don't react or flinch at his increasingly strange and unpredictable behaviour. It's a shame that Fellini is restricted to a 40 minute portion of a 2-hour film, as I would have quite happily watched Toby Dammit as a full-length feature. An enjoyable, if unspectacular overall film, with the stories getting notably better as the film goes on.

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Three Disappointing Tales
Claudio Carvalho28 April 2008
"Metzengerstein": the bored and corrupt medieval countess Frederica (Jane Fonda) spends her futile life in orgies and cruelties. When she moves with her friends to one of her castles nearby the lands of her poor cousin Baron Wilhelm (Peter Fonda), she desires him but is not corresponded. When one of her minions burns the stable, Wilhelm dies trying to rescues his stallion and Federica is haunted by her lost cousin.

This erotic female version of Caligula shows the delicious Jane Fonda, who was married to Roger Vadim at that time, wearing sexy costumes very similar to "Barbarella" (of the same year). But the story is weak. My vote is five.

"William Wilson": the sadistic and cruel soldier of the Austrian army William Wilson (Alain Delon) confesses to a priest the cruelties he committed along his sinful life and the participation of his double also called William Wilson in specific moments of his dreadful life.

This short directed by Louis Malle is the certainly the best segment of these adaptations, showing the fight between the dark side and the human part of the same character. Brigitte Bardot is very different with black hair. My vote is six.

"Toby Dammit": the cynical alcoholic and decadent English actor Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp) travels to Rome to make a Catholic Western, but only interested in receiving the Ferrari promised by the production.

This messy segment directed by Federico Fellini uses stylish images and a great performance of Terence Stamp, but the story is confused and the boring conclusion is too long. My vote is four.

My global vote for these adaptations is five.

Title (Brazil): "Histórias Extraordinárias" ("Extraordinaries Stories")
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desperateliving12 February 2005
After ten minutes of the Vadim film, which features a convoluted story about some kind of Cleopatra liberation thing, bored narration, and relies on ominous music to suggest evil, I skipped it. Is that cheating? I don't think so -- if each of the directors had made their shorts and released them separately, I doubt I'd be interested in Vadim's. (Though I still want to see "And God Created Woman.") As a side note, I mistakenly thought that the woman in "William Wilson," the Malle film, was Claudia Cardinale instead of Bardot; I figured that while Jane Fonda was in the Vadim film, that Bardot would have naturally been in the Vadim film, too. Silly me.

Malle's film, on the other hand, starts with a classic scene of dread -- a bloody-faced man running, quick cuts, loud music. Malle is the one director who gives into the classic Poe sense of foreboding. He delves immediately into childhood and summons up a strange, sadomasochistic and almost sexual perversion of the young Delon amidst the boarding/military school, torturing for fun, always with his bemused, blank face. At times the film tests your patience -- Why does Delon constantly have a group of followers around him wherever he goes? Why is there a seemingly real operation? Why is he permitted to whip a woman? -- but its logic oddly works, even though it makes very little literal sense. Delon's performance in the film is, as usual, very good: he doesn't get much to do, but he manages to be psychotic, insane, bemused, sexually frustrated, and sublime at different points throughout the film. I think Roman Polanski must be a Delon fan and must have seen this, as the ending (not to give anything away...) is very similar to that of "The Tenant," and there's a hilarious image in Fellini's film that also shows up in Polanski's film. (And aside from that, his "Knife in the Water," though stylistically and tonally different, has similarities in content to "Purple Noon.")

And a pop culture Fellini! His segment is quite reflexive, to the point that it does a twofold honoring of Terence Stamp: his character is a great British actor honoring Italian cinema, with mentions of Dreyer and Pasolini (who Stamp worked with that same year). It's partly a mockery of awards and film academia, with babble about conceptualizing and structuralist film. As is often the case with Fellini, it's hard to separate the genuine weirdness from the comedy, and with Stamp he finds an actor who can slide into the role of a harried actor with the same ease and gift for buffoonery as Mastroianni. It's hard to see any relation to Poe until near the end, when the film morphs into an interesting highway ghost story, complete with a ludicrous punctuation mark of comic goriness. 8/10 (for both Malle and Fellini's films).
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