Spirits of the Dead (1968): Omnibus Film, Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s Stories, Starring Jane Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon

Spirits of the Dead is an “omnibus” film comprising three segments.

Omnibus films were popular in Europe in the 1960s so producers Alberto Grimaldi and Raymond Eger developed the idea of film anthology influenced by the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

The French title Histoires extraordinaires (translated to English as Extraordinary Stories) is from the first collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories translated by French poet Charles Baudelaire; the English title Spirits of the Dead is from an 1827 poem by Poe. The English version is narrated by Vincent Price

American International Pictures distributed this horror anthology of three Poe stories, directed by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Federico Fellini, with an international cast, headed by Jane and Peter Fonda, Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, and Terence Stamp.

“Metzengerstein”

Grade: B- 

Countess Frederique (Jane Fonda) inherits the Metzengerstein estate, where she conducts a life of promiscuity and debauchery. While in the forest, her leg is caught in trap, and she is freed by her cousin and neighbor Baron Wilhelm (Peter Fonda), whom she has never met due to long  family feud. She becomes enamored with Wilhelm, but he rejects her for her wicked ways. His rejection infuriates Frederique and she sets his stables on fire. Wilhelm is killed attempting to save his prized horses.

One black horse somehow escapes and makes its way to the Metzengerstein castle. The horse is very wild and Frederique takes it upon herself to tame it. She notices at one point that a damaged tapestry depicts a horse eerily similar to the one that she has just taken in. Becoming obsessed with it, she orders its repair. During a thunderstorm, Frederique is carried off by the spooked horse into a fire caused by lightning that has struck.

“William Wilson” 

Grade B-

In the early 19th century when Northern Italy is under Austrian rule, army officer William Wilson (Alain Delon) rushes to confess to a priest (in a church of the “Città alta” of Bergamo) that he has committed murder.

Wilson then relates the story of his cruel ways. After playing cards against the courtesan Giuseppina (Brigitte Bardot), his doppelgänger, also named William Wilson, convinces people that Wilson has cheated. In a rage, the protagonist Wilson stabs the other to death with a dagger. After making his confession, Wilson commits suicide by jumping from the tower of “Palazzo della Ragione,” but when seen. his corpse is transfixed by the same dagger.

“Toby Dammit”

Grade B
Former Shakespearean actor Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp) is losing his career due to alcoholism. He agrees to work on a film in Rome, for which he will be given a new Ferrari as a bonus. Dammit begins to have unexpected visions of macabre girl with a white ball.

While at a film award ceremony, he gets drunk and appears to be slowly losing his mind. A stunning woman (Antonia Pietrosi) comforts him, saying she will always be at his side if he chooses. Dammit is forced to make a speech, then leaves and takes delivery of his promised Ferrari. He races around the city, where he sees what appear to be fake people in the streets. Lost outside of Rome, Dammit eventually crashes into a work zone and comes to a stop before the site of a collapsed bridge. Across the ravine, he sees a vision of the little girl with a ball (whom he has earlier identified, in a TV interview, as his idea of the Devil). He gets into his car and speeds toward the void. The Ferrari disappears, and we then see a view of roadway with a thick wire across it, dripping with blood, suggesting Dammit has been decapitated. The girl from his vision picks up his severed head and the sun rises. Features music of Nino Rota and “Ruby” by Ray Charles, and is 37 minutes long.

Roger Vadim’s segment “Metzengerstein” was filmed just after Vadim had completed Barbarella, which also starred Jane Fonda. Scriptwriter and novelist Terry Southern travelled to Rome with Vadim, and the segment was shot in Roscoff, in Brittany.

Louis Malle directed the segment “William Wilson” in order to raise money for his next film Murmur of the Heart.  He agreed to make some compromises with producer Raymond Eger, in order to make the film more mainstream; his original conception was closer to Poe’s tale. The most important changes were casting Brigitte Bardot as Giuseppina in order to add erotic touch, including the dissection scene, and explicit use of violence. Malle thought she was miscast.

Fellini directed “Toby Dammit” which he wrote with Bernardino Zapponi, who loved gothic literature.  Fellini was particularly interested in C’è una voce nella mia vita (“There is a voice in my life”), which was his first choice in adapting into a film for Spirits of the Dead. The producers were reluctant to have Zapponi’s name on the film, so Fellini changed his mind and returned to Poe for inspiration. Fellini eventually chose “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” he only used the ending of the story. Lending “pedophiliac slant” to Toby’s character, Fellini explained that “a man with a black cape and beard was the wrong kind of devil for a drugged, hipped actor. His devil must be his own immaturity, hence, a child.”

Spirits of the Dead opened in Paris in June 1968, in Italy in September of that year, and in the US in July 1969. In the UK the film was retitled Tales of Mystery and released in 1973.

The Fellini segment is regarded as the best of the three, and the Malle, though based on one of Poe’s best stories, is the weakest and most tedious.

 

Metzengerstein cast
Jane Fonda as Countess Frederique de Metzengerstein
Peter Fonda as Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing
Georges Douking as the upholsterer
Philippe Lemaire as Philippe
Carla Marlier as Claude
Serge Marquand as Hugues
Anny Duperey as A Courtesan

William Wilson cast
Alain Delon as William Wilson
Brigitte Bardot as Giuseppina
Katia Christine as the young girl on the dissection table
Umberto D’Orsi as Hans
Renzo Palmer as a priest
Marco Stefanelli as Wilson the child
Daniele Vargas as the university professor

Toby Dammit cast
Terence Stamp as Toby Dammit
Salvo Randone as a priest
Annie Tonietti as the TV commentator
Marina Yaru as the Devil
Fabrizo Angeli one of the Manetti Brothers
Ernesto Colli one of the Manetti Brothers
Ettore Arena as the Rabbi at the airport
Patrizia Giammei as the Model