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Spirits of the Dead Reviews

The idea of handing three short stories by Poe to a trio of famed European directors was far better in concept than in execution. The movie was released in France as HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES and in Italy as TRE PASSI NEL DELIRIO, and the Fellini portion was released as a short on its own. The first, "Metzengerstein," was originally published in January 1832, by the Saturday Courier. Vadim cast his then-wife Jane Fonda as a medieval woman who likes her cousin, Peter Fonda. When the object of her desire shows no inclination to return her affection, the woman scorned takes revenge by setting fire to Peter's stable of horses. He runs into the blaze to save at least his favorite horse but is consumed by the flames. Somehow, the horse manages to survive the inferno, however, and the woman is suddenly fascinated by the animal, thinking it may have been possessed by the soul of her late cousin. In revealing clothing (Vadim always liked to show off his wives' bodies), she mounts the horse, which carries her into another fire, where she dies. Jane had just finished BARBARELLA for Vadim, and this role was beyond her scope at the time. She was supposed to be dissolute, orgiastic, and not opposed to a bit of incest. Fonda's wholesome appearance went against the casting, even though something was made in the press about a brother and sister playing cousins in a relationship with sexual overtones. Renoir's cinematography was excellent, but the whole segment was a trifle. In "William Wilson," directed by Malle, Delon is a mean-spirited Austrian officer who tells priest Palmer that he has murdered a man who is his double. This eerie tale is based on Poe's story "The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1840" (published in 1839). Delon tells of his life--including incidents such as lowering a childhood chum into a vat of vicious rats, performing surgery on Christina without benefit of anesthesia, and whipping Bardot, the woman with whom he plays cards. Palmer, appalled by Delon's confession, can offer him no pardon, so Delon assigns his own penance, committing suicide by jumping off the top of the church. The final segment, based on Poe's "Never Bet Your Head" (published in 1841 by Graham's Magazine), comes to life under the hand of Fellini. Stamp plays a famous British movie star well steeped in Scotland's most plentiful product. When he is promised a brand-new Italian sports car for making a movie in Rome, he agrees to the assignment, a Catholic western directed by Angeli and Colli. He finishes the movie but is haunted by the image of a sweet young girl, who looks rather like a preteen Lolita, bouncing a ball and just hanging around. The Italian photographers and his producers shower Stamp with adulation at the cast party, and he gets his Maserati during the wild proceedings (peopled with the usual Fellini "grotesques"). Stamp becomes progressively drunker until he can barely lurch into the gleaming automobile. There's a crumbling bridge in his path, and he sets out to jump it. Approaching the bridge at top speed, he says, "Let the Devil take my head if I don't make it." Boozed up as he is, he fails to notice a low-strung wire in the road, and his head is severed from his body as he encounters the metal guillotine. The little girl, Yaru, suddenly appears and picks up Stamp's head with all of the innocence she's shown earlier in playing with her ball. Fellini's segment is far and away the best of the lot, as it shows style, attention to detail, and Fellini's continuing love-hate relationship with Rome. If the other two stories had also been done by Fellini, the whole offering might have been much better.