videocam Spirits Of The Dead (1967)

reviewed by Nick Burton

Published in Issue No. 17 ~ October, 1998

This 1967 three-part film is based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe, each segment conceived by a famous director. The first episode, Metzengerstein, was directed by Roger Vadim, and stars his then wife, Jane Fonda, as a spoiled, bored libertine who falls in love worth her cousin, played, in an interesting bit of casting, by Jane’s real-life brother, Peter Fonda. A hoot for the medieval costumes (and to see Jane at her sexiest), but lifeless in the extreme, the first episode is ultimately boring.

The second episode, Louis Malle’s William Wilson is even more dull. You’re left with the feeling that Malle had little interest in this story of a man (Alain Delon) whose life is haunted by his double. This segment also manages to render Brigitte Bardot sexless (a crime!), and wastes a lot of time on a card game where Delon does his best to cheat Bardot out of a good deal of her virtue. There’s some nice, moody photography here, but not much else.

The third segment, however, is splendid. Directed by Federico Fellini, the segment titled Toby Dammit not only makes up for the first two, but it is such a creative rush of genius film making that one is left breathless.

Loosely adapted from Poe’s Never Bet The Devil Your Head (an unfortunate title that gives the ending of the story away), Fellini’s segment stars Terrence Stamp as Toby, a drunken English actor who arrives in Rome to film “the first Catholic western,” a tale of redemption described by the producers as “a cross between Carl Dreyer and Pier Paolo Pasolini”. But Toby is only interested in one thing – the new Ferrari the production company has promised him. After attending a surreal (and funny) Italian Oscar ceremony, Toby races through the streets of Rome at night, fated to encounter the Devil – a little girl with a white ball who has been waiting for him.

This is such a tremendous piece of work by Fellini. Apparently warming up for Satryicon here, he has created a completely hellish for Toby; a kind of Dante-esque hell where everything takes on a surreal and nightmarish quality. This segment of the film has many funny moments as well, not the least of which is a television interview where Toby is asked all manner of questions (” is it true that you had many jobs, even of an undignified kind?” “Yes, ” Toby replies “but never a TV interviewer”). It is also genuinely creepy, and while the idea of the little girl with the ball was stolen lock, stock and barrel from Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill, this is still an original and brilliant piece of work from one of the world’s great directors.

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Nick Burton lives in Newport Beach, California. His fiction has appeared in many small press and web publications, inlcuding: Chronicles Of Fiction, Pauper, and of course Pif.