Spirits of the Dead (1968)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Costume Horror, Supernatural Horror  |   Run Time - 122 min.  |   Countries - France, Italy, Russia  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Patrick Legare

This collection of three haunting tales of death by Edgar Allan Poe forms a stylish unit that blends together perfectly. While loosely adapted from Poe's work and less horrifying than Roger Corman's Poe films, the stories really capture the demented inner structure of the author's writing as opposed to focusing on the more graphic possibilities. "Metzengerstein" stars director Roger Vadim's then-wife Jane Fonda in the role of a sadistic baroness. Peter Fonda delivers a solemn performance as the cousin who seemingly returns to haunt Jane in the form of a majestic black horse. This opening segment is marked by its frank depiction of sexuality, as well as lush photography by Claude Renoir (notice the incredible shot of Jane riding on the cliffs above a roiling ocean) and fantastic costume design by Jacques Fonteray -- both of whom did equally impressive work on Barbarella. Jane Fonda actually spoke her own French dialogue for the part. The middle story is "William Wilson" directed by Louis Malle. The tale revolves around a nasty young man (Alain Delon) who finds himself continuously exposed as a fraud by a lookalike with the same name. This segment is the most graphic of the three (Delon's live near-dissection of a naked woman being the highlight) and is filled with a constant feeling of dread. Delon plays the role perfectly and finds an excellent foil in Brigitte Bardot whose weakness for cards results in an excruciating flogging sequence. "Toby Dammit" is the final tale and was directed by Federico Fellini with his usual surreal style that is both amusing and disturbing, often at the same time. Terence Stamp is excellent as a drunken movie star whose debauched life is haunted by the devil -- who appears to him in the form of a little girl. Stamp's frenetic performance is a topper in this eerie, beautifully directed tale, filled with the kinds of fantastic, surreal imagery that marked Fellini's work.