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Spirits of the Dead(1968)
A trio of supernatural stories based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
Metzengerstein:A jealous medieval Countess has incestuous feelings for her cousin
William Wilson: a woman finds herself on the end of a whipping when she loses at cards to a sadistic Austrian officer
Toby Dammit: while driving home drunk, a self-obsessed movie star bets his head that he can survive a deadly accident.
For more about Spirits of the Dead and the Spirits of the Dead Blu-ray release, see Spirits of the Dead Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on November 16, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Jane Fonda, Terence Stamp, James Robertson Justice, Peter Fonda
Directors: Federico Fellini, Louis Malle, Roger Vadim
» See full cast & crew
Spirits of the Dead Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, November 16, 2010
Screened at the Cannes Film Festival, "Histoires extraordinaires" a.k.a "Spirits of the Dead" (1968) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Films. The only supplemental features on the disc is the film's original French theatrical trailers. The disc, however, arrives with a 60-page illustrated booklet containing the three original stories by Edgar Allan Poe that inspired Federico Fellini, Louis Malle, and Roger Vadim to contribute to "Histoires extraordinaires", as well as essays by Tim Lucas and Prof. Peter Bondanella. In English, French, and Italian, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
Histoires extraordinaires is a curious French-Italian production featuring three Edgar Allan Poe stories adapted for the big screen by three legendary European directors - Roger Vadim (…And God Created Woman), Louis Malle (Murmur of the Heart), and Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita). The film was first screened in the United States in 1969, almost a year after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, under the alternative title Spirits of the Dead, and featured opening and closing stanzas narrated by the great Vincent Price.
Roger Vadim's segment "Metzengerstein" tells the story of a beautiful but evil Contessa (Jane Fonda, The China Syndrome), who spends most of her time enjoying wild orgies and humiliating games in her giant castle. One day, she meets and immediately falls in love with her cousin, a nature-loving Baron (Peter Fonda, Easy Rider). Much to the Contessa's surprise, however, the Baron shows little interest in her advances - which is why she decides to punish him. The Baron dies in an arson and shortly after that the Contessa becomes obsessed with a beautiful black stallion that once belonged to him.
Louis Malle's segment, "William Williamson", is about a vicious Austrian soldier (Alain Delon, The Leopard), who may or may not be losing his mind. He is followed by a mysterious man who looks exactly like him, has the same name, and routinely exposes his scams. During a game of cards, the soldier is seduced by a beautiful woman (Brigitte Bardot, Love Is My Profession), whom he later on humiliates. After he is confronted by the mysterious man yet again, the soldier commits suicide.
Federico Fellini's segment, "Toby Dammit", tells the story of a successful British actor (Terence Stamp, Striptease) with a serious drinking problem who is followed by a young girl with a big white ball whom he believes is the Devil. When the actor arrives in Rome to participate in an important awards show, he earns a brand new Ferrari but loses his soul.
Each of the three segments in Histoires extraordinaires is incredibly dark and unsettling, marked by the strong presence of decadence and death. Their main protagonists are wealthy, or fortunate if you will, individuals who should be enjoying their lives, yet they are miserable and unhappy. For a variety of different reasons, they see the world as a dreary place that has succumbed to the power of the Devil.
Yet it is the main protagonists who are their worst enemies - the beautiful Contessa destroys the man her heart desires and consequently her life, the Austrian soldier self-destructs himself driven by guilt, and the actor loses his mind after he suddenly realizes - during a bizarre, truly Felinni-esque ceremony graced by the presence of beautiful but talentless actresses - what it has cost him to become successful. Be careful what you wish for? Yes, indeed, this is one of a few warnings found in Histoires extraordinaires
Despite various critics claiming otherwise, each of the three segments in Histoires extraordinaires is incredibly well directed and acted. Stamp is outstanding as the drugged and drunk actor obsessed with his Ferrari, Delon is beyond convincing as the depraved soldier, while Fonda is simply irresistible in her sexy outfits. Histoires extraordinaires is also complimented by wonderful music scores courtesy of legendary composer Nino Rota ("Toby Dammit"), Diego Masson ("William Wilson"), and Jean Prodromidès ("Metzengerstein").
Spirits of the Dead Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.84:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Histoires extraordinaires arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Films.
Struck from a brand new restoration of the original film negative, this new high-definition transfer looks very good. Fine object detail is very strong. A few of the close-ups with Jane Fonda from the first story for instance are beyond impressive. Clarity is also pleasing, particularly during the indoor scenes, as well as the final third of the last story. Contrast levels are also substantially better than I expected them to be. The color-scheme, however, is where this Blu-ray release impresses the most; the variety of reds, blues, greens, browns, blacks, and especially the yellows from the final story look rich and well saturated; indeed, Histoires extraordinaires has never looked this healthy before. Edge-enhancement is not a serious issue of concern. I noticed random traces of it during a couple of scenes, but they were most definitely not disturbing. Pixelation and macroblocking also do not plague the high-definition transfer. There are no traces of excessive noise reduction either. Generally speaking, the fine film grain is very much intact, though occasionally it is also mixed with a small dose of light noise. There are no seriously stability issues either. When blown through a digital projector, Histoires extraordinaires conveys very pleasing depth and tightness around the edges. Lastly, I did not see any large cuts, damage marks, splices, or debris to report in this review.
Unlike the English version, the French version of Histoires extraordinaires looks dated. Fine object detail is quite inconsistent, clarity unimpressive, and contrast levels problematic. The color-scheme is also compromised; the blues, greens, reds, and yellows often times look as unhealthy as they are on the old R2 SDVD release of Histoires extraordinaires. There are random stability issues, as well as minor flecks and scratches popping up thought the the three stories. Regardless, Arrow Films deserve a lot of credit for including the lesser seen on this side of the Atlantic French version of Histoires extraordinaires.
Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location. For the record, there is no problematic PAL or 1080/50i content preceding the disc's main menu.
Spirits of the Dead Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are a variety of different audio options on this Blu-ray disc. On the disc menu they are identified as Multi-lingual audio and English dubbed audio, but I chose to enter them in our database as English LPCM 1.0 (Mono), French LPCM 1.0 (Mono), and Italian LPCM 1.0 (Mono). There are also multiple optional subtitle options - English subtitles for the French and Italian dialog; English subtitles for the English, French and Italian dialog; and English subtitles for the English dubbed audio.
Metzengerstein - The English LPCM 1.0 track is strong. The narration and dialog are crisp, clean, stable, and very easy to follow. The baroque score is also impressive (the recorder solos are nuanced, full of color). There is some extremely mild background noise that has been inherited, but the quality of the sound is indeed very good. The French dub is fairly decent. There are some minor pops and crackle, but the dialog is relatively easy to follow.
William Wilson - The French LPCM 1.0 track is very pleasing. The dialog is once again crisp, stable, clean, and easy to follow. I also did not detect any disturbing pops or cracks to report in this review. The English dub is also of equally high-quality, though I'd certainly recommend viewing William Wilson in French. Please note that the overdubbing in the French version is intentional.
Toby Dammit - The Italian LPCM 1.0 track (with portions of English) is strong. The dialog is clean, crisp, stable, and very easy to follow. Again, there is a bit of mild background noise, but the music sounds great. The Ferrari footage now also sounds notably better than it does on the R2 SDVD release of Histoires extraordinaires.
Vincent Price voiceover - In 1969, AIP released Histoires extraordinaires in the United States retitling the film Spirits of the Dead and hired an uncredited Vincent Price to read the opening and closing stanzas of Edgar Allan Poe's eponymous poem over the main and end titles. Arrow Films have included Mr. Price's narration. Not subtitled in English.
Spirits of the Dead Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Trailer - the original French theatrical trailer for Histoires extraordinaires. Music only, not subtitled. (4 min, 1080p).
Booklet - 60-page illustrated booklet containing the three original stories by Edgar Allan Poe that inspired Federico Fellini, Louis Malle, and Roger Vadim to contribute to Histoires extraordinaires. The stories are: "Metzengerstein", "William Wilson", and "Never Bet the Devil Your Head". The booklet also contains Tim Lucas' essay "Histoires Extraordinaires (Spirits of the Dead) Revisited" (originally published in Video Watchdog #33, May/June 1996), as well as Prof. Peter Bondanella's essay "Literature and Cinema"(the essay appears in Prof. Bondanella's book "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", which was published in 1992).
Spirits of the Dead Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If Histoires extraordinaires is a sign of things to come, then I cannot wait to see what Arrow Films are preparing for 2011. The British distributors have worked hard to put together a terrific package, and it really shows- the presentation, the booklet, and the package design are first class. Absolutely, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND. And Arrow Films, please release more.
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