Spirits of the Dead

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For other senses of this term, see Ghost
Histoires extraordinaires
Spirits of the Dead
Histoires extraordinaires2.jpg
Directed by Federico Fellini
(segment "Toby Dammit")
Louis Malle
(segment "William Wilson")
Roger Vadim
(segment "Metzengerstein")
Produced by Raymond Eger
Alberto Grimaldi (segment "Toby Dammit") (uncredited)
Written by Edgar Allan Poe (stories)
Roger Vadim & Pascal Cousin
(adaptation, "Metzengerstein")
Louis Malle & Clement Biddle Wood
(adaptation, "William Wilson")
Federico Fellini & Bernardino Zapponi
(adaptation, "Toby Dammit")
Daniel Boulanger
(dialogue, "William Wilson" and "Metzengerstein")
Starring Jane Fonda
Terence Stamp
Brigitte Bardot
Peter Fonda
Alain Delon
Narrated by Vincent Price (English-language AIP release)
Music by Diego Masson
("William Wilson")
Jean Prodromidès
Nino Rota
("Toby Dammit")
Cinematography Tonino Delli Colli
("William Wilson")
Claude Renoir
Giuseppe Rotunno
("Toby Dammit")
Edited by Franco Arcalli & Suzanne Baron
("William Wilson")
Ruggero Mastroianni
("Toby Dammit")
Hélène Plemiannikov
Distributed by Cocinor (France)
American International Pictures (US)
Release dates
17 May 1968 (Cannes Film Festival)
23 July 1969 (US)
Running time
121 min
Country France/Italy
Language French/Italian/English
Box office 946,137 admissions (France)[1]

Histoires extraordinaires (1968), dubbed Spirits of the Dead for English and Tre Passi Nel Delirio for Italian, is an "omnibus" film comprising three segments. In the UK the film was released as Tales of Mystery (for cinema), Tales of Mystery and Imagination (for VHS) and Spirits of the Dead (for DVD). The French title Histoires extraordinaires (translated to English as Extraordinary Stories) is from the first collection of Poe's short stories translated by French poet Charles Baudelaire; the English title Spirits of the Dead is from an 1827 poem by Poe.

American International Pictures distributed this horror anthology film featuring three stories by Edgar Allan Poe directed by European directors Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Federico Fellini. Jane Fonda, Alain Delon, Peter Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, and Terence Stamp are among the stars. The English-language version features narration by Vincent Price.[2]

The film received a mixed critical reception, with the Fellini segment widely regarded as the best of the three. Reviewing the picture under its English language title Spirits of the Dead, Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that "Toby Dammit, the first new Fellini to be seen here since Juliet of the Spirits in 1965, is marvelous: a short movie but a major one. The Vadim is as overdecorated and shrill as a drag ball, but still quite fun, and the Malle, based on one of Poe's best stories, is simply tedious."

In 2008, Toby Dammit was separately restored under the personal supervision of its renowned cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. A new 35mm print was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it was widely acclaimed by the press as a lost Fellini masterpiece.[3][4]


All three segments are based on stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. The original stories were "Metzengerstein", "William Wilson" and "Never Bet the Devil Your Head".

"Metzengerstein" segment[edit]

At the age of 22, Countess Frederique (Jane Fonda) inherits the Metzengerstein estate and lives a life of promiscuity and debauchery. While in the forest, her leg is caught in a trap and she is freed by her cousin and neighbor Baron Wilhelm (Peter Fonda), whom she has never met because of a long-standing 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. Become 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" segment[edit]

In the early 19th century when northern Italy is under Austrian rule, an army officer named 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 throughout his life. After playing cards all night 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" segment[edit]

Former Shakespearean actor Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp) is losing his acting career to alcoholism. He agrees to work on a film, to be shot in Rome, for which he will be given a brand new Ferrari as a bonus incentive. 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 was filmed just after Vadim had completed shooting on his previous movie Barbarella, which also starred Jane Fonda. Scriptwriter and novelist Terry Southern, who had worked on the screenplay for Barbarella, travelled to Rome with Vadim and according to Southern's biographer Lee Hill, it was during the making of this segment that Peter Fonda told Southern of his idea to make a 'modern Western' movie. Southern was enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to work on the project, which eventually became the renowned independent film Easy Rider.[5]

Louis Malle accepted the job of directing the segment “William Wilson” in order to raise money for his next film Le Souffle au coeur (Murmur of the Heart). The financial process of raising money for Murmur took him three years after completing “William Wilson” and in the meantime he shot two documentaries about India. Malle stated that he did not consider his collaboration in Histoires Extraordinaires a very personal one and that he agreed to make some compromises with the producer, Raymond Eger, in order to make the film more attractive to mainstream spectators. Malle’s original conception of the film was closer to Poe’s tale than the final result. The most important changes were: casting Brigitte Bardot in the role of Giuseppina with the purpose of adding some erotic touches to the film, the inclusion of the dissection scene, and a somewhat explicit use of violence in some scenes.[6]

The Fellini segment, which shares so little with its source in Poe that it could almost be considered an original piece, is notable for its visual and thematic similarities to three earlier Fellini masterworks. The disintegrating protagonist and the hellish celebrity demimonde he inhabits are reminiscent of both La Dolce Vita and , while the interweaving of dreams and hallucinations into the plotline and the use of highly artificial art direction to reflect inner states resemble similar techniques used in and Juliet of the Spirits.[7] Fellini rejected Poe's version of the devil, a lame old gentleman with his hair parted in front like a girl’s, and cast a 22 yr old Russian woman (Marina Yaru) to play the devil as a young girl. Lending a "pedophiliac slant"[8] to Toby's character, Fellini explained that "a man with a black cape and a beard was the wrong kind of devil for a drugged, hipped actor. His devil must be his own immaturity, hence, a child."[9]

Toby Dammit was something of a comeback attempt for Fellini, whose stab at a science fiction film, The Voyage of G. Mastorna, had collapsed in preproduction in 1966 owing to combined creative and health crises, leaving the director deeply in debt to producer Dino De Laurentiis. With Fellini's consent, De Laurentiis sold the note to producer Alberto Grimaldi, Fellini's collaborator here. Toby Dammit is also notable as Fellini's first collaboration with the cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, who would photograph seven of the eleven remaining feature films in the Fellini oeuvre.

In June 1967, the press announced that Orson Welles would direct one segment based on both "Masque of the Red Death" and "The Cask of Amontillado". Welles withdrew in September 1967 and was replaced by Fellini. The script, written in English by Welles and Oja Kodar, is in the Filmmuseum München collection.[10]


Samuel Z. Arkoff offered the producers $200,000 for American International Pictures to have the US and Canadian rights, but was knocked back as Arkoff wanted to cut a scene from the Fellini sequence. A year later the producers had not been able to find another buyer so when Arkoff made the same offer they took it.[11]


  • Hughes, Howard (2011). Cinema Italiano - The Complete Guide From Classics To Cult. London - New York: I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-608-0. 


  1. ^ French box office information for film at Box Office story
  2. ^ Hughes, p.92f
  3. ^ Karen Wang – Scarlett Cinema: Tribeca Film Festival 2008 – Day Six, scarlettcinema.blogspot.com
  4. ^ Janet Walker – Splash Magazine: Tribeca Film Festival Preview – Films, Fun and Fellini, lasplash.com
  5. ^ Lee Hill – A Grand Guy: The Life and Art of Terry Southern (Bloomsbury, 2001)
  6. ^ Mena José Luis and Cuesta Javier – Diccionario de Cine (Edimat, 2004)
  7. ^ George Porcari – Fellini's Forgotten Masterpiece: Toby Dammit (CineAction Magazine, January 2007)
  8. ^ Kezich, Tullio (2006). Fellini: His Life and Work (New York: Faber and Faber), 284.
  9. ^ Alpert, Hollis (1988). Fellini: A Life (New York: Paragon), 197.
  10. ^ Cinefantastique (August 30, 2009)
  11. ^ Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p276

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