Three of the more obscure stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Three European directors. Three film vignettes loosely based on those stories. (In the case of one, “Toby Dammit,” very loosely based.) That’s the setup for SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, aka EXTRAORDINARY STORIES, a 1968 French-Italian anthology film that has at times the feel of the classic Hammer flicks, only with subtitles. The first installment, “Metzengerstein,” features Jane Fonda of all people in the lead role of a debauched noblewoman who, after being spurned in her romantic overtures by her cousin (played appropriately by her brother Peter Fonda), orders that his stables be torched. The man and several of his horses die in the blaze, but a mysterious black horse arrives later at the castle of the protagonist. She becomes obsessed with the animal—sure it’s the ghost of the dead man—
and it inevitably leads her to her comeuppance. It has gorgeous location filming, but there are several segments, where Fonda is filmed riding the black horse to musical accompaniment, that drag, and the ending is anticlimactic.
“Toby Dammit” is the kind of artsy/snooty foreign film that I don’t care for. Terence Stamp is fantastic in the lead role, but the movie is one big technicolor acid trip where even after watching it you don’t know what the hell it’s about. A deft hand is on the wheel, I concede, but you have no idea where the car is taking you, not even after you arrive at the destination.
The best film of the threesome is “William Wilson,” the story of an immoral man and his conscience given form, a doppelganger. This one feels the most Poe-esque, and the most Hammer-esque.
Out of three stories, I’d say I enjoyed 1.75 of them. The better half makes it worth watching the whole, though. (At the least, watch it through parts one and two.)