Spirits of the Dead
ederico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim adapt works by macabre author Edgar Allan Poe in the anthology film Spirits of the Dead [Histoires extraordinaires]. Dealing with tormented characters experiencing a personal hell, filled with angst and delirium, Spirits of the Dead was a ground-breaking departure for the adaption of Poe in cinema.
Arrow films presents the Anthology horror film Spirits of the Dead, aka Histoires extraordinaires (featuring three short films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe directed by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini,) on Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
We get a rather lovely looking transfer for the film and overall I was rather thrilled with it, having only seen it previously on a lackluster Home Vision DVD (which presented the French dub.) Colours look brilliant and perfectly rendered, and sharpness and detail is spot on. Grain is present but varies throughout, possibly because different film stock was used for each segment with Fellini’s segment, Toby Dammit, coming off the grainiest. The source materials also look to have been restored quite thoroughly, with only some minor marks scattered about. The first segment, Metzengerstein, may have had some excessive noise reduction done to it as it can look a little flat during some moments, though admittedly it could also be a condition with the source materials or how it was shot. Still, as a whole the entire feature retains a very film-like look and looks quite pleasing.
(Though a UK release, Arrow Film’s Spirits of the Dead is a region free release and should play on all Blu-ray players worldwide. I had no issue with playback on my Sony PS3.)
Arrow Films presents a few audio tracks for the film. We get two lossless linear PCM mono tracks, the first being a multi-language track (and what I figure to be the originally intended track,) which features English, French, and Italian dialogue throughout. There’s also an English dub, which dubs all of the non-English dialogue into English. Both of these tracks sound very good, though I think the multi-language track has the edge. The full-English dub can sound harsher around the edges and presents some mild distortion. The multi-language track sounds fairly clean and natural, and even has some power behind it.
Arrow also presents the French dub of the film. What’s odd about this presentation is that it doesn’t play over the newly restored version of the film but rather it plays over what looks to be an upscaled version of what was used for the Hve DVD. It’s colours seem a little off, the first segment looking yellow, and it’s laced with all sorts of artifacts. I must admit I’m not too sure why this was done instead of having the track playing over the newly restored version. Though I admittedly could have missed something I didn’t notice a difference in the cut, even though this version is a few seconds shorter in comparison. Somebody more alert may be able to point any differences to me.
As to sound quality for the French dub it’s flat and bland and the other tracks clearly blow it away. It’s more interesting to watch only for the first Vadim segment, which looked to have been originally filmed in French, and it’s interesting watching the last segment and the dubbing over Terence Stamp’s voice.
I was surprised by how sparse this release is in terms of supplements and this aspect is a slight disappointment. As mentioned in the Audio portion, the disc does include a few different language tracks (with the French version playing over a different restoration of the film.) The disc also presents the Vincent Price Voice-Over Narration, which was recorded for the original American release. His narration was only recorded for the opening and closing credits and features him reading excerpts from Poe’s “Spirits of the Dead.” Running less than a minute, this feature only presents the portions of the credits his narration was presented over.
The disc then closes with a rather long French theatrical trailer.
The real gem to this edition, though, is the 60-page booklet. It features reprints of Poe’s original stories that were the basis to the films in this anthology, including “Metzengerstein”, “William Wilson”, and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (which was the basis for Toby Dammit.) There’s also a rather lengthy piece by Tim Lucas, followed by a piece by Peter Bondanella that concentrates on Fellini’s contribution (including some drawings by Fellini.) It’s a great booklet and a strong inclusion.
In the end I was little disappointed by the lack of disc features, but the booklet does actually make up somewhat for this.
The segments by Vadim and Malle are not either director’s strongest and I can’t say I’m particularly fond of them, but for me Fellini’s contribution is the definite stand out, and the real reason to see the film. In my opinion Toby Dammit is one of Fellini’s best works, just visually entrancing and incredibly effective, further enhanced by an absolutely wonderful performance by Terence Stamp as the doomed actor.
Though I was disappointed by the lack of disc features, the booklet is a great inclusion and does make up a bit for the lack of much else. But the real seller is the transfer, which looks quite stunning and this presentation is a large improvement over previous home video editions.