Plot: What’s it about?
This collection of stories was based on the stories by Edgar Allan Poe, although you wouldn’t always be able to tell that. All have a dark, unusual tone to them, but as they’re very visual (thanks to the directors involved), the pictures often tell the stories. I wouldn’t say these three stories are great adaptations of Poe’s work, but they are offbeat and interesting takes, without a doubt. I don’t think any of the directors (especially Federico Fellini) set out to create accurate Poe adaptations, instead to use that material to make eerie, off the wall short films and that’s what we have here. As these stories use visuals and atmosphere as prime real estate in terms of plot movement (or lack thereof), I don’t think a synopsis is in order here. I refuse to reveal too much and in this case, some sequences would impossible to do justice to, so I will leave it at that.
This film was released a while back by Image, but the folks at Home Vision have now taken a spin, complete with a new anamorphic widescreen transfer. Based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Spirits of the Dead sports some very impressive talent involvement, both in front of and behind the cameras. But as we know, a lot of name talent doesn’t mean a great movie is certain, even with good source material. In this case however, the elements seem to be in places, as Spirits of the Dead is quite good, in my opinion. It is a dark, perhaps depressing collection of stories, filled with memorable moments, visuals, and performances. The first tale is a little slow, then the second one sort of jars you, setting up the third segment to deliver the knockout punch. Yes, it has some flaws, but on the whole, Spirits of the Dead is cool picture. So is this a better disc than the previous Image release? I think the improved transfer makes this the superior edition, but aside from that, the differences are minimal. If you’re in the market for Spirits of the Dead, I recommend this Home Vision release, but I hope someone revisits it and issues a special edition down the road.
The three segments each have a different director at the helm, but in the end, Spirits of the Dead never seems disjointed in the least. This is because while each director remains true to their personal styles, their approaches to the material seem on the mark, so the stories blend together, despite their differences. The first segment is directed by Roger Vadim (And God Created Woman, The Night Heaven Fell), Louis Malle (My Dinner With Andre, Au Revoir Les Enfants) helms the middle piece, and Federico Fellini (8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits) finishes off the film in grand form. The cast is also loaded with well known performers, such as Brigitte Bardot (Plucking the Daisy, Please Not Now), Terence Stamp (The Limey, Alien Nation), Alain Delon (Girl on a Motorcycle, Rocco and his Brothers), and Jane Fonda (Stanley & Iris, Barbarella).
Video: How does it look?
Spirits of the Dead is presented in a 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is where this disc earns its stripes, with a cleaner, sharper transfer and of course, the most welcome anamorphic enhancement. The image still has some flaws, but it is a nice improvement and fans will be pleased, I think. The print shows minor flecks and nicks, with some mild grain at times, but looks cleaner than the previous edition. In the same arena, the image is on the soft side, but shows more detail in most scenes, which is good news. I found colors to be a tad muted, which I expected and contrast seems to be on the mark, with solid black levels throughout. It might not be the totally restored, definitive transfer we wanted, but it is a welcome improvement.
Audio: How does it sound?
This disc uses a French mono soundtrack, which sounds good and has no real negative issues to discuss. I heard little in terms of hiss or distortion, which I think is impressive enough, given the film’s age and such. A few small cases do surface, but nothing to serious and on the whole, the track is darn clean. The music has no distortion in the least present, so it sounds as rich as mono allows, which is all we can demand here. No problems with dialogue either, as vocals come through in fine form at all times, without fail. This disc also includes optional, newly improved English subtitles, which is a welcome gesture, of course.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc contains no bonus materials.