This is a compilation of three tales adapted by three European directors from the works of Edgar Allan Poe: Metzengerstein, William Wilson and Toby Dammit. The first tells the story of Countess Frederica (Jane Fonda), a decadent young woman who inherited her lands and riches early in life and enjoyed nothing more than an orgy - or an execution. She never thought she'd change her ways until she met her cousin Baron Wilhelm (Peter Fonda), an austere young man who to her infuriation wanted nothing to do with her. She'd make him notice...
Handily for a selection of three horror stories, they are presented here in reverse order of interest. Not that any of the efforts are particularly terrible, it's simply that the Federico Fellini episode that ends the film works up to a delirious finale (after a delirious rest of it) and the Roger Vadim peters out. Whether you're a Poe fan or not, it must be admitted that when the Italian director makes with his magic, the reason it's so effective is that he has pretty much thrown out the whole of the source material, Never Bet the Devil Your Head. The other two unfortunately offer fairly predictable narratives even if you haven't read the originals.
The segment with the Fondas is lyrically adapted, but despite an air of debauchery it would fit in with a PG certificate today if it weren't for the implication that the Countess' interest in her cousin might be sexual as well as petulant. He still ends up dead in a stable fire attempting to save his beloved horses, a fire started on the orders of the Countess, but as his favourite stallion survives, she grows obsessed with it and the whole thing begins to look like a forgotten episode of Black Beauty.
Next up is Louis Malle's kinky take on William Wilson, with a well cast Alain Delon in the title role. Those famously unruffled feathers get the wind put up them when he meets his double, or doppelganger, who has a habit of appearing at various points in his life and putting paid to his schemes, which are on the level of the Countess's. Unusually for a evil double plot, it's the main character who is the evil one, so when the medical student attempts to perform an autopsy on a still living young woman, it's his decent counterpart who stops him. Apart from that, and a black-wigged Brigitte Bardot showing up long enough to be cheated at cards and whipped, it all proceeds much as you would expect.
Nothing too scary so far, which is a drawback for a chiller, but Fellini's contribution is something that lifts the enterprise. Terence Stamp stars as Toby Dammit, a film actor as dissolute as the previous lead characters, looking appropriately like death warmed up with his corpse-grey features. He is obviously hammered on drink or drugs or both, but has to appear on an Italian television show which has asked him to be part of the broadcast while he's in town to shoot a religious western. Fellini surrounds the already zonked Toby with a feverish dream of mist, snatches of conversation, and gloom pierced by the odd shaft of colour or glitter, all punctuated with appearances of a little girl playing with a ball who turns out to be the Devil (shades of Mario Bava). Even if you can guess how this will resolve itself after Toby has stolen a sports car to get the hell out of there, it's this episode that stays in the mind and makes this film worth watching.
Aka: Histoires Extraordinaires, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.