Short-form Fright by Two Masters

by Glenn Lovell

CinemaDope is rewatching two horror anthologies this afternoon — Masaki Kobayashi’s “Kwaidan” and the Franco-Italian homage to Poe, “Spirits of the Dead” — well, the Fellini-directed episode of the latter “Toby Dammit.” My kind of ghostly anthologies. Smart, scary, wickedly sardonic. Eat your hearts out Miike & Tim Burton!

The only thing that comes close is Fellini’s “Toby Dammit,” kicker to “Spirits of the Dead,” a 1968 Poe-inspired trilogy. Terence Stamp plays a happily out-of-it star who agrees to appear at a debauched awards show (think Oscars hosted by Caligula) for the ultimate swag, a gold Ferrari sports car. Maybe the most audacious of the maestro’s life-as-cavalcade satires, this one comes with blackbird nuns, Sgt Peppers era Beatles, sycophantic studio types, and a coquettish Death in party smock. Here’s a taste of Ennio Morricone’s puckish piano score.

Hard to believe “Kwaidan’s” distributor, concerned about the 2 hr-plus running length, lopped off the haunting “Woman of the Snow” segment for the US premiere. Shot entirely on two studio soundstages, thereby ensuring total stylization, this tale of a young woodcutter who enters into a pact with a snow witch has always been my favorite exercise in the supernatural —

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