Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: George A. Romero, Dario Argento
Written by: George A. Romero, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Adrienne Barbeau, Ramy Zada, Sally Kirkland, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Tom Atkins
The works of Edgar Allan Poe have been the source of many horror films, including a massive amount directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. Out of all these films, one that has a special place in my heart is TALES OF TERROR from 1962 which is an anthology containing three of Poe’s best stories. TWO EVIL EYES adapts two of the tales from that film and puts a modern spin on both. It also is crafted by two famous film directors that the genre has to offer. While both stories are quality stuff, one outshines the other significantly.
THE FACTS IN THE CAST OF M. VALDEMAR: Jessica is the trophy wife of the elderly Ernest Valdemar. She and her lover, Robert, have found a way to wind up rich as her husband is dying from an awful illness. Robert is a professional hypnotist putting Valdemar in a trance to sign some documents and relieve some of his pain. Unfortunately for Jessica and Robert, Valdemar passes away before the funds left in her name have been transferred. They freeze the body to keep it from decomposing and they will wait until the money comes through before revealing that Valdemar died. The trance that Valdemar was under was never lifted and his soul remains in agony, haunting the couple. The couple’s lies pile on top of each other and Valdemar’s restless spirit violently seeks vengeance.
The cast of this segment features a couple of familiar faces in the horror world. Adrienne Barbeau (from THE FOG) plays Jessica and E.G. Marshall (who appeared in Romero’s CREEPSHOW) appears in a supporting role. The story overall feels like it belongs as one of the better episodes of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, which is both a complaint and a compliment. At times, the story is dark and well-paced. However, things become a little too cheesy near the end and one special effect in particular (repeated throughout the climax) is laughable. There was surely a better way of pulling this off, but Romero wound up making it a slice of horror camp. The story is fun overall, but it pales in comparison to what comes next. B
THE BLACK CAT: Dario Argento knocks it completely out of the park with his twisted take on one of the best Poe stories of all time. Romero’s segment ran at about 50 minutes and Argento’s runs at more than an hour. Some may argue that seems like a large amount of time for a story in an anthology, but every second was needed. In fact, I would have loved to see this segment stretched into a feature-length film and it might have gone down as one of Argento’s crowning achievements. Featuring references to other Poe tales (a death mirroring THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM shows up and the main character’s name is Rodrick Usher), this story is bleak as hell and downright disturbing throughout.
Rod Usher is a crime scene photographer and takes his work very seriously. He sees it as art. This has molded him into a cruel man. His artistic wife is an unusual woman and takes in a stray black cat. The animal takes an immediate strong disliking to Usher and he returns the hatred. In a fit of rage, he kills the animal and uses photos of the dead feline for his morbid art book. When his wife finds out, she tries to leave him and things go terribly wrong. An cat bearing resemblance to the one he killed also makes its way into Usher’s life, which drives him further over the brink into madness.
Though minor details have been added and the setting has been changed, this telling of Poe’s classic tale of madness is true to the text. It’s essentially the same story just told in present day and done with a definite eye for artistic direction (as Argento used to be known for). Harvey Keitel sells his downright evil character very well. While most say that Argento’s last good movie was OPERA, I’d argue that TWO EVIL EYES showcases the last fantastic effort by a former master of the genre. As much I loathe SUSPIRIA (which I feel is a terrible movie that’s vastly overrated), Argento has always excelled at human horror (e.g. DEEP RED, TENEBRE) and THE BLACK CAT makes for a stellar viewing experience. Downright demented, brilliantly executed, and never letting a moment of anything remotely light-hearted come through. This is the kind of adaptation that Poe’s tales deserve. A+
TWO EVIL EYES is a great movie, but it winds up that way based solely on Dario Argento’s contribution to the semi-anthology as it were. Romero’s entry was fun, but felt like it belonged on an episode of TV horror anthology. It certainly radiated the campy fun of those TV broadcasts. It’s a movie that (like many others I’ve been checking out this month) doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. This is well worth the time of any film fan on a chilly October evening. Just be prepared to creeped out by the second story long after it’s over.