Two Evil Eyes Review
For those of you that don’t know (and I didn’t until recently) Romero teamed up with Dario Argento in 1990 to do this film. Funded in Italy with an Italian crew but mostly American actors this film consists of two self-contained pieces, one directed by each of the two directors. The idea was that they would both choose their favourite Edgar Allen Poe story and adapt it as they saw fit. As a result this film review is split into two parts, one for each short film.
The facts in the case of Mr Valdemar
The basic plots of these two pieces are of course incredibly simple; in fact I reckon you could describe the entire storyline in one sentence. A gold digging wife gets her lover who is also a doctor to hypnotise her dying husband so that she can liquidate his assets, unfortunately he dies during the hypnotism and is stuck between worlds. OK well it was a rather long and unwieldy sentence but I managed it nonetheless. The whole point is that short horror fiction tends to have a simple set-up and the rest of the running time is devoted to the horrific consequences.
Unfortunately whilst the second half of this is pretty good and is packed to the gills with haunted house/creaking floorboard tense moments the first half is a travesty. Basically the first 25 minutes of the film is full of boring exposition and set-up, which is both uninteresting and visually banal. I cannot believe that Romero even saw the first half let alone directed it. The camerawork is awful in places with simple two-shots used for nearly all the dialogue scenes in the first half. The pace is leaden, the characters hideous caricatures and the dialogue laughable and corny. Whilst all of these things were used to great effect in Creepshow here they seem out of place.
By complete contrast it seems that Romero actually woke up in his director’s chair for the second half. The action moves along at a decent pace and there are signs of Romero’s distinctive style shining through… the camera starts to move more fluidly and the shot composition becomes edgy making the audience (and me) uncomfortable. The denouement is handled remarkably well but I will warn you that the dialogue doesn’t really improve. It seems no one told George he wasn’t making Creepshow 3!
The acting is fairly risible throughout but I’m not going to blame the actors too much as they had very little to work with here. The two lovers, Jessica (Adrienne Barbeau) and Dr. Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada) seem to lack any sort of spark between them, which makes their relationship a little unbelievable. Unfortunately the dialogue is so bad during the set-up that I don’t blame them at all for that.
If I were you I would read my one-line description of the plot and then fast forward 25 minutes and watch the second half. That would make this a far more enjoyable experience, as it stands it is a schizophrenic mess. Final Score? A five and that’s being generous.
The Black Cat
Argento on the other hand seems to be on form here. He decided to tackle and update The Black Cat and he does it rather inventively. I may as well try this one-line synopsis again as it worked so well the first time. A Crime Scene Photographer comes home to find his girlfriend has taken in a stray cat, the cats hates him and in a fit of rage he kills it; However the cat keeps coming back and forces Rod into more and more outlandish acts of violence. I’ll admit that the idea of a one-line synopsis sounded better in my head when I started writing this…
Again the plot is simple enough but Argento stretches it out with some surreal dream imagery that provides a real fantastical element. In contrast to the Romero piece this is pacy with a camera that hardly seems to stop moving and the frame is packed with detail. The adaptation as a whole is solid and inventive with a delightful twist on the original tale.
Of course it helps that Harvey Keitel is playing the photographer with a cat phobia as he helps lift the general acting standard here. The other cast members are fairly static and weak by comparison but this piece is really about one man’s performance and Keitel delivers.
Quite honestly if it weren’t for the second half of Romero’s piece he would have been thoroughly outclassed by Argento’s work here. However it isn’t all perfection… Argento can be a little self-indulgent and his action seems disjointed in places. Whilst the fantastical imagery I mentioned is excellent I feel it is maybe overused in places. I also think that the plot here is a little too thin to sustain the 62-minute running time and a little judicious cutting may have made it perfect.
Overall we have one and a half decent pieces here. The Romero segment is a Jekyll and Hyde and ends up very average whilst the Argento piece is inventive and far more enjoyable. If you are a fan of Romero you may want to avoid this unless you want to see the worst 25-minutes of direction he has ever done whereas Argento fans are in for a little treat.
Oddly enough this is currently the only release available of this film. Anchor Bay US obviously doesn’t have the rights in R1 as Anchor Bay UK has produced this disc for R2 only. Being Anchor Bay hopes are always going to be that much higher but this time I think they have partially dropped the ball. The disc is packaged with some fairly feeble artwork and the chapter list reveals that each feature only has 6 chapter stops, which is a little low considering that two of them are for the opening and closing credits. The menus are also confusing… There is an option to watch two Evil Eyes and an option to watch The Black Cat with no mention of the Mr Valdemar segment. If you choose the Two Evil Eyes option it shows both segments one after another. A better solution would have been to have a choice between Valdemar and Black Cat with an overriding option to watch the whole thing.
I know this film is low budget but I was expecting a better picture than this. The film is presented correctly at 1.85:1 anamorphic. The print used is dirty and scratched, indeed for about 10 minutes of the Argento segment there was an obvious hair/scratch in the bottom right of the screen. I am guessing that they did no restoration work whatsoever on this disc. The transfer itself is also below par. The picture is sharp and there are very few digital artefacts but that is the only good news. The shadow detail and black level are atrocious; in parts of both segments I couldn’t even see what was going on properly. The daytime scenes seem murky with a lack of colour and the overall impression is that it is a muddy, murky mess. It is better than a VHS tape could muster but only just.
Here there is a marked improvement over the picture. The DD5.1 soundtrack is available for both parts and whilst it isn’t astounding, it is accomplished. The dialogue is always clear and the music cues sound crisp and sharp, as they should do for horror. The use of rears is strictly for atmospherics and their limited use is the only negative point I would make. There is also a DD2.0 stereo track, which is a decent crisp audible track.
The extras that are here are biased towards Argento rather than Romero. It is a shame that Anchor Bay didn’t get Romero to do a commentary as they usually do for their US releases and Romero is a pretty good commentator.
The main extra is a 56-minute documentary entitled “An Eye For Horror” This is a great potted history of Argento taking us from his early days with Sergio Leone all the way through to his very latest work. It features interviews with all sorts of people who admire him and those who have worked with him including John Carpenter, George Romero and Asia Argento. This piece doesn’t shy away from controversy as it tackles the question of whether Argento’s films are misogynistic and there is decent coverage of his stormy relationship with his first wife. Overall this is a great documentary and well worth a look for all fans of Argento.
The other extras are fairly run of the mill. Each feature has a photo gallery that simply shows about 12 stills from the film. Each director gets a half-decent biography and filmography that covers several pages. There is nothing here that can’t be gleaned elsewhere fairly simply but for a basic introduction to each director it isn’t half bad.
Well Romero is hardly on top form here (far from it) but the Argento segment makes up for it. The picture is below average and the sound is accomplished. The extras package is the surprise here with a decent documentary (albeit not about the film itself). Argento fans may want to plump for this but Romero fans may want to forget this happened. As for a possible superior R1 release? Only Mystic Meg knows for sure.