In Romero’s The Facts In the Cast of Mr. Valdemar, a conniving wife (Adrienne Barbeau of The Fog) and her lover use a hypnotic trance to embezzle a fortune from her dying husband, only to receive some chilling surprises from beyond the grave. Then in Argento’s The Black Cat, a deranged crime scene photographer (Harvey Keitel of Reservoir Dogs) is driven to brutal acts of madness and murder by his girlfriend’s new pet. But will this cunning feline deliver a final sickening twist of its own?
Martin Balsam (Psycho) and Tom Atkins (Maniac Cop) co-star in this wild horror hit that also features grisly effects by gore master Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, The Prowler).
Two Evil Eyes 6.0
Edgar Allen Poe, Master of Horror. Dario Argento, Master of Horror. George Romero, Master of Horror. Put the three together and you get: ‘Two Evil Eyes’.
But why two evil eyes? Presumably because Romero and Argento each filmed their own Poe story and put the two together into one film. I suppose it’s meant to suggest that the two go together while maintaining a sense of separation as well. It’s fitting because, although the two filmmakers have been friends and collaborators for years, their styles are very different indeed.
Unfortunately for all concerned, including the viewer, the end result fails to meet expectations. While neither Argento or Romero have the skill or vision of a Kubrick (or a Lynch), they are both experienced and respected enough to elicit hope for a truly masterful portmanteau. I hate to say it, but I fell that neither were in top form when they decided to collaborate.
On the plus side, the two shorts lurch in the tradition of the old, slow-paced, traditional horror film. I consider this a plus because it usually means that more time will be devoted to mood – instead of focusing on cheap thrills like many horror films do. The best way to scare the audience is to creep into their heads slowly, playing the psychological terror card; it’s always best to tease and arouse before you get down and dirty.
The first segment belongs to Romero. It’s based on Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar”, and it features Adrienne Barbeau as a money-grubbing wife who is scheming to get her hands on her frail husband’s money. It’s a pretty standard ’90s production of TV-movie quality. The premise is decent enough, but the look and style of it, as well as a few unconvincing characterizations, suck the life out of it.
The second piece is Argento’s. It’s based on Poe’s “The Black Cat”. While I usually have a faint aversion to this director’s style, I think that the real weakness is the casting; the film is basically laid waste to by Harvey Keitel’s screaming, pugilistic performance. And then there’s the ending, in which the cops somehow hear scratching from upstairs and tear apart a wall to unveil the crime, which is so unreal and misconceived that it doesn’t work. Also leaving a bad taste my mouth, the very last shot is so amateurish in execution that I was in total disbelief. Ugh.
Music is frequently key to a horror film. It helps to elevate, if not wholly create, the tone of the film. Who could imagine ‘Psycho’ without its strings? Or ‘Halloween’ without its synthesizers? Or ‘The Omen’ without its sinister choirs? Sometimes, the unsuspecting viewer may not notice the ambiance being set by the composer. And that’s the genius of it – a proper score will sneak its way into the consciousness, thereby elevating the film it’s supporting.
Conversely, an ill-fitting score can be detrimental. Case-in-point, the music for Romero’s piece was too orchestral and in your face; it drowned out many scenes and left no room for subtlety (a serious problem for slow-paced storytelling!). As for Argento’s segment, the music was far too synth-based and was inappropriate for the setting. Furthermore, all the ‘real’ music (i.e. performed by the film’s characters) was clearly recorded instead of being played by the ‘musicians’; it was grossly amateurish and irritating.
Is ‘Two Evil Eyes’ a bad film? It’s not terrible – but it’s not great either. It certainly doesn’t impress or even come close to what one might have hoped for from such a trio of terror. It’s a shame, really, because this kind of match-up rarely happens – and squandering such an amazing opportunity seems like a total loss for both the filmmakers and audience alike.