Two Evil Eyes

12/18/2019 06:25

Film: Two Evil Eyes (Due occhi diabolici)

Year: 1990

Director: Dario Argento and George A. Romero

Writer: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini and George A. Romero

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Harvey Keitel and Ramy Zada



This was a film that I remember one of the deaths but didn’t realize that it belonged to this film. I caught it on a movie channel growing up. I’m a big fan of both directors, so it’s been on my radar for some time, just never got around to seeing it until now. It made itself a part of my 31 Days of Halloween thanks to my local theater showing it. I also got to see Dario Argento’s short again in 4K on the big screen. I ended up watching my DVD for George Romero’s due to the completionist in me.

Synopsis: two horror tales based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and directed by two masters of horror. A greedy wife kills her husband, but not completely. The other is a sleazy reporter adopts a strange black cat.

In the first tale that is directed and written by Romero. We have Jessica Valdemar (Adrienne Barbeau) in a cab. She is rehearsing lines and we see that the reason is that she is going to see Steven Pike (E.G. Marshall). She wants to liquidate her husband’s assets and this set off alarms for Mr. Pike. The signature looks a bit off and he challenges her if these are really his wishes. He makes a call to her husband and this satisfies Mr. Pike. To drive it home, his doctor Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada) also gets on the line.

We see that things aren’t as they seem. Ernest Valdemar (Bingo O’Malley) is indeed dying, but the problem is that he’s hypnotized by Dr. Hoffman. He’s able to control him and get him to do what he wants in this state. Dr. Hoffman is also a former lover of Jessica and he wants her back. The two of them need to keep Ernest alive long enough for the assets to be put into Jessica’s name or it will be tied up in the estate. Ernest ends up dying while he’s hypnotized and they learn that there may be consciousness after death. There also might be dark forces around this as well.

The other tale that is co-written and directed by Argento is of The Black Cat. Roderick Usher (Harvey Keitel) is a photographer that shows up to crime scenes in the area. He is prevented from getting it until Det. Legrand (John Amos) sees that it is him. He works for the press. This murder was done with a pendulum, like from Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum.

Usher is seeing Annabel (Madeleine Potter) who found a stray black cat she brought into the house. This cat doesn’t get along with Usher. He gets frustrated at work when his portfolio for a coffee table book is rejected. He gets drunk and waits for Annabel to leave the house. He then tortures the cat while taking pictures until its death. His life then falls apart and this cat gets its revenge. He becomes the prime suspect when Annabel disappears as well.

That is where I’ll leave my recap of these stories and introduction to the characters. I’m going to say that this isn’t the best film from either of these amazing directors, but I still find it quite interesting to see both taking on Poe classics. Not only that, but they do their own spin on it and make them modern, which I think was an interesting choice for different reasons with each segment.

Now I know I’ve read both stories, but I don’t really remember all the aspects if I’m honest. What I like about The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar is to deepen the story we include his wife who is trying to rob him while on his death bed. Having the doctor in on it also helps here and introduces the horror of the story where Mr. Valdemar dies while he’s under hypnosis. One of the scariest aspects here is that he is talking to them from beyond the grave and stuck in a suspended animation for his mind. I’ve seen the death scene that ends this one and I didn’t realize it until this viewing that this is where it came from. This one is creepy in the end.

On the other side, I give credit to Argento in his choice to include a bunch of Poe references. Naming the man character Roderick Usher as well as having Eleonora, Mr. Pym and Annabel who are all characters in other stories. We get the Pendulum death here as well. There are also elements of The Tell-Tale Heart.

Now to get into the meat of the story here. Originally, I had issues with the pacing as it felt like Argento padded this out. That’s not how I feel with seeing this a second time. It sets up Usher and that he isn’t a nice guy. The easter eggs are throughout for Poe fans. We then see Usher fall into madness trying to cover up what he did. It doesn’t help when he has nosey neighbors like Mr. and Mrs. Pym (Martin Balsam and Kim Hunter). There’s also Christian (Holter Graham) who is hounding Usher to know what happened to Annabel. The deeper he sinks, the sloppier he gets and I thought that works.

Shifting from there, I want to delve a bit more into the pacing. This clocks in at 2 hours and I think that is a good length. It really gives both directors the leeway to make a short film that runs 60 minutes. You could technically show both as their own solo endeavor with how long each really is. I can confirm as well watching these days apart. For the most part though, I do think that they both work well with The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar working better for me. Both do introduce our characters and get to the crux of the issue quickly. I thought both endings had a wrinkle at the end and that worked for me as well.

As for the acting, this film overall is strong there. I liked to see Barbeau here as she embodies this character. I’ll be honest that the first thing I ever saw her in was Creepshow, so I always see her as that rough and mean character because of it. We get that here to a lesser degree but we also see that she has remorse as well. Zada was solid here as well as the doctor. He is arrogant, which with his profession and look works for the character. O’Malley makes it creepy and it was fun to see cameos by Marshall as well as Tom Atkins and Anthony Dileo Jr.

For the other story, Keitel was great as the lead. I believe that he is losing his mind and compensating with alcohol. On top of that, he does have a bit of pretention for his character’s profession. Potter, Amos, Sally Kirkland, Hunter, Balsam, Graham, a cameo by Tom Savini and even a young Julie Benz rounded out this story for what was needed as well.

Something I wasn’t worried about was the effects in this film. It is interesting that this came out in 1990. It has a weird feel of almost an 80’s film that is transitioning into the new decade. From what I could tell, everything was done practical and it looked good. From the frozen body of Ernest to the shadow men for the first story are good. The creepy cats and the body found in the wall are bright spots for the second. I didn’t have any issues and I thought it looked good. Both films have good cinematography, but I expect that from both directors as well.

The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. I’m not going to lie, I was slightly disappointed, because I saw the name Pino Donaggio and that excited me. The soundtrack overall didn’t stand out to me and I just expected a bit more. It did fit for what was needed though so I won’t hold it again the movie too much. What was good was the sound design. We have the cats meowing through the walls or hearing Mr. Valdemar’s voice when he’s supposed to be dead was creepy. Props there for sure.

In conclusion, I think this is a solid effort from these two masters of horror adapting to the stories of the great Poe with a modern twist. I did think that the Romero story was the stronger of the two and it might be partially that The Black Cat has been done quite a bit. I still think both bring up some good social issues and we get good acting across the board. Both build tension and have good effects. I wanted a bit more from the soundtrack, but it did fit for what was needed. The sound design makes up there though. I’d recommend this to fans of Poe or these directors for sure.


My Rating: 8 out of 10