Two Evil Eyes
two evil eyes | dario argento | george a. romero | franco ferrini | adrienne barbeau | harvey keitel | ramy zada | edgar allan poe | based on | short stories | italy | united states | animal attack | e.g. marshall | bingo o'malley | madeleine potter | anthology
Film: Two Evil Eyes (Due occhi diabolici)
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 actually remember one of the deaths, but didn’t realize that it belonged to this film. 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. The synopsis is 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 all of 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 though 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 all of the crime scenes in the area. He is prevented from getting it until Det. Legrand (John Amos) sees that it is him. This murder is actually in the style of the 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 ends something a bit less rough, he gets drunk and waits for Annabel to leave the house. He then tortures the cat while taking pictures until it kills the poor animal. His life starts to fall apart after that and this cat might not actually be dead. He becomes the prime suspect when Annabel disappears as well.
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 of them taking on Poe classics here. Not only that, but they do their own spin on it and make it modern which I think was definitely an interesting choice for different reasons with each segment.
Now I know I’ve read both of these stories, but I don’t really remember all of the aspects if I’m honest. What I really 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 pretty creepy in the end.
On the other side, I have to give a lot of 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. I’m sure I’m missing more, but I really dug this attention to detail for sure.
I do think that The Black Cat does lose its way though. I almost feel like that Argento added some extra elements to it in order to pad it out and I’m not going to lie, I did lose interest a bit. You can really feel that these two shorts are made by two different people, where one is really focusing on making a well thought out story and the other used more to the Italian style where if you can shock the people, you can get by with losing some coherency. That’s not to say we don’t get that. I loved seeing Usher’s descent into madness over what he’s done to the point where it breaks him, similar to the story that Usher actually appears in.
This film clocks in at 2 hours and I think that is actually a good length. It really gives both directors the leeway of doing a short film that runs 60 minutes. You could actually technically show both as its own solo endeavor with how long each really is. For the most part though, I do think that they both work pretty 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 pretty quickly. I thought both endings have a wrinkle at the end and that worked for me as well.
As for the acting, this film overall is pretty strong there. I liked to see Barbeau here as she really embodies this character. I’ll be honest that the first thing I ever saw her in was Creepshow, so I always see her as a bitch because of it. We get that here, but we also see that she has some remorse as well. Zada I thought was pretty solid here as well as the doctor. He is a bit arrogant, which with his profession and look really 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 really believe that he is losing his mind and compensating with alcohol. On top of that, he does have a bit of the pretention for his character’s profession. Potter, Amos 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 and the gunshots he takes to the shadow men to the creepy cats and body found in the wall. I really didn’t have any issues and I thought it looked good. Both films are shot very well also.
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 really stand out to me and I really just expected a bit more. It did fit for what was needed though so I won’t hold it again the movie too much.
Now with that said, I think this is a pretty solid effort from these two masters of horror adapting to more modern times the stories of the great Poe. 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 some good acting across the board. I do think that Argento’s story does lose its way a bit, but I do like how it plays out. Both build tension and have good effects. I wanted a bit more from the soundtrack, but it did fit for what was needed. I still think this is an above average movie overly that is flirting with being good.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10