Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adrienne Barbeau, Ramy Zada, Bingo O'Malley, Jeff Howell, E.G. Marshall, Harvey Keitel, Madeleine Potter, John Amos, Sally Kirkland, Kim Hunter, Holter Graham, Martin Balsam, Chuck Aber, Jonathan Adams, Tom Atkins, Mitchell Baseman, Julie Benz, Barbara Bryne
Written by: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, George A. Romero, based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by: Dario Argento, George A. Romero
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 120
Date: 01/25/1990

Two Evil Eyes (1990)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Friend or Poe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Two Evil Eyes was originally intended to be a four-part film with four directors participating, but it worked out that only two, George A. Romero and Dario Argento, wound up completing anything. Perhaps that's the reason this film is so regularly trashed. Or perhaps it's because those two masters each made a one-hour film, which are really too short to be considered as "real" films. Either way, I wasn't too surprised to find that I liked both parts of this film, regardless of the negative buzz.

Each great horror director based his film on a classic Edgar Allan Poe story. Romero kicks things off with "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar." Adrienne Barbeau (who had worked with Romero on Creepshow) stars as Jessica, the long-suffering wife of the rich and clinically ill Mr. Valdemar. Dr. Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada) has been keeping Valdemar hypnotized to ease his constant pain and suffering; this has its benefits since Robert and Jessica have been having an affair. They hope to take Jessica's inheritance and start a new life, but Jessica finds out that it will take a very long time for her to get any money. So she and Robert arrange to make the hypnotized Valdemar sign some papers to make things happen faster.

Unfortunately, Valdemar dies while under hypnosis, and some kind of weird connection keeps his mind alive after death, and he is able to see terrible things and warn the young lovers of things to come. By any normal filmmaking standards, Romero's style can seem awkward, but I have come to admire and relish his unique, bizarre take on things. He genuinely has something to say -- genuinely believes in -- his stories. Not to say that he believes in the supernatural, but he believes in the moral consequences of his characters. I like the weird way that their fates tangle and trip them up, and I love the bizarre ending.

Anyway, most agree that Argento's entry is much better, "The Black Cat." Harvey Keitel stars as Roderick Usher, a photographer who makes a living snapping shots of crime scenes. His girlfriend Annabel (Madeleine Potter) brings home a black cat; the feline takes an instant dislike to Roderick, and he responds in kind. He uses the cat for some gruesome, artistic photographs, and then the cat disappears. Annabel blames Roderick, and this leads to a bizarre series of cover-ups and a major descent into hell. Argento keeps things off-kilter with some amazing camerawork, notably following a swinging pendulum at a crime scene (a tribute to another Poe story) and a creepy cat-cam. The story is overall tighter and madder, with less goofing around. Kim Hunter, from Val Lewton's masterful The Seventh Victim (1943), appears, and the adorable Julie Benz makes her movie debut.

Most anthology films like this one tend to rest on the strengths of one good entry, and certainly "The Black Cat" is the better of the two, but I like them both and find the entire package is worth something. On the Blue Underground Blu-Ray release, we get three featurettes interviewing the two directors and effects wizard Tom Savini, plus an interview with Adrienne Barbeau and a trailer.

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