Blue Underground // 1990 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // April 1st, 2009
A double dose of terror from the directors of Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria.
A triple threat of horror masters unites in Two Evil Eyes, with two of the most seminal horror directors, Dario Argento and George Romero, adapting the works of ultimate horror scribe Edgar Allan Poe. As anthologies of horror go, expectations are set high considering the heavyweight names, but this one bores as often as it chills.
"The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Valdemar"
A rich man, Mr. Valdemar (Bingo O'Malley) lies dying from a terminal illness, tended by doctors and nurses in his home. His days are numbered. To the surprise of his lawyer, he gets instructions from Mr. Valdemar to transfer a sizable portion of his assets to his trophy wife Jessica (Adrienne Barbeau). He is suspicious of her motives, but agrees to the transaction once he hears Mr. Valdemar give verbal confirmation by telephone. Unknown to the lawyer, Mr. Valdemar is not in his right mind. In fact, he is under hypnotic suggestion, a plan put in place by Jessica and her conniving lover. Unfortunately for the pair of schemers, Mr. Valdemar dies before the transaction can be complete, so the two hide his body in the freezer of the mansion basement, desperate to make off wealthy. But as Jessica's guilt slowly eats away at her, she begins to hear voices from the basement...the moaning of a dead husband...
"The Black Cat"
A grizzled and dejected crime scene photographer (Harvey Keitel) takes one too many gruesome photographs. He reacts with horror at his girlfriend's (Madeleine Potter) newest acquisition, a black cat that hisses and howls at him repeatedly. For some reason, he finds the cat profoundly upsetting to his mental health. When the cat goes missing, his girlfriend suspects him of the foul deed, which sends the photographer over the edge. Desperate to cover his tracks, the photographer attempts to tie up all loose ends, but finds himself haunted by the ghostly scratching of a dead cat...
Points for creative thinking: the idea of getting iconic horror directors Dario Argento and George Romero together to adapt the stories of Edgar Allan Poe has money written all over it. After all, Poe is to horror as ice is to cream, and Argento and Romero are the delicious, delicious sprinkles. The combination works well enough in Two Evil Eyes, but something feels missing, like an important ingredient got omitted in the churning.
George Romero goes up first with "The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Valdemar," which ends up being the most sensible of the two, despite the fact that it involves hypnotism and frozen corpses. Romero's no-nonsense approach translates well to the story, a simplistic Poe tale about greed damning the fortunes of two schemers in a particularly soap operatic fashion. If it didn't involve frozen zombies, you could have lifted the plot right out of Dynasty (and Adrienne Barbeau's haircut certainly was). As the tale winds forward, it gets more improbable and ridiculous, but amazingly, it doesn't detract from the entertaining tale, due in part to creepy angular shots around and down staircases and Poe's slow build to madness.
"The Black Cat," Argento's offering, is more challenging in narrative, directorial style, and viewer comprehension. As usual, he shows off his taste for the dramatic, with stylish, aggressive cinematography, sweeping camera shots and special delight in visceral carnage. Romero's offering is more or less a straightforward horror tale, but "The Black Cat" goes for the authentic Poe interpolation of madness and paranoia, descending into a twisting spiral of confusion and doubt. Like much of Argento's work, this is heavy on the style and ambience, and negative fifty points in the cohesive narrative and logic departments. Talk about capturing Poe's nightmarish mind state! The piece is worth watching, if only for some particularly gruesome effects by Tom Savini and for its genuinely unsettling narrative madness. Still, when taking both features in together as a single offering, "The Black Cat" is less satisfying; it is too weird, too confusing, and too erratic to generate the proper creeping dread required to do justice to Poe's work. Only in the last 15 or 20 minutes of the feature do things finally kick in, but then it's too late to salvage.
All told, Two Evil Eyes is a neat idea, bringing together heavyweight horror directors to adapt classic horror for the screen. The execution is okay, but the stories selected are of average quality. Let's face it; these are not the best-known works of Poe. Romero does his standard satirical take on zombie capitalism run amuck, and his pleasure is evident here, torturing the greedy into madness and death. Argento's take is a bit more confusing and overreaching, and Harvey Keitel's overacting doesn't really help matters. "The Black Cat" goes in about six different directions, none of them particularly satisfying. Plus, it features a great deal of violence towards animals -- specifically cats. Even though the film received SPCA certification -- assuring that no cats were harmed during the making of the film -- not even Tom Savini could fake such serious distress in these on-screen cats. It's a bit unnerving.
Two Evil Eyes looks smashing in 1080p Blu-Ray, especially considering its relative obscurity, budget, and age. The transfer is detailed, showing clean lines without any noticeable distortion elements, aliasing, or grain. Colors are balanced acceptably, but towards the muted spectrum, and black levels are average. This is definitely a noticeable improvement over the standard release, although probably not enough in and of itself to justify a double-dip. The only telltale flaws as to the film's age and obscurity are the noticeable print damage here and there, but nothing particularly distracting or detrimental.
Audio offerings are magnificently impressive on paper, but all virtually identical-sounding: a 7.1 DTS-HD track, a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track and a 5.1 Dolby Digital EX track. That's a heavy amount of codec acronyms for one title. The EX legacy track is sparkly and sounds fantastic in all five channels, with clear dialogue and moderate to minimal bass response, the same that was featured on the standard DVD release. The DTS-HD and TrueHD track lose the sparkle in favor of smoothness, but again, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. The score across both films is perfectly realized, creepy and building and cresting at the perfect moments.
Extras are slim for a Blu-Ray release. We get a short (10 minute) documentary, "Two Master's Eyes" interviewing directors Dario Argento and George Romero, along with SFX guru Tom Savini, executive producer Claudio Argento and Asia Argento (for no particular reason). "Savini's SFX" sits down with Tom to discuss his special effect wizardry and makeup effects, while "At Home With Tom Savini" gives us a tour of his home (again, for no particular reason). We get an interview with actress Adrienne Barbeau discussing working with director George Romero, and a theatrical trailer. All the supplements are identical to the standard release of Two Evil Eyes, minus the talent bios and still photo gallery, which got the axe in this edition. Considering this is barely 30 minutes in material, it's a pretty slim offering.
Blue Underground has taken to the Blu-Ray format like a fish to water, and takes great pleasure in re-releasing their standard DVD offerings in high definition format. Like the vast majority of their offerings, the Blu-Ray presentation here is good -- just not good enough to justify the double-dip. The previous standard DVD release of Two Evil Eyes has an identical offering of extras, a nearly-as-good transfer and a robust DTS 6.1 ES and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX surround presentation. It's hard to get too excited about seeing this film on Blu-Ray, niche title that it is.
A weird nightmarish ride, Two Evil Eyes is a fantastic concept executed averagely. When taken alone, neither these films constitute George Romero's or Dario Argento's best work, but you can't fault the ambition of bringing Edgar Allen Poe to the big screen.
Not guilty, but not great either.
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer