ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Two Evil Eyes (1990) dir: George Romero and Dario Argento Blu Ray (88 Films)
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
A wealthy, elderly Ernest Valdemar (Bingo O’Malley) is lying bedridden in his mansion, deteriorating from a terminal illness. His younger wife Jessica (Adrienne Barbeau) and personal doctor Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada) - with whom she is having an affair - conspire to obtain his inheritance. They seek to achieve this by way of the latter hypnotising him, via an electronic pendulum, to verbally agree to commit a large amount of money to Jessica while on the phone to his lawyer, Steven Pike (E.G. Marshall).
Things are going well until Ernest passes away sooner than expected. Since this could cause legal difficulties, they decide to cover up his death and preserve his corpse in a freezer in the basement. However, things become even more complicated and frankly creepy when, for some reason, the old man turns out to be a little less dead than anticipated.
The Black Cat
Harvey Keitel plays Roderick Usher, a sleazy, alcoholic photographer who specialises in shooting gruesome crime scenes - the latest being a woman who has been chopped in half by a huge, razor-edged pendulum. When he returns home to develop his photographs, he finds a black cat in his darkroom. It turns out that his violinist girlfriend Annabel (Madeleine Potter) found it and decided to adopt it as her own. However, it is immediately apparent that it harbours a real dislike for Usher. The feeling soon becomes mutual and he decides to create a photoshoot of him strangling it to death.
When Annabel begins to catch on that Usher murdered the creature, she confronts him about it. However, he denies carrying out the act and becomes abusive towards her, resulting in their relationship rapidly deteriorating. It doesn’t help that Usher has a bad dream involving a group of medieval villagers sentencing him to impalement for his deed.
A while later, Usher visits a local bar - where he sees the same black cat peering at him from the counter. He takes it home and attempts to hang it with a length of wire. However, Annabel catches him in the act and hits him with a pipe - knocking him to the ground - and manages to save the cat before it suffocates to death. In the ensuing fracas, the feline escapes but Usher kills Annabel with a hatchet.
The rest of the story focuses on Usher’s attempts to cover up his crimes. Unfortunately for him, the curse of the black cat won’t go away so easily.
Watch a trailer:
One good eye?
George Romero and Dario Argento had previously worked together on Dawn of the Dead (1978). While the former took charge of writing and directorial duties, the latter was involved in raising finances, creating the soundtrack and editing the European release of the film. A number of years later, Argento reunited with Romero and also attempted to wrangle John Carpenter to bring together a three-part Edgar Allan Poe anthology, with each director handling one segment. In the end, Carpenter dropped out, resulting in it being reconfigured to be a two-parter.
While, in theory, George Romero had the advantage of experience in the horror anthology field (via the highly entertaining Creepshow), his segment The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is definitely the weaker of the two. It feels very much like he just took the story which was intended for the three-parter (and hence probably wouldn’t have lasted more than 30-40 minutes had that been the case) and padded it out to fill a full hour in length. It just drags on and on with too many slow and repetitious scenes.
The character dynamic between Jessica and Robert is interesting in theory. In a reversal of the usual femme fatale-style trope of the woman being the driving force in a nefarious male-female relationship, it’s the male who is the coldly dominant of the two, with the female frequently expressing reluctance in taking things further despite her own evident self-interest in going through with their immoral actions. However, Ramy Zada is too dull and uncharismatic an actor to pull off his Mephistopheles-style role successfully. Adrienne Barbeau is considerably better as Jessica but, in the end, it would have been preferable if she was the one who fully embraced the villainy instead; after all, she turned in a truly memorable performance as the loathsome Wilma Northup in the fourth Creepshow segment.
Still, while The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is on the weak side, it isn’t entirely bad either. Some of the climactic scenes are entertaining, especially the sudden arrival of a group of spectral figures, a gruesome impalement-by-obelisk-shaped-object and a welcome cameo by Tom Atkins in a Night of the Creeps-style hard-boiled cop role.
Argento’s last gasp
Dario Argento’s The Black Cat is considerably better. While again, it feels like what was originally intended to be a shorter piece is stretched out to fill the full hour, it’s not as big of an issue because Argento really paints the town red (in more ways than one) in his endeavours to make for entertaining horror. There’s plenty to fill the eye here; be it the creative camerawork (such as the pendulum blade and cat’s eye POV shots), or the plentiful gore (mostly censor-friendly aftermath-related stuff - but there’s also a hideous, if brief, groin-to-mouth impalement). He also maintains the suspense pretty well through most of the runtime as Usher (played by Keitel at his most obnoxiously sullen) tries hard to get away with his murderous actions but hits snags at every turn. The references are plentiful, both to Poe’s work (there are nods to The Pit and the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher as well as the titular story) and to other movies (most notably Psycho, complete with the casting of Martin Balsam). Nonetheless, they’re woven into the whole in a way which adds to the unashamed sense of fun.
However, while The Black Cat is stylistically oh-so-Argento and, arguably, his last gasp of semi-greatness before he rapidly descended into “meh” or worse, it does run contrary to many of his other works in one key aspect. While earlier films such as Deep Red, Suspiria and Phenomena have distinctive undercurrents of misogyny (at very least, towards certain kinds of women), The Black Cat is more of an anti-misogyny morality play with the central supernatural cat symbolising female vengeance against toxic masculinity. Keitel’s Usher is an unequivocally unpleasant tangle of anger and hate, waiting to burst forth at any moment. When he’s not abusing or murdering either the cat or his girlfriend, he occupies himself by photographing gruesomely-murdered women.
A word of note to cat lovers here: while during some scenes it may look like the animals are being subjected to pain or discomfort, an informational card appears afterwards assuring us that none were harmed during filming. Artificial cat prosthetics were apparently used during these moments and, I have to say, they look pretty convincing.
The Black Cat isn’t Argento’s finest work by any means but it’s entertaining enough to redeem the slightly dull Romero contribution.
Runtime: 120 mins
Dir: George A. Romero (segment The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar), Dario Argento (segment The Black Cat)
Script: George A. Romero (segment The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar), Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini (segment The Black Cat), based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Ramy Zada, Bingo O’Malley, E.G. Marshall and Tom Atkins (segment The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar), Harvey Keitel, Madeleine Potter, John Amos, Sally Kirkland, Kim Hunter, Holter Graham and Martin Balsam (segment The Black Cat)
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with 88 Films releases, the audio-visual aspects of this release leave a lot to be desired. The picture quality isn’t bad but the colours seem somewhat washed out at times and the detail is a little soft. There’s a tinny, echoey quality to the audio which can be quite off-putting. The dialogue is also a bit too far down in the mix, making it difficult to discern what the characters are saying at certain points.
The extras here include a reversible sleeve, some lobby cards and an enclosed leaflet featuring a transcript of Calum Waddell interviewing Dario Argento. Argento talks about his overall body of work and is most interesting when he reveals why he prefers working with women over men, as well as a personal childhood experience which inspired him to make his divisive The Stendhal Syndrome.
On the disc itself are the following:
Double Vision: An Interview with Kim Newman
Mr. Newman’s presence seems to be ubiquitous amid the supplementary featurettes of UK blu ray genre movie releases these days! That said, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll ever outstay his welcome; he’s such a well-informed and eccentrically charming commentator on all things film. His opinion on Two Evil Eyes is only guardedly positive; he opines that it would have been better if (as per the original intention) an additional director had contributed a third story and the two existing ones were cut down to more suitable lengths. He also briefly touches upon its place within the wider cycle of anthology films.
Two Evil Eyes: An interview with Luigi Cozzi and Caroline Munro
This 35-minute featurette takes us to the Profound Rosso store in Rome where we meet its proprietor Cozzi, who was the second unit director on Two Evil Eyes and has also helmed quite a few of his own films over the years - the most fondly-remembered being the cheesy sci-fi classic, Starcrash (1979). As well as discussing his work on Two Evil Eyes, he talks about his various other films and his approach to filmmaking.
He also discusses his other brushes with the works of Poe. He wrote the original story for the Lou Ferrigno-starring Sinbad of the Seven Seas, which was loosely based on The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Sheherazade. On another occasion, the notorious exploitation mogul Menahem Golan contacted him because he was desperate to fulfil a contract to release a planned adaptation of The Black Cat when its original producer, Harry Alan Towers, had fallen out with him. Cozzi’s solution was to insert some footage of a cat into one of his own films which had nothing to do with the Poe story!
We also get a brief bit of interview footage with Starcrash star Caroline Munro, who reminisces with great affection about working in the Italian film industry.
The extras are rounded out by Italian opening and closing credits, plus a trailer.
Two Evil Eyes is worth a look mainly for the Argento half of the equation. It’s a pity about the disappointing audio-visual qualities but the extras aren’t bad at all.