Posted October 17, 2018 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Two Evil Eyes (1990) Blu-ray Review

The pairing of two masters of horror cinema for one film presented an intriguing and exciting prospect on the latest release by 88 Films in the Italian Collection. What is more, the two directors, George A. Romero and Dario Argento came together to present their own takes on two stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Of course Poe has been an inspiration for many horror films, not least of all the low budget and stylish films of Roger Cormon in the 1960s. In fact both the Poe stories in the film, ‘The Case of M. Valdemar’ and ‘TheĀ  Black Cat’ had been episodes in the Poe multi-story Tales of Terror (1962). What’s missing in Two Evil Eyes (1990) is the high camp of Cormon’s film. Poe had also inspired many other films such as those made by Universal starring between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Black Cat (1934) and The Raven (1935), while the story of ‘The Black Cat’ has been made into three other films with that title in 1941, 1966 and by Lucio Fulci in 1981. There was also Luigi Cozzi’s Demons 6: De Profundis (1989) which has to be said is one of the loosest adaptions of ‘The Black Cat’. The one in Argento’s adaptation, therefore, represents the sixth version of the story.

The first of the two films is a more direct version of Poe’s ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ and is successfully updated into modern day Philadelphia by Romero. Jessica Valdemar (Adrienne Barbeau) is having an affair with her husband’s doctor (Ramy Zada) who has put her wealthy, dyeing husband in a trance to make him sign over his fortune to her. They must keep him alive for a couple more weeks, but as misfortune would have it he dies and they place his body in a chest freezer in an effort not to declare his death. The next days Jessica hears groaning coming from the freezer. When they check on him, he is in all senses dead, but is able to speak, living in a half world between life and death.

The next story is adapted by Argento and is based off one of Poe’s best known stories, ‘The Black Cat’. But here Argento does what Cormon did many times and that was stretch the story out by drawing on other Poe stories, including ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. In this film a photographer, Roderick Usher (you see what I mean) (Harvey Keitel) is a crime photographer and attends the murder of a woman cut in half by a swinging pendulum. His exposure to such horrors has made him twisted. He lives with his girlfriend of 4 years, Annabel (Madeleine Potter) who take in a stray black cat she has found. Usher instantly hates the cat and tortures it for his photography. His girlfriend is abhorred by this suspected act of cruelty and when she confronts him she too is butchered by Usher. He walls her up behind a false wall when he hears the cat crying again.

Both stories do feel overly stretched out and would have probably benefited from another ‘evil eye’ story which was allegedly in the original plan. Viewing the film today, particularly with the HD restoration, Romero’s film is perhaps the strongest of the pair, but also feels the most padded out. Romero also explores his undead themes in one of the most appropriate tales he could film. It doesn’t entirely work despite some decent make-up on Valdemar and is definitely an improvement on Basil Rathbone’s dripping wax faced Valdemar in Cormon’s Tales of Terror. What they also lack that many other compendium have is a framing story and would have benefited from it.

This film looks every bit the type of film ‘Fangoria’ would have loved in the early 1990s, after all it has the special-effects of Tom Savini, one of the most prolific make-up artists of the decade. Unfortunately some of it, especially in the Argento film, looks a little too fake on this restored HD film release. The mutilated corpses look waxey and the final shot behind the fake wall distinctly fake; the make-up better in the washed out zombie Waldemar in the Romero story, although the final zombie figure is disappointing.

The two main extras, the Kim Newman critical look at the film and the Luigi Cozzi interview filmed in the Profondo Rosso gore store in Rome (owned by Argento) in which Cozzi, who had directed Starcrash (1978) and Contamination (1980) and was 2nd unit director on Two Evil Eyes talks about his career. Other than talking about Keitel’s sometimes irascible behaviour there is less about the film in question and more about his career and the relationship the international community has with Italian popular and cult cinema. Also included is a brief interview with former Hammer star Caroline Munro who appeared in a couple of Cozzi’s, whom she talks of with great affection. Alternately, Newman’s piece gives his usual critical and knowledgeable look at the film, putting it in context to many other related films and rightly admits that the films needs to be seen again with two fresh eyes.

There are also a collection of postcards and a reversible sleeve included with the Blu-ray illustrated with the original Italian poster and title, Due Occhi Diabolici. The other significant extra isĀ Calum Waddell’s interview with Argento in which Argento discusses with Waddell the film and his career, as well as his influences.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick