Two Evil Eyes – Due occhi diabolici (1990)
Directed by: George A. Romero, Dario Argento | 120 minutes | horror, thriller | Actors: Adrienne Barbeau, Ramy Zada, Bingo O’Malley, Jeff Howell, EG Marshall, Chuck Aber, Jonathan Adams, Tom Atkins, Mitchell Baseman, Anthony Dileo Jr., Christine Forrest, Larry John Meyers, Jeff Monahan, Fred Moore, Christina Romero, Harvey Keitel, Madeleine Potter, John Amos, Sally Kirkland, Kim Hunter, Holter Graham, Martin Balsam, Julie Benz, Barbara Bryne, Mario Caputo, Lanene Charters, Bill Dalzell, JR Hall, Scott House, James MacDonald, Charles McPherson, Peggy McIntaggart, Ben Tatar, Lou Valenzi, Jeffrey Wild, Ted Worsley
It seems like a match made in heaven, not only bringing together horror film masters Dario Argento and George Romero for one film project, but also pairing their talents with the work of horror author Edgar Allen Poe. Initially the plan was to bring together several great directors of the genre, but it ended up being the tandem Argento-Romero, who provide a mixed, but quite successful interpretation of Poe’s ghost stories in their diptych entitled ‘Two Evil Eyes’. .
Romero kicks off with ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar’, a film that was originally mainly about the twilight space between life and death and how a man is held here through hypnosis. Romero builds it into a semi-film noir, in which this rich man’s wife, Mr. Valdemar, and her lover try to get his money by manipulating him and keeping him alive through hypnosis. The film noir aspect is of little interest, although it is always at least interesting to see how far people can go in their greed. But the characters are unsympathetic and do little to make the viewer really care about their dilemmas. Yet the central premise is so creepy that the body’s feelings take over from the mind. Once Mr. Valdemar is in the freezer for dead and it turns out that he can still talk since his mind is still under hypnosis, it becomes (un)pleasantly oppressive. Not so much because of the prospect of ghosts or demons trying to enter the world of the living through his body, but more because the man lies there so lifeless, but at the same time talks to his hypnotist (without moving his mouth), and there is a sense that he could sit up at any moment in a classic moment of shock. The viewer waits with bated breath for this moment when another close-up of his frozen face comes into view. But this moment never stops, with the result that the viewer no longer knows what to expect.
Also, the idea of someone who is physically dead but with his mind trapped in an in-between world is disturbing, partly because of what this man perceives and how he feels in this condition or in this location.
The haircuts, costumes and setting make the film feel a bit like a product from the eighties. The acting is also old-fashioned unspectacular and the whole thing comes across as an episode of the series ‘Tales from the Crypt’ or the ‘Twilight Zone’. Some scenes are reminiscent of zombie moments from Romero’s classic “Dead” movies, but the film doesn’t really bear a recognizable mark of the director. ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar’ is a not exceptional, but acceptable film from one of the biggest names in (horror) film history.
After having colleague Romero give his interpretation of ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar,” a tale of a seemingly deceased rich man whose mind still wanders between life and death, it’s giallo expert Dario Argento’s turn to shed light on a potentially undead cat in “The Black Cat.” The tone is set in the first few minutes by showing a nude lady cleaved in half with a pendulum shuttle under investigation by Detective Legrand (John Amos), who is joined in this morbid killing spree by photographer Roderick Usher, played by a like always very competent Harvey Keitel. Usher is fascinated by this kind of gruesome massacre and takes them all from different angles, before finally being able to bundle these photos together in a cozy book for the bedside table.
To process his experiences, he occasionally needs a sip of alcohol, logical. Only his wife is less happy about this, especially when one evening he is heavy at the kitchen table while his wife is in sackcloth because of her accidentally disappeared black cat; a beast that Usher hated. She thinks hubby is behind it, and when he lunges at her and even punches her, her suspicions seem confirmed.
It is the beginning of increasingly mysterious and macabre events, with a recurring element, the black cat considered dead from the title. There is even a medieval fantasy sequence in the film and occasional references to witches and hell (south of heaven), themes not uncommon in Argento’s work.
‘The Black Cat’ has a bit of everything in it: a bit of psychology, a bit of drama, horror, fantasy. And a good dash of Hitchcock in it, because of the tricks Keitel devises to cover up his crimes, the way he is haunted, and not least because of the ‘Psycho’-like music. This last element is very prominent, and a bit ostentatious, present, but it does contribute to the atmosphere. Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’ is very well designed by Argento, who has an eye for many facets and who manages to make the basic story, which could have remained something very meaningless, interesting above average.
This duo presentation of Romero and Argento didn’t turn out to be the absolute stunner that you might expect based on the talent involved, but it is certainly a collection that is worth checking out. Both for fans of the directors and of the horror genre.