Two horror stories from Edgar Allan Poe, directed by horror auteurs George A Romero and Dario Argento.
I did a smidge of research on the production of this film before sitting down to write this review. It seems that originally this film was Dario Argento’s idea. He conceived a horror anthology television show, with each episode being based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. George A Romero was interested, and he directed the pilot episode, ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar.’ Some of the other directors attached to this series included John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but the television series was not meant to be. After Romero’s episode had been filmed, for whatever reason, the show didn’t move forward. Argento stepped up and decided to write, direct and produce an hour-long edition of ‘The Black Cat,’ and the two pieces were combined to make “Two Evil Eyes”. As a television episode from the early nineties, this would be very impressive. But when compared to other horror films, it doesn’t stand out for either director as one of their better entries. As this film is divided into two stories, I thought I’d divide up the review that way as well.
The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar
Jessica (Adrienne Barbeau, “The Fog”) is a gold digging flight attendant who retired to marry the incredibly wealthy, but sick and dying Ernest Valdemar (Bingo O’Malley, “Creepshow”). Jessica hatches a plan to steal her dying husband’s fortune and run away with Doctor Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada, “After Midnight”). But when something happens to complicate the matter, Jessica and Robert’s relationship is tested, and the two face forces of darkness.
I suppose first and foremost I should say that this particular story looks a lot cheaper than Argento’s segment, and I’m guessing that’s mainly because I believe Romero’s was originally shot for television. The story itself is far more grounded than The Black Cat segment, and most of the hour long segment takes place in only a few different locations. The story itself had some pretty cool concepts (though for that we have to thank Poe). The pacing was pretty good, and Romero was able to create some pretty decent atmosphere throughout the first half of his film before ramping things up towards the end. As I mentioned in the introduction, I wouldn’t say this is one of Romero’s best (not even close), and a lot of that has to do with the fact that this film overall just has average execution. There’s nothing remarkable about it in terms of tone or stylistic choices; it seems very cut and dry. I almost felt like Romero was just going through the motions for this movie; there was nothing that really felt as inspired as his Dead series. A huge contributor to my feeling tepid about this film might be the overly theatrical acting. Of the three leads in Romero’s section, all of them are primarily low budget movie and television actors, and it’s obvious from the way they constantly overact. There are also some rather dated special effects at the very climax of this segment, and that didn’t help my feelings towards the film in general. The best part about this film was the atmosphere, and there were a couple creepy ideas that were brought to good use. Overall a very mediocre entry from Mr. Romero.
The Black Cat
It might just be my personal preference for Argento’s films over Romero’s, but immediately, as soon as Argento’s segment started, I could sense the film was better. The settings were grittier and more disturbing, the actors were better (Harvey Keitel (“Pulp Fiction”) was the lead in this one), the music was better, and the overall direction seemed to have more of a voice and style. This isn’t one of Argento’s better films, but it is far more interesting than Romero’s segment.
Roderick Usher (Keitel) is an artist who specializes in the morbid. He takes pictures of crimes scenes; dead bodies, gory dismemberments- that sort of thing. His editor tells him that he needs a new kind of work, so he starts looking for other subjects to take pictures of. When his girlfriend Annabel (Madeleine Potter, “Red Lights”) brings home a black cat, he decides to strangle it and take pictures. His girlfriend and he fight over the disappearance of the cat; she believes he did something to it, but cannot prove it. Some time later, the cat returns, and Usher begins to wonder if he’s going insane.
I don’t know what Argento has against black cats- he might actually be superstitious, who knows? This is the second film I’ve watched by him where he depicts the killing of cats (“Inferno” was the other- and there’s an artist that eats cats offscreen in “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”), and in this one he does it multiple times. I will admit I felt a little bit bad for the cat during some of the scenes in this movie, as it looked to be in genuine discomfort. However, before the end credits even began to roll for this film, a big disclaimer tells the viewer that no cats were harmed, and that an animal rights group watched the scenes during their filming. I’d still feel weird not mentioning that, as some of that stuff was more disturbing than anything in Romero’s half of this film.
Overall, I really liked this segment more than Romero’s, though I’m not sure if that is his fault. Just from the looks of it, I’d guess the second half of this film had a much higher budget than the first half. Either way, Argento made better use of his time. There were a lot more creepy images, Harvey Keitel was truly disquieting, and there were some incredibly weird and haunting nightmares that Usher experiences. The violence we’re shown is done in typical Argento form; over the top bloody and stylized, lingering on some of the more brutal moments. There were one or two really great scenes in this film, but it failed to really do much for me beyond give me a few thrills.
This film is an average entry from both directors. If you’re a huge horror fan, it’s interesting from the perspective that you can compare and contrast both Argento and Romero’s styles as they both tackle material from Poe. Just from what I briefly read it seems like this film had some production troubles, so I can’t really fault the movie for what it was. It was an experiment that worked in some places, and didn’t work in others; it’s pretty middling overall.
If you liked this film, check out our Dario Argento Spotlight!
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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