Two Evil Eyes (US - BD)
Gabe takes a look at George Romero and Dario Argento in high definition...
Two Evil Eyes began life as an anthology horror film to end all anthology horror films, but ended up an occasionally interesting shadow of two genre titans’ best work. Originally Dario Argento attempted to bring Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George Romero and himself together for an epic group of Edgar Allen Poe based shorts. In 1990 these names would’ve still meant something to the general public. When Carpenter (who’d go on to work on the lesser horror anthology Body Bags) and Craven backed out, Argento looked into a Poe based television series (well, depending on what interview you read, sometimes the order of these events is switched). This proto- Masters of Horror would’ve featured Argento, Romero, Michele Soavi, Steven King and Richard Stanley as writer/directors. When that fell through, Argento and Romero teamed up near Pittsburg to shoot their own short Poe films, which would be awkwardly stuck together in the form of the final film.
Things begin with Romero’s The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar. Adrienne Barbeau stars as Jessica Valdemar, the wife of an angry and extremely sick older millionaire that wants her money now. She and her hypnotist doctor lover (Ramy Zada) keep her dying husband in a hypnotic trance in an effort to embezzle as much money as possible from the old codger. But things get a little complicated when Mr. Valdemar dies under hypnotic influence…
Valdemar isn’t a bad movie, but it’s pretty dull, despite Adrienne Barbeau’s best intensions. As one watches this handsome but unfortunately stoic short, one can’t help but recall the director’s vastly superior anthology entry, Creepshow. The comparison is unfortunate, but fed by an EC Comics style adaptation, and slightly candy coated visuals. Apparently Romero was originally planning to adapt ‘The Masque of Red Death’, but opted for Valdemar at the last minute. We’re kind of left to assume that the pseudo zombie story was just more comfortable for the filmmaker, who even defaulted to zombies a few times during Creepshow. Bereft of the brilliant storytelling and subtext of his ‘Dead’ films, and of the comic book flash of Creepshow, Valdemar falls flat.
Argento chose the oft-adapted Black Cat, a story that, up until Stewart Gordon picked it for his second Masters of Horror episode, hadn’t been done much justice. Harvey Keitel is Usher, a photographer that specializes in really dark subject matter. One day his violinist live-in girlfriend adopts a strange black cat, and Usher begins to obsess about the animal.
Two Evil Eyes came after Argento’s last great film, the daft, but visually impeccable Opera (aka: Terror at the Opera), and unfortunately represents the first steps in his downfall, which is all but assured following Mother of Tears. Black Cat is definitely better than Valdemar, but comes off as rushed, and surprisingly sloppy given the director’s penchant for obsessive control up to that point. Non-fans will likely be confused by the flat dialogue and spacey acting, and assume that Argento’s lack of English skills and experience with American actors is to blame (which behind the scenes footage tells us was a problem). Those in the know are more likely to assume that this was exactly what Argento intended for the film—a listless and dreamy state. Defending the director’s tactics is another matter, and one I’m not likely to do any more. It took half a dozen viewings, but I think I’ve finally decided that the final effect is not to my liking in this particular case. I’m even going to go as far as to say that I prefer the director’s much maligned follow-ups, Trauma and The Stendhal Syndrome.
Despite the oddness of the dialogue scenes, and the generally unfortunate storytelling, Black Cat does have a decent sense of pace, and some effective energy in parts. Despite the R-rating (the box says unrated, but it's the same as the VHS R cut) the film fits in nicely with Argento’s other films when it comes to the gore quotient. Minus one gruesome finale Valdemar is a pretty anaemic film, but effects expert Tom Savani (who has a small role as a homage to ‘Berenice’) gets to pull out the stops for Black Cat, including a horrifically realistic pendulum victim, a toothless corpse, an unnerving hatchet murder, a super icky decayed body, and more fake cats than you can shake a fake dead cat at. Argento’s patented wacky camera movement loses some of its charm now that technology has caught up with his imagination, not to mention the mainstream, but considering budgetary and technological restraints a POV ride through a bisected body is still pretty cool.
Strictly speaking this new release is pretty close to Blue Underground’s already top notch DVD release. Colours are full and vibrant on both releases, though the Blu-ray does score points for a lack of compression noise in the warm colours and skin tones. Blacks are also a bit deeper on this release, and cut a little sharper against light colours without edge enhancement. On the whole the film is a little soft, especially Romero’s segment, but details are still sharper than expected, ensuring that we can fully enjoy the fine details of Savani’s gory effects. Like other Blu-ray releases of older and cheaper features, this disc can only look as good as its source material will allow, and there is quite a bit of grain to contend with throughout.
All three audio tracks share the same problems, and chief among them is an awkwardly separated centre dialogue channel. Throughout the entire film the dialogue ghosts into the stereo track creating an echo effect. When not bleeding, the dialogue is still flat, and oddly detached. Valdemar features a few, if any directional cues, but has a little surround flair, such as thunder and ‘ghost’ effects Romero actually complains about the lack of sound design during the making-of documentary). Black Cat misses a couple of directional effects chances due to its age, but still features some decent spatial representation. Pino Donaggio’s score, which is a total rip-off of Herrman’s Psycho score, is well represented over the track, and is less ‘artificial’ than it’s been in other releases of the film. Everything could do with a bass boost.
The extras here are the same that were included in Blue Underground’s 2003 limited edition DVD release. Things start with ‘Two Master’s Eyes’, a featurette featuring interviews with Argento, Romero, Savani, producer Claudio Argento, and for no real reason other than they had the footage, a fourteen year old Asia Argento. Argento is his usual pragmatic self, and gives all the back-story on what was essentially his project from the beginning, while Romero is pretty passive on the whole thing. The brief behind the scenes footage of Dario awkwardly trying to kick a football is worth the runtime. Also, both Argento’s ‘Pit and The Pendulum’ idea and Romero’s ‘Masque of Red Death’ idea each sound just about a million times more interesting than the shorts we got.
This is followed by a twelve minute look at Tom Savani’s behind the scenes effects footage. Savani himself walks us through the processes via interview, and the making-of material is compared to the final product. The haphazard method is actually quite commendable. This is followed by a five minute interview with Adrienne Barbeau on the subject of working with George Romero, taken on the Two Evil Eyes set. This was an outtake from Roy Frumkes’ Document of the Dead documentary. Things are completed with the original trailer.
Two Evil Eyes isn’t the best entry in either director’s filmography, but each story is pulpy enough to simply entertain fans of the filmmakers, the genre, and Poe. The Black Cat, Argento’s episode, has a more lasting appeal for fans, who can play spot the Poe and Hitchcock reference. Dexter and Buffy fans can also catch a quick glimpse of Julie Benz in her first film role. The Blu-ray release isn’t a massive upgrade on the Blue Underground DVD release, but it is an upgrade nonetheless.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 31st March 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby TruHD 7.1 English, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, and Spanish
Extras: 'Two Masters' Eyes', 'Tom Savani's EFX', Adrienne Barbeau on George Romero, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: George Romero, Dario Argento
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Adrienne Barbeau, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, Ramy Zada
Length: 120 minutes
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