1990's Two Evil Eyes pairs two of the most recognizable names in horror filmmaking -- Dario Argento and George Romero -- with the timeless material of Edgar Allen Poe. In this two hour long mini-anthology, each director tackles one of Poe's darker short stories.
Romero's contribution, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", bears some surface similarities to his previous collaboration with Argento. His 1978 zombie epic Dawn of the Dead was a satire of mindless consumerism, and Romero's take on Valdemar somewhat similarly examines his distaste for excess and greed. Former flight attendant Jessica Valdemar (Adrienne Barbeau) has long been the trophy wife of her wealthy, decrepit husband Ernest. The payoff she's spent decades waiting for appears to have finally arrived, as Ernest lies on his deathbed, manipulated by amorous doctor Robert Hoffman. His hypnotic manipulation of the bed-ridden patient is sufficient to convince Ernest's attorney to turn over a substantial sum of money over to Jessica, but before all of the necessary documents can be signed, Ernest keels over. A cool million proves to be too much of a temptation to fully resist, and a relatively unfazed Jessica and Robert decide to march forward as planned. Together, they attempt to conceal Ernest's death and shove his corpse in a downstairs freezer. However, as Ernest passed while still hypnotized, his soul exists in both this world and the next. With George Romero at the helm, it's a safe bet his decaying remains won't stay in the basement for long.
The second and final tale is Argento's "The Black Cat", of little resemblance to the movie of the same name by his fellow Italian horror auteur Lucio Fulci. Harvey Keitel stars as a photographer with a grisly specialty, prone to snapping gory shots of mutilated corpses at crime scenes. Rod's gruff nature is in stark contrast to his spacey girlfriend Annabel, who sweetly decides to take in the nasty little creature hinted at in the segment's title. Finding himself at odds with the violent kitty and seeking out a concept for a book collecting his work, Rod decides to kill two birds with one stone, or more accurately, photographing the strangulation of one cat. Jessica's understandably distressed, and despite his assurances, she's convinced that Rod murdered her beloved pet. A glance at his book while shopping obviously confirms her suspicions, and the fight that ensues leaves Annabel slashed and bloodied. Rod schemes to cover up the murder, burying the corpse in the walls of their home. Some of Annabel's violin students aren't convinced by Rod's inconsistent claims, and his secret can't stay hidden forever.
As appealing as the pairing of the filmmakers behind Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead may sound conceptually, Two Evil Eyes is somewhat of a disappointment. I'd attribute part of this to Romero, whose contribution moves at an excruciatingly glacial pace. It's a shame that another director or two couldn't have ben recruited for the project, because if the length of "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" had been lopped in half, it potentially could have been more engaging. It spends too much time on a pair of uninteresting, unlikeable characters whose inevitable comeuppance doesn't warrant wading through an hour of mostly filler.
Argento's installment fares much better, thanks in large part to his artful direction. "The Black Cat" is as visually entrancing as much of the director's work, and he's able to make more effective use of the gore and grue of effects wizard Tom Savini. On the disc's documentary, Argento gushes about his love of Poe's work, and "The Black Cat" is teeming with references to the author's stories. These nods are masterfully inserted such that the Poe-faithful ought to appreciate them, but they won't leave the uninitiated scratching their heads. There is one lengthy, obligatory "...the hell?" scene, a surreal Renassaince fair dream sequence that begins with a snickering dwarf and ends with an impaling. I'm also not particular certain what sort of pulley system Rod was trying to rig together at the end, but as much as I love Argento, I don't go into his movies anticipating a healthy dollop of sense.
Two Evil Eyes had the potential to be an excellent anthology, given the talent of the directors involved and the obvious quality of its timeless inspiration. Another segment or two as well as a considerably shorter runtime per story could have improved things immeasurably. As it is, the first installment is an instantly forgettable bore, and though I enjoyed Argento's segment, it's not strong enough to recommend on its own to anyone who's not an established fan of the director. As unenthuasiastic as I may be about the movie itself, Bill Lustig's Blue Underground has done a typically phenomenal job bringing it to DVD. Along with a new 16x9-enhanced transfer and a 6.1 DTS EX upgrade, this two disc set includes an excellent assortment of supplemental material.
Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image on this DVD release of Two Evil Eyes is sharp and colorful. The vibrant palette practically leaps off the screen, supported by deep, rich blacks. The source material must have been in immaculate condition, as this presentation is almost entirely free of any flaws whatsoever. For the duration, I only noticed a single nick anywhere on the screen, and specks and assorted wear are nowhere to be found. However, detail seems to vary from shot to shot. The image doesn't really come across as soft, but as sharp as the image remains throughout, the level of clarity appears to be mildly inconsistent. A handful of shots are noticeably grainier than the remainder of the film, but not really ever to the point of distraction. There's also some brief aliasing in a bathrobe pattern, but that's delving even further into needlessly nitpicky territory. A solid presentation and very much in keeping with Blue Underground's reputation.
Audio: Two Evil Eyes has been expanded from its original stereo to both DTS 6.1 ES (encoded at a bitrate of 768Kbps) and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (448Kbps). Rather than unnecessarily riddle the two-channel source with artificial directionality and unnatural, gimmicky surround effects, this remix chooses to accentuate rather than overhaul. In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", the bulk of the action remains in the front portion of the soundstage. The surround channels primarily reinforce the score and provide subtle atmospheric efects such as the dripping water in the basement, birds chirping, and city traffic. The creepier effects -- ghostly voices, a thunderstorm, gunshots, and splattered blood -- are well-represented in the rears and are anything but subtle. "The Black Cat" puts significantly less emphasis on dialogue, and the surrounds are accordingly more prominent in Argento's installment. From seemingly innocuous sounds like doorbells, an emptying bathtub, musical performances, and idle chatter to a screeching cat and a giant swinging blade, the rears are frequently chirping with activity. The LFE provides a consistently low rumble throughout, roaring to life when infrequently required. Some effects, such as the first couple of gunshots Jessica fires in the first tale, aren't bolstered by the subwoofer, instead keeping the bass routed to the main speakers. Dialogue is generally rendered cleanly, though a few scattered lines sounded a bit muffled, such as the exchanges when Roderick bickers with Christian in "The Black Cat". I didn't perform a direct comparison of these two multi-channel mixes, and my current rig unfortunately isn't capable of taking advantage of the center rear audio, but I thought the DTS track sounded great overall.
Two Evil Eyes also includes a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track, and subtitles and closed captions have not been provided.
Supplements: The extras on the first disc begin with a theatrical trailer (1:29), presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. A poster and still gallery is nicely divded up into various sections, including four images of Dario Argento directing, 39 marketing and publicity stills, a scan of an American Humane Society document regarding Argento's contribution, 16 pages of material from a press book, and 20 shots of foreign marketing materials from France, Italy, and Spain. Rounding out the extras on the first disc are lengthy, detailed biographies and selected filmographies for the two directors, compiled by Mobius Home Video Forum mainstay Mark Wickum.
The second disc of this set begins with "Two Masters' Eyes", a nearly half-hour long documentary that collects newly-recorded interviews with directors Dario Argento and George Romero, special make-up effects supervisor Tom Savini, and executive producer Claudio Argento, punctuated with clips from the film as well as quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage. Dario Argento is the dominant presence in the documentary, discussing the other directors approached for the project, the other Poe stories considered, and the mechanics of shooting his first film in America. Romero is candid about his mild disappointment in his finished product, due mostly to time and financial constraints. Also of note is a 14-year-old Asia Argento who appears briefly in some of the on-set footage, expressing her adoration of her father's films and her desire to appear in one of his movies. That wish was fulfilled several times shortly thereafter, beginning with 1993's Trauma.
Tom Savini is among the interviewees in "Two Masters' Eyes" and is also the focus of a pair of other features on this DVD. First is "Savini's EFX" (12:06), which incorporates vintage footage recorded at Savini's workshop along with detailed comments about his approach, the challenges he had to overcome, and the technical implementation of many of the movie's effects. "At Home with Tom Savini" is, as the title suggests, a tour of the makeup effects artist's home, recorded during a break in his hectic schedule as Two Evil Eyes was being filmed. Nearly every square inch of Savini's house is covered by a sword, mask, or sculpture of some sort, and he points out certain pieces and talks about their origins. Also recorded as Two Evil Eyes was being lensed is "Adrienne Barbeau on George Romero" (4:35), which was originally taped as part of Document of the Dead but wasn't incorporated into the final cut.
Each and every one of the supplements are enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The same goes for the discs' menus, which feature animated transitions. Two Evil Eyes has been divided into twenty-eight chapters.
Conclusion: Two Evil Eyes is deserving of a spot on the shelf of any Romero or Argento enthusiast, thanks to a top-notch presentation, an assortment of quality extras, and an appealing price point. Most retailers offer this two-disc set in the $20 range, and viewers who've seen and enjoyed the movie as well as fans of the talent involved ought to find it well-worth the asking price. For those with more of a casual interest, Two Evil Eyes is more difficult to recommend as a purchase, sight-unseen. Blue Underground's release on a technical level is excellent by any conceivable standard, but for those unfamiliar with the movie, I'd suggest either a rental or spending time with the movie's trailer and some of the other reviews floating around the web.
Related Links: The full text of "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" and "The Black Cat" are available online. Also, a theatrical trailer for the film is offered on Blue Underground's site. Finally, Mark Wickum, who penned the biographies provided on this disc, has written a thoughtful review of Two Evil Eyes that also delves into the production's background.