So what happens when you draw two masters of cinematic horror together to each provide their own, particular take on a couple of Edgar Allen Poe stories? Two great tastes that taste great together? Not exactly...but it is kind of fun. Originally titled Due occhi diabolici (1990), and then later called Two Evil Eyes (1991) for the American release, is comprised of two hour long segments. The first, titled "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar", was adapted and directed by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Martin), and features Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing, Creepshow), Ramy Zada (After Midnight), Bingo O'Malley (Knightriders, Creepshow), and E.G. Marshall (12 Angry Men, Tora! Tora! Tora!). The second, titled "The Black Cat", adapted and directed by Dario `Visconti of Violence' Argento (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Suspiria), features Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, The Piano), Madeleine Potter (Slaves of New York), Sally Kirkland (Fatal Games), Martin Balsam (12 Angry Men, Psycho), and John Amos (The Beastmaster, Die Hard 2), probably best known to 1970s television fans as the no nonsense patriarchal figure James Evans, Sr. from the series "Good Times".
The movie starts with a short dedication to Poe, including a shot of his grave (or, at least a reasonable facsimile), just so we, the audience, are aware the material featured in this film was stolen...er, I mean, adapted from the works of Edgar Allen Poe. After this we kick into the tale titled "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar". Adrienne Barbeau plays Jessica Valdemar, an older, still highly attractive woman who is currently scheming with her sickly husband's physician, Dr. Robert Hoffman (Ramy), to bilk the her dying husband Ernest (O'Malley) out of as much money as they can, by using hypnosis to get him to sign important documents and such. Well, things go slightly awry after the old codger croaks sooner than expected, so the pair put him in cold storage, namely the freezer in the basement (who's up for some ice cream?) until they can see their plans all the way through. Only thing is, the geezer died while still under hypnosis...so what? Well, it also seems now, besides being a Popsicle, he's stuck between two worlds, that of the living and that of the dead. After Ernest starts vocalizing his predicament and freaking everyone out, Jessica decides to take matters into her own hands, which raises the question how can you kill what's already dead? The next story, titled "The Black Cat", features Harvey Keitel as Roderick Usher, a photographer who specializes in still life, often working with the local police documenting gristly crime scenes. Anyway, one day his live-in, witchy woman girlfriend Annabel, played by Potter, brings home a black cat. Well, turns out Roderick and the cat don't get along, as the cat has an unnerving habit of sitting and staring at Roderick. Soon the cat goes missing, Annabel is inconsolable, and Roderick is less than sympathetic. After a bizarre medieval dream sequence, one in which Roderick is punished with a sharpened pole inserted into a very uncomfortable place, the couple's relationship deteriorates quickly, not helped by Roderick's love for the drink, eventually leading to Annabel deciding to split...and split she does when Roderick comes home with a snootful and takes to her with a meat cleaver. After a bit of creative dry walling, Roderick conceals his crime, but the cat, which has since returned, sees all, and remembers even more...
Of the two tales featured here, I enjoyed Argento's more...both include better than expected production values, strong performers, and solid source material, but where Romero's piece seems a little tired and, well, trite, Argento's piece is a bit more substantial, flowing, and visually entertaining (not to mention visceral). I can't help but wonder if perhaps Ms. Barbeau taking one for the team by popping her top would have helped Romero's story...it couldn't have hurt...as far as the story itself, it's sort of similar to that segment titled "Something to Tide You Over", featuring Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson, from the 1982 film Creepshow, as both included a re-animated corpse slumping around, seeking vengeance from those who wronging it prior to it becoming a corpse. The effects are excellent, but the adaptation lacks the punch I was expecting. There did seem a half-hearted effort to create something meaningful between the two main characters, specifically in terms of the pair seeing each other at their worst, and the subsequent effect this had on their relationship (murder's always been a turn off for me), but it never really developed into anything noteworthy. Seems like George had a couple of novel ideas, ones that he then filled in the rest of the story around. The bit at the end was definitely fresh, with the apparitions and the lighting, but not worth the price of admission. E.G. Marshall and Tom Atkins make limited appearances as a lawyer and a police detective, respectively. Argento's piece, on the other hand, comes across a bit stronger, despite the fact it includes an outlandish dream sequence, a tactic I generally despise, as it usually comes off as an effort to pad out the running time or introduce some crucial aspect to the story in a ridiculous manner. This one's set during medieval times, as we see a lot of people running around in ratty clothes, bad hair, and even worse teeth...oh, and look, there's a little person (is that the correct term nowadays? I'd say dwarf, but I need no blowback from the various midget/dwarf support organizations out there). Everyone knows a dream sequence just isn't a dream sequence without a little person, clad in strange garb, running around and cackling like a little a-hole...if you feel this way you should see the film Living in Oblivion (1995), but I digress...one of the reason's Argento's piece comes across as well as it does is because his eye towards hideous detail, his focus on vivid imagery, and his willingness to draw the audience's attention towards nasty, unpleasant things we might normally steer away from...overall the performances are solid, but I had a hard time swallowing Keitel's stereotypical beret wearing, pretentious, jazz listening, booze swilling, bohemian artist type character. The funniest bits for me were after the fact, as he tries to explain the subsequent absence of his girlfriend to the neighbors and her friends (apparently she was well-liked). Keitel's character was about the worst liar I've ever seen. The story flowed along nicely, and ended with a few, gruesome and welcomed twists.
The picture quality, presented in widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic, on this Blue Underground DVD release, is very sharp, and the audio excellent. There are a few different audio tracks to choose from, including Dolby Digital Surround EX, 6.1 DTS - ES, and Dolby Digital Surround 2.0. As far as extras, it depends which version you purchase (there are two). If you buy the single disc version you'll get a theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery, and biographies for the directors. If you get the double disc version, you'll get what I've already mentioned plus four featurettes. The first is titled `Two Masters' Eyes', and it's basically series of interviews strung together, lasting about a half hour, followed by a bit about Savini's effects (12 mins), At Home with Tom Savini (16 mins), and lastly Adrienne Barbeau talking about George Romero (5 mins). There's some interesting stuff in the two disc version, but not interesting enough for me to recommend to someone to pony up the extra cost over the single disc version...at the end of the day both versions feature the exact, same film.