Two Evil Eyes
In 1990, a horror anthology movie came out that re-united two grand masters of the genre: Dario Argento (Opera) and George A. Romero (The Crazies). They had previously cooperated on a little film you might have heard of: Dawn of the Dead (of which you can hence enjoy a more Argento-esque version and a more Romero-esque version). Two Evil Eyes is an anthology that Argento produced (it was original thought of as a four-episode piece but ended up just two) and was written by Romero (The Facts of the Case of M. Valdemar) and Argento (The Black Cat) based on Edgar Allan Poe‘s work. It stars Adrienne Barbeau (Cannonball Run) and Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant) respectively.
This first half is the story of Jessica Valdemar (Barbeau), a former stewardess who married a rich man (Bingo O’Malley), who is now lying in his death bed. Dr. Hoffman (Ramy Zada), his doctor and Jessica’s former love interest, uses hypnosis to get him to sign off on her inheriting all his wealth. Out of hypnosis the man is in terrible pain and close to dying. For all the paperwork to clear, they need to keep him alive long enough, says the lawer Pike (E.G. Marshall). But Hoffmann’s grudge about the mean old man, his terrible state and the intricacies of the hypnosis have something else in store for the grifting couple in cahoots to rob the man on his death bed…..
The second half is about Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel), a photographer known for crime scene photos. One day a stray black cat ends up in his place to his great dismay. He dislikes the creature, and ends up violently killing it despite his girlfriend Annabel (Madeleine Potter) liking their new family member. His relationship suffers greatly and he starts drinking. When he wakes up, still drunk, he finds himself in the middle ages, where a popular spectacle and ritual sees him publically punished for killing a black cat. The fever dream sets the tone for the further decay of their relationship, which takes a turn for the worse after his girlfriend finds pictures of him strangling the cat as motive of a new art book available in bookstores, which in a stranger turn of events even find his way back into his life…
So Argento’s is definitely the artsier and trippier one, hands down. Tom Savini and Martin Balsam, John Amos, a few cameo faces can be seen, and then there is the first acting role of a young Julie Benz (not sure what happened to her, last I am aware of was Rambo 4 or so). Both films bear the stylistic marks of their directors, but at the same time both are rather toned down affairs even using each of the directors’ works as own yardsticks. And I mean both stylistically as well as in terms of effects. I have to say while I dig the classic value of Poe, I am not sure what to make of this constant harking back to his works. I dig a few Bava interpretations and so on, but it gets tedious after a while. Both of these stories are interesting interpretations of Poe material, but neither probably manages to bring the imagination and absurd horror to the screen that would come off the pages.
In a way, these are for Argento/Romero completists, I am not sure if I would recommend these outside these fan bases. Don’t get me wrong, they are both excellently crafted films, but Two Evil Eyes is more of a document that shows these directors indulging in some of their favorite pastimes than a motion picture that warrants inclusion in the canon.
The 3-disc limited edition by Blue Underground boasts a fresh 2019 restoration of a 4K transfer (there’s a 4K coming out, see note further down). The image looks fairly nice and sharp, I believe and hope that the newer 4K release might improve on the black levels a bit. It is no a reference quality BU disc, but it is up to their high standards for sure. It lacks a bit in detail with some of the brighter colors especially, but overall offers a crisp and enjoyable viewing experience.
There’s a 7.1 DTS HD upmix, a 2.0 DTS HD mono track and a French Dolby Digital Mono option. Now, the 7.1 upmix sounds nice, with a mild dose of surround effects, but this mostly benefits the musical score and makes the dialogue a bit harder to comprehend. I opted to finish watching the movie with the original mono audio, which does sound fantastic on its own and presents the dialogue and sound in a more original and authentic way. There are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitle options on board.
The extras on the feature disc are the audio commentary with Troy Howarth, author of “Murder by Design: The Unsane Cinema of Dario Argento“, the theatrical trailer and a poster and still gallery. The commentary ist just as informed on the first half despite the author’s prominent Euro-horror chops. The commentary is chock full of trivia and very entertaining.
On the extras disc then there is a flat out insane amount of extras. We start off with “Two Master’s Eyes” (an exploration of the film consisting of interviews with Dario Argento and George Romero as well as Tom Savini, Claudio Argento and Asia Argento, it comes in at a total of 30 minutes). Then there’s a feature called “Savini’s EFX” which is a behind the scenes look at the make up effects with Tom, at a total of 12 minutes. Tom also takes us on a tour around his house, at nother 16 minutes. Adrienne Barbeau talks about George Romero in an additional extra, that’s taken from an older DVD source (5 minutes). “Before I wake” is an interview with Ramy Zada (14 minutes), “Behind the wall” is one with Madeleine Potter (16 minutes), and then there is one called “One maestro and two masters” which is an interview with the the composer Pino Donaggio (also 16 minutes). For the those interested in source material, there’s “Rewriting Poe”, an interview with the co-writer Franco Ferrini (14min). Luigi Cozzi was actually an assistant director on this, and in “The cat who wouldn’t die” he talks about the project at greater length (27 minutes in total). Lastly there’s “Two evil brothers”, an interview with makeup artist Everett Burrell (14 minutes) and one called “Working with George” with costume designer Barbara Anderson (9min).
The third disc is an audio CD of the soundtrack. There is an extensive and informative as usual booklet by Michael Gingold accompanying the disc.
As this 3 disc limited edition from 2019 is already out of print (but still in stock at most outlets), let me point you to the exciting fact that the 4K UltraHD BluRay edition is coming out this summer. If the image is any indidaction, and the look of the material hints at it along with BU’s fantastic track record at remastering their catalog titles, it should look fantastic. It won’t have the soundtrack CD, but probably some additional extras. A must for fans! If you’re content with HD and you can find this one still available, it’s highly recommended, especially because it is chock full of extras.