In 1990, George A. Romero and Dario Argento released Two Evil Eyes, an adaptation of two Edgar Allan Poe stories. In the classic Poe tradition, both tales are about people who do terrible things, and suffer hideous consequences. In the hands of two of horror’s greatest filmmakers, they become downright terrifying.
Unlike the previous Romero-Argento collaboration, Dawn of the Dead—which they co-wrote, but Romero helmed—Two Evil Eyes showcases both directors. Romero takes on “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” while Argento does “The Black Cat.” Both segments are set in Romero’s Pittsburgh stomping grounds.
“The Black Cat” is spooky with a generous smear of sleaze—Harvey Keitel is perfectly cast as a tightly-wound crime-scene photographer with a cruel mean streak. The character also happens to be a rotten drunk, who soon realizes that killing his girlfriend’s newly-adopted pet cat was a grave mistake. Putting the snapshot he took of the cat while he was murdering it on the cover of his photo collection? Also not the best move ever, and it comes back to bite him in more ways than one.
The themes of guilt and being haunted by one’s evil deeds are true to the Poe story, and Argento—who also incorporates copious nods to Poe’s other works; for example, Keitel’s character is named “Rod Usher,” and his girlfriend is “Annabel”—brings his visual flair and signature weirdness to the film’s odder details. The best example is probably when Rod has a booze-fueled fever dream about being singled out for punishment at a pagan ritual; it’s as close as we’ll ever get to Argento directing The Wicker Man, and it is nuts.
Tom Savini—who did such memorable special effects make-up work on Dawn of the Dead, among many other horror classics—does the gore honors for Two Evil Eyes, too, and gets a freaky cameo in “The Black Cat” as a killer who rips out his victim’s teeth.
In Romero’s “Valdemar,” Adrienne Barbeau (one of several Creepshow cast members to return to the Romero fold) plays Jessica, a trophy wife whose abusive, much-older husband has been frustratingly reluctant to sign over his fortune. With help from her former lover, who also happens to be her husband’s doctor, the dying man is hypnotized into submission.
The plan becomes very complicated very fast—the old fart kicks it while he’s in a trance, and though his body is lifeless, his consciousness is fully capable of shrieking and groaning and making friends with other restless souls who haven’t quite made it through purgatory and into the afterlife.
Jessica’s guilt—she’s already been having second thoughts about the whole affair—soon evaporates, in favor of white-hot terror. And as Poe and Romero make certain, it doesn’t end well for anyone ... except for fans of Savini’s special-effects magic, which makes a lurching icicle-zombie issuing threats from beyond the grave the most nightmarish monster imaginable.
Keitel’s violent descent into utter madness in Argento’s “The Black Cat” comprises Two Evil Eyes’ stronger second segment. But Romero’s “Valdemar” can claim the film’s most outstandingly shriek-worthy moment.
Together, though, these two Poe tributes make for a terrifyingly good evening’s viewing.