Overlooked & Underseen: Two Evil Eyes (1990)
It was a sad day yesterday around my Twitter feed. We lost two great film people; Martin Landau and George Romero. It was lovely to see everyone come together to celebrate the works of these two movie institutions. The horror community had so many good things to say about Romero, not just as a director, but as a man. Story after story about how kind he was to them when they met him at a convention, etc. filled my time line. I think nearly all of Romero’s movies were watched last night in some capacity. I (at the suggestion of my husband) rewatched a film Romero made with Dario Argento called Two Evil Eyes. The film is based on two works by Edgar Allan Poe; “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (directed by Romero), and “The Black Cat” (directed by Argento).
In the Valdemar story, Adrienne Barbeau plays “Mrs. Valdemar,” a flight attendant turned gold digger who just wants her husband's money ASAP. Her husband has a terminal illness and she wants him dead but, of course, not before she fakes his signature so that she gets her hands on his money sooner. Her partner in crime is none other than her husband’s doctor (and her ex-lover!) Dr. Hoffman. He hypnotizes Valdemar in order to get the dying man to tell his lawyer, Pike (EG Marshall), that he has approved of letting his wife get all his money immediately. Barbeau gets that green but she’s also feeling guilty as hell. Dr. Hoffman is still in love with her and wants to be with her but she pushes him away. Pike is suspicious and has told Mrs. Valdemar if her husband dies, she won’t get any of the money. So, of course, Valdemar dies (or so they think) and the pair sticks him in a freezer in the basement.
Yes, you know the story… Mrs. Valdermar keeps hearing strange noises in the basement. Hoffman thinks she’s full of shit until he, too, hears voices. They open the freezer and what to do they see? A frozen Valdemar telling them he isn’t dead yet. Eventually, Barbeau can’t take any more of these dead person shenanigans and shoots her husband’s frozen body right there in the deep freeze. Hoffman is pissed, naturally, because now what are they going to tell the cops? A plan to bury the body is hatched but, really, you know some other shit is going to go down because the dead Valdemar told them both “the others” were coming for them.
Because the story is set in modern Pittsburgh, Romero is able to throw in (as he does) his view on the social ills of the day, in this case, capitalism and greed. It wouldn’t be a Romero film without some horror, of course. There are some awesome gore shots going on here thanks to Tom Savini. Romero is never flashy with his camera (unlike the Argento coming up next) but that’s just fine. He doesn’t need to be. Shout out to Tom Atkins who shows up for about 5 minutes at the end. He’s always a treat.
In the second film, Argento tackles “The Black Cat” story. Harvey Keitel plays professional crime scene photographer Rod Usher. Now, Rod seems like he likes his job maybe just a little too much. When the film opens, he’s on the scene of a woman who has been sliced in half a-la “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and he is loving it. Usher’s got a live-in girlfriend, a violinist named Annabel (Madeleine Potter). She’s into magic and witchcraft. She even has a black cat, which hates Usher as much as Usher hates it. The couple is constantly fighting over everything, especially the cat. Usher turns violent towards her and the cat. Eventually, he photographs himself abusing and strangling the cat for “art” as part of a coffee table book he is putting out. Annabel sees the book and goes home to pack, she is finally leaving Usher. Usher, in the meantime, is getting drunk at his local bar when he’s given a cat (identical to the one he killed) by the barkeep (Sally Kirkland). Freaked out, he goes home to kill this cat, too. Annabel tries to save the cat but instead gets hacked up by Usher. He decides to bury her and the cat behind a false wall in his apartment that he builds.
People are starting to get suspicious of Annabel’s disappearance. Usher is feeling the heat but thinks he has got away with her murder. Another black cat appears and, once again, is killed by Usher. At this point, two detectives show up at his door (including John Amos) to find out what the hell is going on. Usher tries to deflect but these cops know something is up. Usher is desperate and does some things he will come to regret.
Oh, Argento, you saucy minx. This story has his hallmarks written all over it. Inventive camera shots, awesome gore/killings, even the “tortured artist” he loves so much comes into play. Now, if you follow me on Twitter, it’s no secret of my love for Dario. I think he’s an amazing director and some of his films belong up there with the best of them (and the worst, have to be honest here). His camera work is great. If you watched this without knowing he directed it, it wouldn’t take you very long to figure out it was Argento. Keitel is pretty amazing in this. Usher is a dreadful human being and Keitel has no trouble getting that across. Shout out to Julie Benz who shows up as one of Annabel’s music students. Also, a wee word of warning, if you have any issues watching cats being abused, this one might be hard to watch. Even though there is a graphic in the end credits from the Pittsburgh chapter of the Humane Society stating no cats were physically or psychologically harmed during the making of the movie, I’m not so sure. Keitel had that look.
Together, both films make for an interesting feature. Yes, the two are very different in style and tone but that doesn’t matter. I really enjoyed rewatching this movie and I hope you’ll give this one a spin. Both directors are giants in the field of horror and that should be reason enough for you to want to check it out right there. Two Evil Eyes is available via Shout Factory streaming.
Sleep the good sleep, Romero. You’ve earned it.