Sunday, 3 June 2012

Two Evil Eyes

1990, US/Italy, Directed by George A Romero, Dario Argento
Colour, Running Time: 120 minutes
Review Source: Satellite Broadcast; Video: 1.78:1, Audio: Stereo

When it was announced back in the late eighties that George Romero and Dario Argento - who had previously collaborated to legendary effect on Dawn of the Dead - were to re-unite in the production of a horror based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, fans were understandably excited.  Neither were considered particularly to be in decline at that point.  Most recently Romero had bestowed the world with the wonderful Day of the Dead - okay, not well received upon initial release it would later go on to be appreciated and understood as a great piece of cinema by many - and the pretty decent Monkey Shines, a fairly original and engaging take on the man-vs-animal sub genre.  Meanwhile Argento had experimented with crossing the supernatural with his forte, the giallo, to materialise with some success Phenomena, soon drifting back into stylish giallo territory for Opera.  Not only that but the guys were bringing along special effects master Tom Savini (who'd worked on the last couple of Dead films at that point, amongst many other fine examples of the genre).  What the hell could go wrong?  Well, how about almost everything?  The film was a disappointment of the highest order, but it lingered around on video for years, then DVD from the likes of Anchor Bay (and more recently Arrow, whose disc strangely split the film into two distinct options from the menu rather than allowing viewing of the movie in its intended entirety), while nowadays it's available from Blue Underground on what looks to be a well produced Blu-ray.  Years after that initial drop in enthusiasm (I caught it on video rental around '92) I'd considered buying it a few times, thinking that it couldn't have been as boring as I originally remembered.  A recent satellite broadcast gave me the opportunity to check it out again without risking a few quid...
Comprised of two adaptations of Poe stories, Romero takes on the first - 'The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar', about a scheming wife and her illegitimate lover who are more than a little interested in the woman's dying husband's vast fortune.  Allowing the old codger to die prematurely before the legal issues have been ironed out they cart the body down into the (grim) cellar where a handy chest freezer becomes the poor guy's home for the next few days.  What they don't expect is to hear his whining voice haunting them from beyond the grave, followed by his eventual lumbering awakening as his corpse is apparently controlled by dark spirits in a quest for vengeance.  This opening story, stretching out its bareness to around an hour, is seat-fidgetingly boring.  The cast, crew, and eventual editor (Pasquale Buba, who surprisingly had previously edited the much more efficient Day of the Dead) appear to be in a trance-like state, and I hate to say but Romero's direction exhibits none of the drive that had previously been evident in virtually everything from Night of the Living Dead onwards.  None of the characters are likable, which doesn't help the maintenance of viewer consciousness, and even a handful of superior gore effects from Savini cannot save this piece.  The near ubiquitous scoring becomes infuriating, implemented in a distinctly unprofessional manner, and the whole thing smells like a bad TV movie.  An increase in pace, sparing use of a score composed by someone else, along with a substantial reduction in running time could have resulted in an improved film all round.

The second story is based (again, loosely) on 'The Black Cat', and directed with more flair by king of the roving camera, Argento.  A flamboyant artist is repeatedly bugged by the black cat that his partner has let into their apartment - no matter what he does he can't get rid of the persistent moggie.  Following the butchering of his partner the artist walls her into a concealed section of their home, but getting away with murder will be cast under the shadow of a meddling cat... The centre performance by Harvey Keitel is suitably angry, and pushes this one a bit closer to 'entertainment' than Romero's segment ever got.  Argento also displays a touch of style here and there (e.g. the pendulum perspective in the opening minutes), reminding us of the presence of an auteur.  Aside from similar issues with the music and to a lesser extent the overall pace, the main problem is probably caused by the first story - by the time the second one kicks off the viewer is already bored to hell and not especially interested in anything that the screen might throw at them next.  I get the impression that each director was granted an hour time slot and they possibly had to fill it regardless, and with threadbare materials this was always going to result in a slow lumbering blob of a film.  The fact that neither director has managed to put out much worth a damn since Two Evil Eyes also suggests that both had in fact begun their decline into mediocrity around this point, a factor entirely symbolised by the effect (or lack thereof) of this film.  I'm glad I saved my money.

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