Zombie film pioneer George Romero and Italian giallo specialist Dario Argento had only been in a room together once before 1990, with Argento consulting and helping fund Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Just the year before its release, Argento had unveiled his own masterpiece: influential neon nightmare Suspiria (1977), a film which redefined the trajectory of European horror. The idea of a second collaboration between these titans of terror was enough to make horror fans lose their minds. Two Evil Eyes had the potential to be on par with their best work, if not better.
Unfortunately, the result has more in common with a gory Lifetime Original movie than it does with anything Romero or Argento made in their heydays. Instead of being an expected horror classic, Two Evil Eyes marked both a career-low for Romero and a harbinger of worse lows for Argento. Fresh off the minor triumphs of Monkey Shines (1988) and Opera (1987), respectively, these two legends delivered a middle-of-the-road Edgar Allan Poe-themed double-feature. Romero tackled “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and Argento took on “The Black Cat”. The result is a horror anthology film with viscera but little passion, never living up its creator’s solo efforts.
“M. Valdemar” stars Scream Queen Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog) as the wealthy title character’s scheming wife who, along with his physician, is planning to cheat him out of his fortune via hypnosis. The plan goes spookily awry when Valdemar dies while still hypnotized, causing him to become a conduit between the worlds of the living and dead—to the chagrin of the two conspirators who have to contend with some angry ghosts. The story is only tangentially based on Poe’s story, with which it shares a title, turning what was once a story of a man hypnotized at the moment of death to achieve immortality into a hokier, trite story of a greedy spouse. It’s a storyline that feels familiar from dozens of episodes of Tales from the Crypti yet lacks the cleverness of that TV series. While Tales employed such tropes with a nudge and a wink as a homage to classic horror comics, in Romero’s segment it comes off as lazy and literal.
In Argento’s segment, Harvey Keitel stars as Rod Usher (one of many Poe allusions), a thoroughly scummy man who feels little remorse for the murder victims he exploits for profit as a crime scene photographer. His girlfriend Annabel, on the other hand, is a sensitive violin player who can’t seem to understand Rod’s disturbing fascination with the macabre. Naturally, Rod hates his girlfriend’s wholesomeness and gets his revenge by strangling her black cat to death for a photo. Unfortunately for Rod, the cat comes back seemingly unharmed the next day, and so he murders it again—and again, and again. As his violence escalates and ensnares Annabel, neighbours begin to grow suspicious and things, unsurprisingly, start to go south for Rod.
The joy of a horror anthology is that if you don’t like the current segment, you wait and a new one will soon arrive. Most anthology films have at least one redeeming segment that makes them worth seeing. The problem with Two Evil Eyes is that neither segment is particularly good. Argento’s short is certainly more entertaining than Romero’s—chalk that up to him applying his distinctively stylized flair, whereas Romero’s segment just feels anonymous. But neither one comes together. Clocking in at an hour each, there’s a point in each segment when they begin to try one’s patience. Each story is too long to maintain the continuous momentum of a short film, but are too short to offer the depth of a feature film. So they exist in a limbo where it feels like you’re watching two mediocre, longer-than-usual episodes of Tales from the Darkside (which ironically got its own anthology movie spin-off the same year.)
Seeing these two directors fall flat after prolonged success is the same way I felt watching the trailer for Rambo: Last Blood (2019)—like I’m being spoon-fed a mediocre movie living in the shadow of a greater one. The fact they feel like phoned-in, middle-of-the-road horror hurts all the more than if they were ambitious but flawed. The film lacks the creativity and passion that the directors were displaying just two or three years prior, and it really could’ve been made by anyone. The exception to this anonymity is frequent Romero collaborator Tom Savini, who handles the SFX in a way that’s gruesomely recognisable as his work. Argento’s segment, in particular, is rife with nauseating gore during its many murder scenes. It’s a shame the rest of the film never lives up to the boldness of Savini’s make-up.
Two Evil Eyes isn’t the worst film by either filmmaker, however—those dishonours belong to Survival of the Dead (2009) in Romero’s case, and Dracula 3D (2012) for Argento—but it’s the point in both men’s careers when their work went from essential to merely passable.
3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray Special Features:
Disc 1 [Feature Film + Extras]
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth, Author of Murder By Design: The Unsane Cinema of Dario Argento. The commentary is largely play-by-play trivia, featuring some info about all the actors onscreen and the Poe stories that each segment is based on. It’s not essential and doesn’t necessarily provide much deeper insight into the film, but it’s fun and I learned quite a bit about everyone involved in the film.
- Theatrical Trailer.
- Poster & Still Gallery.
Disc 2 [Extras]
- ‘Two Masters’ Eyes’. Interviews with directors Dario Argento & George Romero, special make-up effects supervisor Tom Savini, executive producer Claudio Argento, and Asia Argento. This featurette really covers all the bases, interviewing pretty much everybody important involved in the movie beyond Harvey Keitel and Adrienne Barbeau. Hearing from the directors provides some important context into how and why this movie was made. Hearing that Stephen King and John Carpenter were initially asked to direct their own segments is a little heartbreaking. I can only imagine how fun it could have been if there were four shorter segments instead of two longer ones (and directed by the other two biggest masters of horror, no less). There are so many special features in this release, but this is one of the only two that feel truly vital.
- ‘Savini’s EFX’ A behind-the-scenes look at the film’s special make-up effects. Naturally, this is the other essential special feature. Tom Savini is a legend of practical special effects, and while there are plenty of movies he’s done with more memorable effects, this didn’t disappoint. It’s really a joy to see him at work and find out how all these disgusting impossible effects came together. Tom Savini is a magician, and I could really watch him talk about his work for hours and hours.
- ‘At Home With Tom Savini’. A personal tour of Tom Savini’s home. This is a goofy little extra filmed in 1989 in which Savini just gives a tour of all the creatures he’s made over the years. He has so many horrifying real monsters lining the shelves of his home that it’s a wonder he’s able to sleep at night.
- Adrienne Barbeau on George Romero. As any fan of horror cinema will tell you, Adrienne Barbeau is one of the all-time great actresses of the genre. It’s a pleasure to hear her discuss everything she loves about Romero—both are incredible artists in their own right.
- NEW! Before I Wake. Interview with star Ramy Zada. A large part of this is Zada talking about what makes Romero so special and the scene in which his character is killed in Romero’s segment, both of which are covered more in-depth in other featurettes/interviews. Still, interesting to hear from one of the stars of the film about his work on it.
- NEW! Behind The Wall. Interview with star Madeleine Potter. Similar to Zada’s interview, not a lot of new information or trivia is provided here so it’s only really for people who truly want to understand this movie from every angle.
- NEW! One Maestro And Two Masters. Interview with composer Pino Donaggio.
- NEW! Rewriting Poe. Interview with co-writer Franco Ferrini. Ferrini talks about how he adapted Poe into what would become Argento’s segment. It’s interesting to hear which ideas were Argento’s and which were Ferrini’s, and how they approached adapting several Poe stories at once while still making it their own.
- NEW! The Cat Who Wouldn’t Die. Interview with assistant director Luigi Cozzi.
- NEW! Two Evil Brothers. Interview with special make-up assistant Everett Burrell.
- NEW! Working With George. Interview with costume designer Barbara Anderson.
Disc 3 [CD]
- TWO EVIL EYES Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Pino Donaggio. Even if the movie isn’t all that spectacular, the soundtrack definitely is. Composed by Pino Donaggio, who was behind genre film soundtracks ranging from Don’t Look Now (1973) to Carrie (1976) and Piranha (1978), it’s a pleasant surprise that’s easily on par with just about every Argento soundtrack to come before it.
- BONUS! Collectable Booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold.
Cast & Crew
directors: Wes Craven & Dario Argento.
writers: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, George A. Romero & Peter Koper (uncredited) (based on ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ and ‘The Black Cat’ by Edgar Allan Poe).
starring: Harvey Keitel, Adrienne Barbeau, Martin Balsam & E.G Marshall.