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Two Evil Eyes Reviews

Directed by George Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) and Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA), TWO EVIL EYES consists of two short adaptations of tales by Edgar Allan Poe, with no connecting story. The first segment, Romero's, is based on "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," while Argento's contribution was inspired by "The Black Cat." In the first story, rich old Ernest Valdemar (Bingo O'Malley) is dying. His much younger wife, Jessica (Adrienne Barbeau), and his private physician, Dr. Hoffman (Ramy Zada), are lovers and have concocted a plan to liquidate Valdemar's assets so that when he dies they will be free to live it up without having to wait for his will to be probated. Using a metronome, Hoffman, a mesmerist, hypnotizes Valdemar and compels him to sign over his estate to Jessica, bit by bit. Valdemar's lawyer (E.G. Marshall) is suspicious but can prove nothing. Only Valdemar's premature death could spoil the crafty couple's set up; naturally, the old man dies. Jessica and Hoffman decide to conceal Valdemar's body in a freezer and forge his signature on additional documents, but the gruesome task unnerves Jessica. Even more problematic, Valdemar died while under hypnosis, and though his body is dead, his soul is suspended between life and death. Able to speak to Hoffman, he makes alarming references to "others" who are with him, spirits who intend to use his body to seek revenge in the world of the living. The lovers' plan starts to unravel. When Jessica begins drinking too much, she and Hoffman find themselves growing farther apart. Finally, the terrified Jessica comes face to face with the spirits and kills herself. Hoffman flees, but the malevolent spirits follow him to his hotel, and as he lies in an auto-hypnotic slumber, they plunge the metronome into his chest. In the second tale, crime photographer Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel) revels in the ugly, the violent, and the bizarre. His photographs of crime scenes have made him notorious, and his new book, Metropolitan Horrors, is about to be published. Things are going well until his girl friend, Annabel (Madeleine Potter), a violinist, brings home a black cat. She adores the creature, but it irritates Usher. Finally, in a fit of temper, he kills the cat. When Annabel finds out and becomes upset, Usher kills her, too, then walls up her body behind the bookcase. What he doesn't realize is that he has walled up his lover's corpse with a cat that looks exactly like the one he killed. Despite Usher's careful attempts to explain Annabel's disappearance, the neighbors are suspicious and call the police, who find the corpse--half-eaten by the litter of kittens born behind the wall. With his back against the wall (so to speak), Usher kills the two policemen, then is hanged in a freak accident. Highly respected in Europe, though less well known in the US, Argento is widely considered Italy's finest horror director. Romero, a native of Pittsburgh (where TWO EVIL EYES was shot), revolutionized American horror movies with his bleak, nihilistic zombie films. The two worked together in 1979, when Argento coproduced Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, and their collaboration on TWO EVIL EYES sounded like a can't-miss proposition: a pair of contemporary masters of the horror film coming together to make a movie inspired by America's first--and some say greatest--horror writer. The mix was sweetened with the addition of a fairly strong cast and special-effects wizard Tom Savini, who was responsible for the gut-crunching gags in DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD. However, though technically impressive, TWO EVIL EYES amounts to less than the sum of its parts. Each director wrote his own screenplay (Argento with Franco Ferrini), but both had problems fleshing out the source material; Poe's stories tend to be very short, and many are little more than mood pieces. Romero's segment is largely concerned with the mechanics of Jessica and Hoffman's scheme--all new material with no basis in Poe's story--and its eye-for-an-eye ending is logical but unsurprising. Argento's installment is packed with allusions to Poe stories ranging from "The Pit and the Pendulum" to the little known "Berenice," but again, Usher's dilemma is conventional: he kills his girl friend, tries to get away, and can't escape poetic justice. Argento's trademark visual flamboyance is nowhere in evidence. While far from the worst adaptation of Poe's work (there are so many candidates for that dubious honor it's hard to know where to start), TWO EVIL EYES breaks no new ground. (Violence, profanity.)