First, a little fear…
Two Evil Eyes (1990); Directed by Dario Argento & George A. Romero
Edgar Allen Poe did not live very long…only 40 years in fact. But the short stories and poems that he produced during the 13 or so years of his active career have lived on to touch three centuries. Often thought of as master of the macabre, what Poe really mastered was the short story…taking it from the status of amusing read to work of art. This contribution has not been forgotten by society, and is especially admired by those who claim Poe as inspiration.
One such individual is Dario Argento. Argento, of course, is the amazing talent responsible for such movies as Opera, Suspiria and Tenebre. Quite often mistaken for a master of horror films, Argento is much more accurately a master of terror. The difference is evident in his own quote, “Horror by definition is the emotion of pure revulsion; terror by the same standard is that of fearful anticipation”. Argento is surely at his best while crafting the forces of anticipation. As was that dark and disturbed man so long ago…Poe.
So it seems only natural that when George Romero answered his phone to find Dario Argento on the other line, what he heard was an excited idea for a film. But not just any film; instead this was to be a four part movie, made up of the collective works of Argento, Romero, Stephen King and John Carpenter. Each would take their favorite Poe tale and rework it into a short film, and they would be released together as one project. Seeing as how many fans of the macabre have at least one collection of Poe’s works already among their collections, this seemed to be a logical and long-overdue step.
But the dream team of four of horror’s finest was not meant to be. King was out because he was done directing after his one and only stint at it…Maximum Overdrive (which will wind up reviewed right here in the not too distant future). Carpenter had to take a pass on this one due to some previous commitments. Undaunted, the two original conspirators forged ahead and had soon begun work on two tales; although neither of the finished works were either directors first choice.
Romero would put to film the story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”; a tale originally about a doctor who puts a patient under hypnosis at the time of his death. In Romero’s working of the story, the doctor is having an affair with the wife of the insanely wealthy dying man and is using the hypnosis to secure his fortune before his imminent death. Unfortunately, the miser dies before coming out of this hypnosis, and the panicking couple learns that the dead man’s ties to his wife and the doctor will not end with his death. Of course, this tale fascinated Romero because of its “living dead” theme, and he also recognized a chance to utilize Tom Savini’s special talents at makeup effects.
Argento took the helm of “The Black Cat”, in which a man is turned from a docile and good-natured fellow into a rage-prone homicidal maniac who murders his wife and seals her into the wall of their home. This change takes place when he kills their cat in a moment of blind anger and the cat continues to torment him after returning from the grave, driving him to madness. Argento chose this tale for a simple reason…he owned a black cat. They always say, “Go with what you know”.
From the get-go, Argento’s contribution was destined to be superior. First because of his background with Poe, whom he had read since childhood, and who he says “introduced me to the unknown”. Compare this to Romero’s admission that Poe’s works had no influence on him at all (and it shows). There was also Argento’s in-depth familiarity with Poe, and the difficulties he had staying with only one story. This passion for the full breadth of Poe’s works led to a series of winks and nods within this one adaptation. Tom Savini has a cameo as a madman from the tale “Bernice”, a main character is named Usher (as in “Fall of the House of”), there are more than a few hints at “The Telltale Heart” and even a portrait of Poe visible on the wall of his set. Combine this with Romero’s claim that he chose “Mr. Valdemar” because “it was pretty cool” and you get an idea of where these two men were coming from in the first place.
Two Evil Eyes begins with a dedication to Poe and a visual collage of various Poe monuments. Of course, these were filmed by Argento (this guy likes his Poe…seriously), and were originally part of a mini-documentary that was to open the film, but was cut due to the pacing and length. Wow. Originally four short films instead of two, and with an introductory documentary…this baby would have been loooooong. So some wise cuts were made, and it is off we go first to Romero’s tale.
Now these are short stories, and to review them in depth would only be to recite the tale itself. Instead, I will leave it at the overall impressions these stories left me with. Romero’s work came off almost exactly like every episode of Tales From The Crypt that I have ever seen (made better with Savini’s artistry of course!). This was not particularly a problem as I have long been a fan of Tales From The Crypt since watching it through high school on my friends HBO. I am not so sure, however, that the feeling was right for Poe’s dark tales. Any reservations I may have while watching it though are more than made up for by the aforementioned Savini FX. Interestingly enough, Romero himself felt that his was the inferior tale, saying “I think it could have been better” and “my film was a little slow”. This was due in large part to the fact that the studio decided to send his film off to Europe to have its final editing and he was not a part of the process. It is a special treat for me that both Adrienne Barbeau and Tom Atkins star in this chapter…ten years after they shared the screen in John Carpenter’s The Fog…one of my favorites.
Argento’s tale on the other hand, is typical Argento. The director captivates with his creative use of angles, inventive filming techniques (including the building of a “camera elevator” for vertical tracking shots) and his no-holds-barred flurries of violence. In fact, some of the scenes were so realistic that the Humane Society came to the film set and monitored the rest of the production because they were positive that Argento was really killing cats. You cannot BUY that kind of assurance that you are doing your job well, and in response there is quite possibly the most prominent “No animals were harmed” disclaimer that I have ever seen on film…and this time it appears before the credits role.
So from Romero we get a morality tale, and an anti-capitalist statement disguised as a thriller (sounds like Day of the Dead?), and from Argento we get an excuse to set a madman loose in a confined space (a theme in Opera and Four Flies on Grey Velvet). I am sure that both gentlemen felt RIGHT at home with their efforts here…which in turn is lucky for us!
There has been an increasing number of these anthologies created over the history of film, and especially in the horror genre. The Creepshow films come immediately to mind as standouts, but so many other entries are hastily thrown together with some of the entries glaringly failing the whole. Rest assured that Two Evil Eyes is much better stuff. While currently not available for streaming that I can see, it is a credit to its quality and rare standing that Blue Underground’s BluRay and Two-Disc Collector’s DVD Set are still around and can each be picked up on Amazon for a heck of a deal. Blue Underground has done a fantastic job of putting this release together. The sheer amount of archival footage put into the interviews, the amount of talent talking about the films, the fan-craved look into Savini’s living quarters…it is all amazing stuff.
It seems that in the realm of horror, both Romero and Argento fans are like starving beasts that instantly devour whatever is thrown to them bearing the respective director’s names. For them, this film is like a juicy steak. Two Evil Eyes will seem more than a tad dated to younger horror fans or those who went a little too goo-goo over VHS and Holidays. The appeal here is much more to fans of Creepshow or Trilogy of Terror. As an introduction to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, this film is a good place to start, although skewed sharply by the styles and viewpoints of its directors. Honestly, Two Evil Eyes is worth picking up on the strength of its bonus material alone and could serve very well as an introspection into the film-making of maestros of a generation previous and the writings of one of horror literature’s greatest contributors.
Review edited from original appearance at Underland Online
…then a little beer!
Boulevard Brewing Tell-Tale Tart Sour Ale (6.2% ABV) – Kansas City, MO
What better to sip while watching two stories of Poe’s macabre horrors than a beer named after one of his most famous works? Tell-Tale Tart is part of Boulevard’s Smokestack Series; a group of beer releases that are “bold, complex ales” including “traditional styles and daring experiments”. Further they state that there are “no wallflowers” among the line. I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with them on this one.
This sour from Boulevard Brewing promised a “lighthearted approach to the subject of sourness” and in all fairness to them, the label does announce a “slightly sour ale”. If by lighthearted and slightly they mean barely perceptible and thin, then the sourness of this brew is exactly as promised. I truly enjoy sour ales, but I enjoy them for what they are…not a hint of what they could be.
Tell-Tale Tart pours apricot in color with a moderate carbonation, and the nose gives an excellent indication of where things are headed. The aroma is of sour cherries and vinegar with a hint of caramel from the malt…but all very light and subdued. Honestly I went back to the aroma a few times, using a hand reset since I don’t drink beer with coffee beans lying around, because I couldn’t believe that a sour beer would have such a mild nose. But apparently it just isn’t that often that I have such a meek sour beer!
The taste is thin with strawberry and cherry notes, and then a hint of dried apricot. A touch of lemon tart carries across the palate and then things give way to malt sweetness. Basically I felt as though the amount of tart flavor was enough to kick-start my tongue in anticipation and then was washed away in a coating of sweetness. As it warmed, the tartness faded even more and a sort of cloying lingering stickiness stuck around. I prefer a sour to end sharp and briskly on the tongue, a quick hit of tart/vinegar and a fast pucker that lets go of my cheeks and jaw cleanly so I am ready to go back for more. But there is nothing sharp nor brisk about this one…just a sort of, “hmm is that sip done now?”
I suppose there is a market for this beer. I imagine that there are beer drinkers who admire the premise of a sour ale, but find the pucker to be overwhelming. I just feel that there are such BETTER introductions to the sour category that pack a lot of character into the experience such as Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche or Breakside Brewing’s Passion Fruit Sour. But if I am leaving you out, and you are that person that says, “I want a sour, but barely” then this one is for you.