Sunday, May 13, 2012
Two Evil Eyes
In Romero's tale, a dying millionaire (Bingo O'Malley) is hypnotized by his wife (Adrienne Barbeau) and her doctor lover (Ramy Zada) into signing away his fortune, but he dies before everything falls into place. However, his spirit remains trapped in his corpse. Romero previously approached this type of material in his much superior Creepshow, his tribute to the EC comics of the 1950s which also inspired Tales from the Crypt.
"The Facts of the Case of Mr. Valdemar" feels like an extended outtake or episode from Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt. It's a story of just desserts in which the wicked and the greedy confront supernatural punishment from beyond the grave for their sins. Even most of the cast is comprised of Creepshow veterans (Barbeau, O'Malley, E.G. Marshall as a lawyer, and Tom Atkins as a cop). Unlike Creepshow, Romero does not use the comic book-style cinematography and set design to give the story some color, resorting to a more traditional presentation. Apart from Valdemar's talking corpse in the freezer (done with splendid effect by Tom Savini), very little horror happens until the last 10 minutes or so when Valdemar gets up and starts chasing people. Before that, it's a lot of scheming by rather nasty and unlikeable people.
In Argento's tale, a crime scene photographer (Harvey Keitel) goes progressively mad after his wife (Madeleine Potter) brings a stray cat into their home. Unlike Romero's rather straightforward and story-centric episode, Argento's film is filled with surreal and stylistic touches. If Romero is more interested in being literal, Argento has fun blurring the line between what's real and what's fantasy. As Keitel's Usher descends into murder and insanity, Argento keeps us on edge about what really happened and what Usher thinks happened, most notably in a dream sequence with a nasty resolution.
Although it follows the rough narrative outline of Poe's story, "The Black Cat" contains numerous allusions to other works of Poe, using Usher's crime scene photography to bring in scenes straight out of "The Pit and the Pendulum," "Berenice," and "The Fall of the House of Usher." The film is also true to the graphic violence of Poe's tale, both against the cat and its human characters. Animal lovers will surely be horrified watching Keitel perform all sorts of atrocities against his feline nemesis. In an inspired touched fitting Argento, Keitel uses his violent tendencies for art, using death to create.
Overall, Two Evil Eyes is the not finest hour of either director, but for their fans, it's certainly worth a watch. For such collaboration of macabre minds, you'd expect something truly mind-blowing, but as it is, it's merely serviceable.