Two Evil Eyes sounds like a dream come true: a double-feature based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, one directed by George Romero and the other by Dario Argento.
I wouldn’t say it’s a great movie, but it manages to hold up after multiple viewings. The acting is sufficient and it feels like it’s aimed strictly at adults. Other anthology films, like Creepshow, attempt to soften the hokey-factor by addressing it with loads of humor. Two Evil Eyes isn’t entirely without humor, but it’s always refreshing to see a horror film that A) you can take seriously and B) doesn’t bore the ever-lovin’ shit out of ya.
Romero’s segment comes first. It stars Creepshow’s Adrienne Barbeau and After Midnight’s Ramy as lovers despite the fact Barbeau’s wealthy husband (Bingo O’Malley) is on his deathbed. Zada, who happens to be a hypnotist, puts a spell on the man to make sure he doesn’t leave Barbeau out of the will. (I’m simplifying here because the boring legalese is much more complicated than it needs to be.) Unfortunately, Zada never issues the command to awaken the old man from his trance, so it keeps a part of him awake even in death.
The idea of keeping someone in a perpetual state of conscious death is genuinely creepy, even if the voice which emanates from the body verges on unintentional comedy. My biggest complaint is that the setup is dragged out until the bitter end. It goes on for so long, in fact, I’ve already told you more than I should have.
The next segment, which begins immediately after Romero’s abruptly ends, was actually my introduction to Argento years ago. The director opens his segment at a dark crime scene, complete with a pendulum murder weapon. The contrast between the directors’ style is immediately apparent: Romero was a technical filmmaker who never let the cinematography distract from the story, while Argento favored visual prose. (We could argue all day about which style is superior, but I’ve liked Romero’s films more consistently, even if they didn’t look as good.)
Whereas Romero’s segment gradually eased you into the macabre, Argento uses the far-fetched crime scene to set the tone for the rest of the movie: this isn’t reality. This is a nightmare.
I feel it’s far easier to suspend disbelief here than it was in the first story, even though it asks you to believe a whole lot more. There’s some very funny stuff in the second segment, but it’s not the goofy fun-funny of Creepshow and HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. It tickles a much deeper and darker funny bone and goes well over the line while doing it. There’s a scene so comically bizarre, I can’t help but wonder… was Argento satirizing Weekend at Bernies?
So Harvey Keitel plays a photographer who’s fascinated with grizzly deaths. Why John Amos’s detective character is so casual about letting a civilian poke around crime scenes doesn’t matter because, like I said, you’re immediately thrust into this bizarre world without any promise of realism. One day, while he’s developing pictures in his lab, Keitel discovers his wife has taken in a stray black cat. Keitel doesn’t like the cat because the cat doesn’t like him. Perhaps it intuits he’s a bad man?
And he is a bad man, which is first evidenced when he strangles the cat to death for one of his photography sessions (spoiler: the cat comes back). That’s usually the point with stories like this: bad people have to do bad things to good people so we can cheer when they get what they have coming to ’em. It gets tiring in lesser efforts, but Two Evil Eyes keeps it fresh enough to retain our interest.