(A.k.a. DUE OCCHI DIABOLICI)
Anchor Bay UK gave TWO EVIL EYES its first outing on UK DVD back in 2002. The synopsis below is lifted, and mildly altered, from my review of that disc at the time of its release.
Dumb title aside, this is a pairing of visions from two of the most influential and important names in modern horror: George A Romero and Dario Argento. Originally perceived as a four-piece anthology also to contain contributions from Wes Craven and John Carpenter, the fact that only two maestros committed in the end allows for a couple of satisfyingly fleshed out short stories.
Released in 1990, when both directors were reeling from recent 'under-achievements', this Italian production was initially met with disappointment from the horror fraternity. This is understandable. The last time these two collaborated was during the making of the formidable DAWN OF THE DEAD. And this feature is most certainly not in that league.
But as a stand-alone viewing experience TWO EVIL EYES deserves to be seen, and no doubt enjoyed by all fans of the genre.
The central theme is that both directors have chosen a classic Edgar Allan Poe tale to update (the film opens to brief footage of Poe's actual grave). Whether it be coincidence or not, I'm not sure, but both opted to update stories that had previously been adapted for the screen in Roger Corman's TALES OF TERROR.
Romero's tale kicks off proceedings, with an updated interpretation of THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF MR VALDEMAR.
Adrienne Barbeau is Jessica, an unscrupulous hussy married to ailing millionaire Valdemar. She conspires with her doctor boyfriend to hypnotise her dying husband into signing his fortune over to her. Events take an unfortunate turn when Valdemar dies while under the doctor's hypnosis, and therefore won't remain dead!
Thick with an atmosphere of paranoia, double-crossing and revenge, Romero's segment starts slowly (playing almost like an episode of TV's COLUMBO) but builds to a satisfyingly creepy climax, thanks to a disciplined control from storyteller Romero and the superior performances of Barbeau and E G Marshall as the family lawyer.
The cellar at the bottom of the spiralling staircase should give you the willies. The close to this particular piece offers some gory fun too, not to mention a fleeting epilogue reminiscent of THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE.
Argento takes on the more well-known tale of THE BLACK CAT.
Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel) is a crime photographer living with the beautiful Annabel (Madeleine Potter). Annabel takes in a stray cat that immediately takes a dislike to the violent Usher. When Usher kills the cat then tries to hide the crime, all manner of spooky events unfold - including a bizarre carnival-esque dream sequence that climaxes in a gruesome human-skewering.
Incorporating many aspects from other Poe stories (Keitel's character name is a clear reference to FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER; the opening scene with the split corpse of a young woman is an obvious ode to THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM), Argento is in playful mood.
While entertaining, THE BLACK CAT is neither as engaging nor frightening as Romero's effort. Stick with it though, for some virtuoso camera-work and great gory FX work from Tom Savini.
Argento told the press at the time that he saw this project as a dress rehearsal for his return to the screen, and in many ways that shows. His 50 minutes here are more concerned with highlighting technical gimmickry than spinning a good yarn.
But what makes TWO EVIL EYES so enjoyable is the fact that both directors approach their material so differently. Both satisfy, albeit for differing reasons. Romero tells a tempered, haunting tale of treachery that culminates in a severe scene of retribution; Argento favours the ethereal presence of nightmarish landscapes - which works just as effectively, in its own way.
Some viewers hate anthologies - personally, I love them. This one is great because it allows both stories a good 50 minutes to unfold. Which seems to be perfect timing.
To summarise, TWO EVIL EYES has stood the test of time as a collaboration of minds that showcases two talents and offers arguably the last great strokes from both Romero and Argento (okay, SLEEPLESS was cool).
As mentioned already by Al on the SGM forum, Arrow took the unusual but welcome step of delaying this release after initial test copies were met with disappointment. As Almar from Cult Labs explains: "Arrow Video looked at early feedback for their forthcoming Two Evil Eyes DVD and decided that not only can a better job be done but it is important to them that fans have faith in the quality of their releases, that they can see every reasonable effort has been made and also that they can be justifiably excited that a film is getting the Arrow Video treatment. To that end Arrow Video have taken the exceptional step to halt production of Two Evil Eyes DVD to allow for the production of a better disc. April 2010 is the anticipated month of release at this time."
With the help of Nucleus Films' Marc Morris, Arrow's TWO EVIL EYES disc has finally arrived and is indeed a great looking one.
Arrow's disc offers the film uncut in anamorphic 1.85:1. Colours are rich but controlled while blacks hold up well with strong definition and very little in the way of grain or specks. Picture quality is great, very clean and sharp, and a vast improvement on the old Anchor Bay release. A back-to-back comparison of the Arrow disc upscaled on a 40" TV alongside the Blue Underground blu-ray shows that the latter is clearly brighter and bolder - but the DVD fares very well regardless.
Audio is provided in English and Italian mixes. English audio comes in 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, both of which are solid and evenly-balanced propositions. You won't get a great deal out of the 5.1 mix, but its inclusion is nevertheless appreciated. The Italian 2.0 mix sounded fine, but I preferred to hear the likes of Barbeau, Keitel and Marshall speaking with their own voices. Optional English subtitles are also provided.
An animated main menu page leads into two static scene-selection menus (one for each story), each of which contains six chapters. Frustratingly, you're unable to watch the entire film as a 110-minute whole - you have to opt for each story individually from the main menu.
Extras on the disc are begin with the original theatrical trailer for TWO EVIL EYES, cleaned up and presented in a nice 16x9 rendering.
We also get the same "Dario Argento Trailer Reel" that turned up on Arrow's recent TERROR AT THE OPERA DVD. This includes no less than 18 trailers over the course of 39 minutes, featuring the likes of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, THE FIVE DAYS OF MILAN, DEEP RED, SUSPIRIA, OPERA, THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, THE MOTHER OF TEARS and even Argento's European cut of George A Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD.
As is customary with these Arrow/Cult Labs horror collaborations, the packaging here is also marvellous.
Firstly, there is double-sided cover art. You can choose between having Rick Melton's buxom new artwork above or the original theatrical post art (same as the old Anchor Bay DVD cover) on display.
An 8-page booklet features good liner notes, decent design and some nifty colour film stills.
Then there's a fold-out poster of Melton's artwork, with a great advertisement for Arrow's very fine horror range on its reverse.
TWO EVIL EYES doesn't offer the best from either director. But it's got lots to recommend it: FX by Savini, a very interesting and talented cast, a couple of great source stories and Barbeau in full bitch mode.
Another fine DVD of another fine modern horror film, courtesy of Arrow Films and Cult Labs. I can't wait to see what they release next.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|