Friday, April 8, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 08 - Your favorite anthology

Lets see, we’ve got my two all time favorite directors doing an omnibus based on stories by my all time favorite author. How could I not pick Two Evil Eyes as my favorite anthology? Released in 1990, Dario Argento had originally conceived of Two Evil Eyes as a much bigger project. He wanted to create an anthology flick (or a TV series depending on your source) with John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero, and himself each directing a segment based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe. Wes, however, was busy making The People Under the Stairs and had to bow out. Carpenter was busy making Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Whether or not that was a good decision I’ll leave up to you. With those two out, Argento and Romero decided to split the movie between them. I, for one, am very glad they did. The result may have been a little bit uneven, but delivered in spades.

George Romero’s half comes first, and it’s an adaptation of Poe’s story. The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar. The same story was also the basis for a segment in another one of my favorite anthologies, the Roger Corman directed Tales of Terror. For Romero’s take on the tale, he adds in a love triangle. A rich man is kept hypnotized by his doctor so that he and the soon to be widow, who are lovers, can swindle the man out of his fortune. His Survival is essential to their plan, but when he dies in his mesmerized state, he is trapped between the Land Of The Living and the Dead. I’ve heard many critics deride Romero’s half of the film as weak. I don’t think it’s weak, it’s just surprisingly subdued. It has none of the ferocity Romero showed at the Dawn of his career. It has a couple of great splashes of gore, but overall it almost feels like a rather tame episode of Tales From the Crypt. The addition of the EC comics style love triangle morality tale only supports this assessment. The cast is, for the most part, a Creepshow reunion. Adrienne Barbeau is excellent, and once again we have gratuitous Tom Atkins. Ramy Zada, as the doctor, is a Night and Day difference from the rest of the cast, however. He is AWFUL! Ben Stein reading from a narcoleptic’s Diary would be more interesting and exciting than him. The spirits that come for vengeance at the climax are very creepy, and the zombie makeups and “metronome scene” are well done. Overall, while it is a bit of a low key affair compared with some of George’s other work, it’s worth well watching. Plus, any time there’s a combination of Romero and zombies, I’m in. (Massive points to anyone who notices something interesting in that paragraph and comments on it.)

Argento's half of the film is where things really get good. He does an adaptation of The Black Cat, starring Harvey Keitel. As he would many times throughout his career, Keitel stole this movie. His crime scene photographer driven to homicide (in the case of his fiancé) and felicide (on her cat) is so violent and unhinged that the madness is palpable. I detest cats, but the scene where he finally snaps and goes crazy on his fiance’s pussy is intense! Wait, I, nevermind. The supporting cast is ok, but you won’t even remember that there were other people in the b-side of the flick. Dario Argento is known for his innovative camera movement and baroque color schemes and framing, and they are both present in Two Evil Eyes. My favorite example is a POV shot from the perspective of a Pit and the Pendulum style blade swinging back and forth through a bisected body. Brilliant! I think one of my other favorite aspects of Argento’s story is the constant homages to other Poe stories. Fans will notice nods to Fall of the House of Usher, Cask of Amontillado, Berenice, Pit and the Pendulum, and others. As Argento has often cited Poe as an influence, it’s not surprising that he so deftly weaves details from so many stories together. The trademark Argento bizarreness is there too. Halfway through, out of nowhere, we get a dream sequence pagan ritual complete with Harvey being impaled Cannibal Holocaust style. Just as in Romero’s offering, the gore effects by Savini are outstanding. Honestly, I would have loved to see this on its own as a full length motion picture.

Romero’s half is good. Argento’s half is great. Overall, I think this is the best Poe inspired flick since the Corman and Price cycle of the 60’s. This film often gets undeservedly criticized for being a mixed bag, but this is an anthology that is more than the sum of its parts. Considering just how good those parts are, that’s saying something. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.


Andrew Green said...

Interesting and well thought out choice....
I never would have thought of this one.

I salute you!

Great review.

fromhell13 said...

Why thank you sir. Glad you dug it.

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