Two masters of horror offer back-to-back (eye to eye?) tales

December 10, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

If there's an unbridgeable tribal gap in this country, it's the one between those who love horror movies and those who don't.

If you are of the latter, then please go away. Nothing I'm about to say will make the slightest sense.

For the few of you who remain, I think you might be pleasantly surprised by "Two Evil Eyes," which has sneaked into town under mysterious circumstances, apparently unrepresented by an ad agency and undocumented by production notes, photos and cast biographies. In fact, the only information I have on it comes from the mother of one of the actors!

But the first item of business is the issue of rip-off; the ads shill a picture from two masters of horror, George Romero, of the

"Living Dead" series, and Dario Argento, a bloody-minded Italian who has also attracted a cult audience. In horror terms, this is approximately the equal of a Hemingway-Faulkner co-production. Is the movie authentically a Romero-Argento project?

The answer, happily, is yes. Filmed in Romero's native and beloved Pittsburgh, the film consists of two hour-long adaptations of classic Poe stories. Each of the "Two Evil Eyes" belongs to the directors: Romero has written and directed "The Truth About the Vladimar Case" and Argento likewise "The Black Cat."

Neither achieves the formal crazed nuttiness of "Dawn of the Dead," Romero's outlaw masterpiece; and neither has the icy deadliness of Argento's "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage." I don't want to oversell: The two stories ain't great.

But they are continuously engrossing and completely surprising, particularly in the clever ways they update the Poe materials to the modern age. They are explicit without being "gory," using their bloody effects only occasionally for shock rather than slopping the goo all over the place.

The Romero tale watches as a conniving doctor and would-be widow try to conceal the death of her ailing husband who, though frozen more solid than a carp in Lake Michigan in February, refuses to stop moaning down there in the freezer. Romero is not helped by the strident Adrienne Barbeau as his central character, but then he's never worked with good actors so he's in his element.

Argento follows with an account of a sleazy avant-garde photographer (Harvey Keitel) who is so obsessed by a black cat that he murders it, and then his girlfriend. But the cat won't go away and ultimately has its revenge. (Holter Graham, of Baltimore, has one of the key roles in this film; thanks to his mom, Ann Gordon Clay, for sending some useful information).

'Two Evil Eyes'

Starring Adrienne Barbeau and Harvey Keitel.

Directed by Geroge Romero and Dario Argento.

Released by Taurus.

Unrated.

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