Stories of 'Two Evil Eyes' show imagination and wit

March 06, 1992|By Josh Mooney




This film is sort of a double-decker, and while it received almost no national exposure, it's the work of master horror director George Romero ("Night of the Living Dead") and his Italian co-producer, Dario Argento, and it bears the mark of Mr. Romero's wit and imagination.

As the subtitles suggest -- "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" and "The Black Cat" -- they're modern adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's classic horror tales, and the combination of Poe and Mr. Romero turns out to be a good mix.

"Two Evil Eyes" was shot in Mr. Romero's usual setting, Pittsburgh, a city that turns out to have a good deal of Gothic charm and atmosphere. The film also sports Mr. Romero's trademark special effects, which include a fair smattering of graphic violence. Romero films are not for the squeamish.

Set in a wealthy hamlet outside Pittsburgh, M. Valdemar (played by Bingo O'Malley) is the story of a rich, dying man who is kept alive by life-support systems and relies on hypnosis to dull the pain. The hypnosis, administered by Dr. Hoffman (Ramy Zada), also makes him susceptible to suggestions and to his scheming wife (Adrienne Barbeau), who, in cahoots with her lover Hoffman, has convinced Valdemar to sign his wealth over to her, despite the objections of his lawyer (E. G. Marshall). Valdemar dies unexpectedly, however, and they've got to preserve his body until the papers come through.

What they didn't count on -- how could they? -- is the fact that Valdemar's mind is very much alive and proceeds to wreak havoc from beyond the grave on his unfaithful spouse, with the help of the supernatural powers of the dead. The film offers gruesome special effects, courtesy of Mr. Romero's longtime collaborator, ace makeup man Tom Savini, and is full of Mr. Romero's mastery of jolts and shocks. Mr. Zada is amusing as a typical Romero duplicitous doc, and Ms. Barbeau, by now a real B-movie queen, goes over the top once again as a scheming wife. Mr. Romero clearly has a reverence for Poe, but then again, there's no suppressing his innate irreverence, either -- so the film's a lot of fun.

Mr. Argento takes his Poe a bit more seriously, and the Italian director seems to have had some difficulties communicating his ideas to his American actors. But he's also got a knack for capturing the weirdness in Poe's "The Black Cat," in which man's ongoing love-hate relationship with felines is taken to its horrific extreme.

The film contains characters and incidents from a number of Poe stories, which Mr. Argento sometimes has trouble integrating into a coherent whole. But Poe fans will enjoy the references. The film also features wacky Sally Kirkland as a witch, and John Amos as a detective on Usher's trail. All this and Pittsburgh, too.

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