Color, 1990, 120m.
Directed by George A. Romero and Dario Argento / Starring Harvey Keitel, Adrienne Barbeau, Remy Zada, E.G. Marshall, Madeleine Potter, Sally Kirkland, Martin Balsam, John Amos, Tom Atkins
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DTS-ES/DD5.1 EX, DD5.1, Anchor Bay (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1, Creative Axa (Japan R2 NTSC), Laser Paradise (Germany R2 PAL), GCTHV (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) / DD2.0

The idea of horror anthologies based on Edgar Allan Poe stories had already been around for decades by the time Dario Argento decided to embark on an ambitious project in which noted directors would each tackle one of the Baltimore scribe’s most famous stories. After John Carpenter and Wes Craven proved unavailable for a proposed quartet of tales, Argento teamed up with George Romero for two hour long adaptations. Originally interested in “The Masque of the Red Death,” Romero changed gears for the more reasonably scaled “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” filmed before in Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror. Reuniting with Romero after her iconic uber-shrew in Creepshow, Adrienne Barbeau plays another scheming wife, this time married to the much older, much richer, and very comatose Ernest Valdemar. He’s being treated by Dr. Hoffman (Ramy Zada), who happens to be Jessica’s lover and is using hypnosis to prolong his patient’s life. However, together they come up with a plan to induce his premature death without being caught, though of course the scheme winds up failing with quite horrific consequences.

Argento then takes the reins for hour two with a loose adaptation of “The Black Cat” (filmed even more loosely in the aforementioned Corman film, not to mention Luigi Cozzi's wackazoid sci-fi version), with bad-tempered crime photographer Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel) not taking too kindly to the arrival of a new cat in his home. His girlfriend, Annabel (Madeleine Potter), decides to keep the feline, which Rod secretly kills for a series of snuff kitty photos in his next book. However, the cat soon returns again… or does it?

The Romero segment has often been criticized as sluggish and half-hearted, and with good reason; even at an hour it moves along like a legless turtle and only pays off with a brief, zombified ending that plays more like an episode of his earlier TV show, Tales from the Darkside. The actors try their best but an air of lethargy hangs over the proceedings, making it a sad misfire. Fortunately Argento’s segment redeems the film, packing in references to a jaw-dropping number of Poe works (“Berenice,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” among many others) while integrating several bravura set pieces, violent and otherwise. Fresh off his hyperactive camera experimentation in Opera, Argento continues his sweeping POV shots here; the camera swoops around apartment buildings, takes on a cat’s perspective, and swings on a pendulum through a bisected corpse; in short, it’s one of his most compact, entertaining, and tightly plotted works. The Pino Donaggio score also perks to life here, from the haunting main “Dreaming Dreams” theme to some rousing suspense cues. Interestingly, the more subdued and American-shot "The Black Cat" also unofficially marks the highly controversial swerve in Argento's career from super-saturated gialli towards more psychologically dense and visually austere works which continued well through Trauma and The Stendhal Syndrome to, surprisingly enough, The Mother of Tears.

Several DVDs of Two Evil Eyes have circulated through different countries, most containing the standard two hour cut which played theatrically and was released on laserdisc by Media. All are letterboxed but only the US and UK discs offer anamorphic transfers; not surprisingly for a film of its vintage, the appearance is stellar with beautiful depth and detail. The UK disc has a solid 5.1 mix from the original Dolby Stereo stems, while the US double-disc set goes one better with six channel DTS-ES and 5.1 EX mixes to boot. The difference isn’t that radical as the film doesn’t have a terribly aggressive mix, but audiophiles will want to take note. More significantly, the US disc contains a few extra frames during the pendulum sequence, lingering longer on the split torso. It doesn’t add up to much more than an eyeblink's worth, but technically the extra footage is there. However, the US disc is mysteriously missing a line of dialogue at the end of the film, in which the gagging police officer reels back from the opened wall and, beginning to wretch, gasps out, “They’re eating her!” (You’ll have to see the film to understand what that means.) On the Blue Underground disc, the cop simply turns away and a quick “—er!” is heard on the soundtrack, in each audio mix. Disc one contains the main feature along with an international theatrical trailer (not present on the other discs); apparently the US trailer has disappeared for good, though it’s not much of a loss.

Also included are the usual well-written talent bios and a poster and still gallery, which contains two shots from the “Murders in the Rue Morgue” sequence which was written and filmed for the Argento segment but ultimately excised. In this scene, Usher arrives to take photos at a crime scene where two sisters lie on the floor of their home with their necks slashed open. Upon further inspection he discovers animal feces in the fireplace, indicating the culprit was actually a gorilla. While many sources claim this bit was never actually shot, this DVD proves otherwise (though none of the supplements address its existence). In the limited two-disc edition, disc two kicks off with “Two Masters’ Eyes,” a 32-minute featurette including interviews with Romero, Argento, FX supervisor Tom Savini (who seemed to have a lot of fun on this film), executive producer Claudio Argento, and the omnipresent Asia Argento. Most interesting is the inclusion of behind the scenes highlights from footage shot during filming by Robert Marcucci, including some amusing footage of Argento in sports-playing mode. Then Savini steps into the spotlight for the 12 minute “Savini’s EFX,” showing him at work on the pendulum corpse and those memorable kittens. “At Home with Tom Savini” covers many of the props he’s kept over the years from his films, a veritable checklist of major gore groundbreakers since the late ‘70s. Last up are a Barbeau interview segment jettisoned from the original cut of Roy Frumkes’ Document of the Dead (though she is visible in his later revised video cut), along with an Easter egg containing brief comments from Christine Forrest/Romero about her small role as a nurse.

Most if not all of the extras are carried over for Blue Underground's Blu-Ray release, which marks their third trip to the Argento well. Obviously the film isn't a visual dazzler on the level of their Bird with the Crystal Plumage, but the presentation here is quite admiarble and film-like with the edge enhancement which was somewhat visible in their DVD edition subdued into oblivion here. Daylight scenes are very crisp and clean-looking, and while Romero's segment has almost no outstanding visual style to speak of, even the darker scenes in Argento's fare well (note the blood-red lighting in Keitel's darkroom, which is far easier to watch here). The uncompressed audio presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS variants (specifically, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio, and Dolby Digital 5.1-EX Surround, with optional English, French and Spanish subs) is still restrained for the most part, but the occasional cat yowls and shrieking violin strings certainly sound nice when they do pop up in the ancillary speakers. (The "eating her" line is still absent on all the tracks, by the way, which really makes one wonder at what point in post-production it was added in.) All of the extras are carried over except the still gallery (a shame in this case, for obvious reasons) and talent bios; presumably the Easter Egg is absent, too, but it'll take a far more savvy Blu-Ray hunter than I to verify that for sure. Flaws in the film aside, fans of either director (or both) will find plenty to enjoy savor here as this oft-debated film is put into its proper context, and any self-respecting Argento fan should find the Blu-Ray an essential purchase.

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