Two different stories and two different transfers. But does it take two evil eyes to see the best that this hi-def makeover has to offer?
Both are in 1.85:1 aspect and encoded via MPEG-4, but the similarities end there. Romero's story is soft and occasionally muted, its grain consistent and its age-related damage minimal. Colours are not the boldest around, they seem washed-out in some shots despite there being moments when the primaries actually look quite clean and vibrant. Reds, for example ... be they clothing, blood or the printed hearts and diamonds on a set of playing cards look bright and strong. The filtered lighting - cool blues, for instance, and streaming sunlight through windows - looks a little hazy at times and contrast isn't the greatest. Black levels are better than I've seen them before, and this helps produce some more interesting shadow definition, but there is still a softened appearance to the darker elements that makes them look diffused with grey. Detail is actually quite good, considering that the film looks so soft and flat. The frost and ice particles in Valdamar's face are nicely rendered, as is another ghastly looking cadaver that shambles eerily towards us at one point. Skin tones are a little "peaky" and finite facial detail is lacking, the image looking every inch like an 80's TV show. However, I like the way that the transfer captures that sickly yellowy-brown blood that spatters the inside of the freezer after a bullet thwacks through a noggin. This tended to look black on other transfers.
The Black Cat offers the best and the worst of the two transfers. We have heavy grain and contrast fluctuations, inconsistent colours and possibly a little more print damage of the fleck and speckle variety, but detail, overall, is actually better. For a start, the make-up effects from Savini look much clearer than I've ever seen them before. The sliced-torso offers up lots of grisly information, as does the molar-removed mouth that has been conveniently clamped open for us to peer into. The horrific sight discovered behind the wall is splendidly vivid and detailed, too. Even the books that adorn the shelves are sharper and their spines easier to read - should you be so inclined. Facial detail is also keen, with Keitel definitely held up for scrutiny, whether he likes it or not.
Blacks are also better than seen in the first film. Interiors pack in better shadow delineation and darker portions of the image seem deeper and more stable. Our loony's rather comical night-time escape with the dummy Annabel, during a rainstorm, as well, reveals a lot more detail than I've ever seen it provide on previous versions of the film. The daylight scenes also appear more vivid, although Usher's little lakeside jaunt seems visually ill-at-ease with the rest of the story's aesthetic. Decor and furnishings are crisper and more natural-looking than similar things seen in "Valdamar" and Argento's far superior lighting helps make "Cat" a lot more atmospheric.
Edge enhancement is not severe and although noise does creep into the film, at large, there is no smearing, banding or sweeping DNR to worry about. Neither story looks all that highly defined, but both do look better than they ever have done on home video before.
Here we go again, folks. It's the Blue Underground Bogus Surround Mix time again! And how many ridiculously superfluous 7.1 lossless audio tracks do they have for this Dolby stereo movie, then? Ohhh, I'll just have a little look-see. Two! Two big 7.1 lossless tracks - adding up, in total, to ... hmmm ... let me see, now ... 5.1 useless channels apiece! Hurrah!!
And, not only do we get some irresponsible 7.1 tracks, but we also get a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 track, as well.
Right, okay, so we've ascertained that these tracks, all of them, are unnecessary in terms of their surround capabilities - none of them supply anything worth mentioning from the rears or the sub - but how do they fare across the front and do they offer anything substantial in terms of an audio upgrade? Well, personally, I found that the DTS track actually sounded clearer and with a little more bite to it than the TrueHD, although both had to be cranked up a bit to have any sort of impact. Dialogue, for both stories, is clean enough and does not sound muddy or distorted. There are times during both when it could have done with being a little more prominent, though. The Black Cat, however, features some odd dislocated voices from time to time, notably concerning Annabel, which I found to be slightly distracting. These rogue elements are only brief, though. Some of the hissing of the cats seems to be over-egged in the mix, too, and comes across as too forced, almost as though they have been dubbed!
Both films have small instances of stereo imaging across the front - rain effects, doors shutting, cats mewling, gunshots, footsteps etc - but there is never a moment when either convincingly places you in the middle of the action or when the films, themselves, take on an audio life of their own. A sudden shock pistol blast in “Valdemar”, for example, would have you leaping out of your skin if there had been a proper, full-blooded and directional effects track, but it doesn't, so the moment remains flat despite 7.1 lossless audio. Donnagio's score never really permeates the environment, either, although it does sound reasonably clean and warm.
Now, of course, my argument is not that Two Evil Eyes doesn't deliver accurate steerage, active surround or all-out bombast - because it was never meant to produce any of that in the first place. Blue Underground's insistence on supplying attractive-looking surround mixes is purely to sweep in customers who might, otherwise, be sitting on the fence. Quite simply, they don't need to do this. With movies that never had sound-channels that could be convincingly extended or manipulated - which is, naturally, another bone of contention for purists - companies just shouldn't bother. By all means, clean up the audio and restore it, but whereas much older titles like Quo Vadis and The Robe actually benefit from some signal boost and rear-channel extension, it should be remembered that they had experimental multi-channel sound in the first place and have been bestowed almost reverent attention. Things like Two Evil Eyes and Dead & Buried simply did not have anything in the mix to play with. So just why Blue Underground persist in this gimmicky, make-believe practice eludes me.
Ironically, of course, the film sounds fine, whichever track you opt for - so long as you only expect to hear simple stereo.
First off, folks, the Menu screen that greets you shows way too much from the stories - giving away massive spoilers for those who haven't already seen the movie.
The interview section, under the title banner of Two Masters' Eyes, we have an excellent feature produced by Blue Underground and boasting fine retrospective discussion about making the film from Romero, Argento - both Dario and his producer brother, Claudio - and Savini. With some great on-set footage of Dario messing about and also of him at work, plus some interview with Asia Argento from the time of production, this is wonderful stuff. By far the best value for money is Dario, himself, which is unusual as he is often quite bland and rambling when quizzed on camera. Here, though, he speaks candidly and at length about how the concept was first envisaged, his views on Poe, and on working with the notoriously difficult Keitel, who he claims not to have had a problem with. Romero, in those massive glasses, is likeably goofy and Savini is quite reined-in, but this is one of the better look-backs, overall. Argento tells us about his own black cat as if to validate his lack of animosity towards them. Hmmm ...?
The next two featurettes, also produced by Blue Underground, revolve around Tom Savini. The first, Savini's EFX, takes a look at his work for Two Evil Eyes in detail. Lasting for 12 mins, the latex-king sits and reminisces about the gags he achieved for Romero and Argento. Thankfully, as is often the case with Savini, there is also lots of footage from his workshop revealing just how these effects were put together. Without a doubt, the boon here, folks, is the film of a stripper lying nude on a table and being smeared with alginate to help Savini and Co create the bisected woman at the start of The Black Cat. Savini divulges a lot of his secrets and also confesses that, once again, it was Romero who helped him find the solution to a couple of perplexing effects - those pesky flaps of skin, eh, George? Love the montage of the trance-inducing metronome bouncing off the fake chest. Excellent stuff.
The second is a tour around Savini's house in At Home With Tom Savini, which was filmed at the time of him working on Two Evil Eyes. Of course, being the horror-fanatics that we are (aren't we?) this is pure gold. In fact, when we get to Savini's abode - after a little drive through town - the damn place looks just as messy and wild as my house! Now, obviously, I haven't got as many masks on the walls, or props for that matter, but the chaotic realm of filmic nostalgia and the dusty, dark shrine to horror, at large, was enough to make me feel right at home. I even made a point of showing this to my wife just so that she could realise that I wasn't alone in my over-the-top geekiness ... but she had to go and remind me that A, he could afford all this stuff because he is a top Hollywood effects-guy, and that B, his family lived in a different part of the house and didn't have to wade through statues, swords, maquettes and latex effigies all the time. The scary thing is that the collection we see here will be nothing compared to how it must look nowadays. Savini chats amiably about how he came by some of his prized possessions, about Romero and Argento and about their different styles - Opera apparently blew him away - and even discusses his own remake of Night Of The Living Dead, which, at the time of this little film, he was only involved on pre-production on. Sadly, we all know how that turned out. Another excellent and slightly left-field featurette that, personally, I could have watched all day long. As it happens we only get 16 mins of it.
Then we have a brief (4.35 mins) interview with Adrienne Barbeau who discusses her thoughts on George Romero. Actually an out-take from Roy Frumkes' outstanding feature-length documentary, Document Of The Dead, this was shot during the filming of Two Evil Eyes. Although she looks divine, and this is nice to see, it doesn't actually reveal a great deal and there is an unavoidable degree of adulation and back-slapping.
The package is rounded-off with the film's theatrical trailer.
Two Evil Eyes is, undoubtedly, a missed opportunity from the once-maestros of the macabre. The title, itself, is rather silly and the initial concept of a TV show, as worthy as I feel it was, works against this stand-alone presentation. Of course, this is the only way we could get to see what Romero and Argento had come up with, so we've just got to accept that. The film should not, therefore, be penalised for lacking that crucial extra tale or two. However, one cannot excuse the tepid tone of Romero's piece, and nor can Argento be let off the hook for that absurd ending, despite coming up with the stronger and more interesting of the two instalments. It is incredibly tempting to speculate just what Richard Stanley and Michele Soavi would have done with their respective screenplays - both of which are still sitting on Argento's shelf - had they been given the chance. Perhaps Poe is having the last laugh, though. After all, both Romero and Argento have unequivocally lost their once-considerable panache, and even Stanley and Soavi drastically seemed to lose the plot after their remarkably assured debuts. Ironically, John Carpenter - another gifted filmmaker who has sadly long since left the rails - actually turned down the offer of helming an episode. Thus, it would seem that Two Evil Eyes was tainted with failure right from the outset, the repressed author possibly loving the fact that no-one can completely interpret his prose.
Even considering that the audio remixes are stubbornly un-surround enhanced, and that the films, themselves, aren't all that great, fans of both Romero and Argento should still see this is a decent chance for an upgrade of Two Evil Eyes. But what is surely the selling point of the package is the fabulous interview-featurette that shows Argento in rare fine form - articulate, informed and honest - and the sheer indulgence with Tom Savini.
Ultimately, Two Evil Eyes is too long and too bland to be worthy of carrying its two directors' names so proudly. Which is too bad.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.