Based on adaptation history, it is easy to see why someone may be skeptical of 1990’s Two Evil Eyes. The movie takes two short stories from Edgar Allen Poe and has George A. Romero direct one and Dario Argento helm the other. If three of the biggest names in the history of horror was not enough to interest fans, the movie also has special effects from the legendary Tom Savini. Savini also made a cameo in the short starring…Harvey Keitel! It sounds good on paper, but this movie clearly has too much going on. Right?
Two Evil Eyes succeeds for one simple reason. The directors stay true to themselves while never distorting Poe’s work. This does not mean each act is a word for word retelling. Argento’s version of ‘The Black Cat’ completely does away with the unreliable narrator aspect of the author’s original, for example. Instead, the two directors keep with the spirit of Poe’s works.
It sounds silly. Don’t of the best filmmakers do this anyway? One look no further than renowned director Stanley Kubrick and another horror icon, Stephen King, to see this is not always the case. Kubrick’s version of King’s The Shining is seen by many as one of the scariest movies ever made. One person who disagrees is King. The film is polarizing because the director did not want to tell the author’s story.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many stories – The Shining included – are open to interpretation. What does happen is a certain segment of the fanbase ends up alienated. It is not so much a matter of right and wrong as it is not telling the story a person wanted to hear. Romero and Argento are able to seamlessly add their own unique visions to Poe’s works in Two Evil Eyes.
Romero has been known to lace his movies with social commentary. He has tackled racism, consumerism, and even our dependency on technology in his films. It comes as no surprise that his take on ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ goes beyond the source material and delves into the class divide. A modern take on the nineteenth century story, Romero’s version does not downplay or change the more supernatural aspects of the story while adding a plot point.
Even without the credits, it is obvious when the directors change. Argento, who has directed some of the most famous giallo of all time, has his fingerprints all over ‘The Black Cat’. The segment starts with a clever homage to Poe. It is complete with the requisite gore and nudity one would expect from an Italian horror movie. The film also employs sweeping camera shots that show locations and settings. This is Poe’s story being told by Argento.
This may be the most important part of Two Evil Eyes. The directors do a wonderful job of adapting Poe’s works. Both films are filled with a tense atmosphere built through storytelling. Every moment adds to the story. Each tale also deals with a profound sense of guilt. Poe always did a good job of straddling the line between paranoia and guilt. Both of the segments in the movie convey these feelings perfectly.
Adaptations are a tricky thing. The movie has to appeal to newcomers without turning off existing fans. One way to draw everyone’s attention is to fill the movie with actors and crew that seem perfect. Two Evil Eyes brings together so many horror icons, some may begin to worry. Thankfully, the film does an excellent job of showcasing everyone’s talents and is a great example of how to do an adaptation correctly.