Written by: Lois Kennedy
Directed by: Dario Argento, George A. Romero
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Harvey Keitel, Ramy Zada
A film divided into two segments of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, set in contemporary times. George A. Romero writes and directs the first story, “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar.” Jessica is a former flight attendant turned rich old man Ernest’s trophy wife. She and her ex-boyfriend Robert, posing as Ernest’s doctor, come up with a scheme to get her fortune early: hypnotize Ernest into leaving her the money while he’s still alive—as a bonus, he’s much more manageable. Their plan backfires when he dies under hypnosis, and becomes a conduit for angry spirits to get through to the world of the living. The second segment, “The Black Cat,” directed by Dario Argento, concerns Rod, a crime scene photographer who’s seen it all. When his girlfriend Annabel adopts a cat, he hates it immediately, but tries to co-exist. He fails miserably when he kills it, also photographing the incident, and publishing it in a book. After that, he becomes more angry and erratic, which is exacerbated by the cat’s refusal to stay dead.
I think modernizing the stories works well, especially since there are so many period Poe adaptations (thank you, Roger Corman). The two directors also go well together, despite their different styles. The first is very Tales from the Crypt-y, down-to (graveyard, hee hee) earth and basic in its morals: greed is bad. Yet Jessica is a more complex character than expected in this kind of story; she admits she married Ernest for his money, and believes she deserves it, but she feels guilty about how Ernest is being exploited. Plus she doesn’t bang Robert in her dying husband’s house, as most women in this kind of plot line would. Ernest also isn’t the nicest guy; when he’s lucid he says things like, “Where’s that bitch of a wife of mine?” The second story is more surreal, like when Rod has a dream sequence about witches that’s reminiscent of both The Tenant and The Wicker Man. It’s less a morality tale about corruption than it is a case study of a guy who descends into madness, becoming “evil for the love of being evil.”
It’s well-done, suspenseful and creepy at times. I have only two gripes. First, I feel Argento went a bit overboard with allusions to Poe’s other works (“The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” to name a few), which takes focus away from the main story. Second, the plot holes: it’s established that Jessica and Robert knew each other before her marriage—why didn’t she marry him? He’s a doctor! Annabel is distraught at her cat disappearing, and finds out what happened to it only when she sees the cat on the cover of Rod’s book in a shop window—how did she not know he published a book? There’s a scene when two detectives find that Rod has a body in his wall; one claims he has just the tool for the situation, and returns seconds later with a pickaxe—is that standard issue for detectives, and where was he keeping it that he could get to it so quickly?
All in all, it’s gory yet thought-provoking; check it out if you want quality directing with a little camp.