Two years after Monkey Shines Romero returned with an unusual addition to his filmography with 1990’s Two Evil Eyes, a collaborative effort between him and Dario Argento, who is in many ways his Italian contemporary.
Two Evil Eyes is an adaptation of two short stories by one of the great horror authors of the modern age, Edgar Allen Poe, in the shape of The Black Cat, directed by Argento and Romero’s The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.
In so many ways Romero’s choice is a fitting one. It is a story of the walking dead, the genre that provided Romero with his enduring fame, but it is also a story mainly set in one location with a limited cast and this is where Romero shines.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar revolves around a woman and her dying husband in the last days of his life as we learn that the woman, Jessica Valdemar played by Adrienne Barbeau, is in collusion with the family lawyer, Dr. Robert Hoffman portrayed by Ramy Zada, and are using hypnosis to force the dying man to transfer funds into their accounts before he dies.
Things do not go exactly as planned however when the old man dies of cardiac arrest during one hypnotic session, and the cheating couple only become aware of this fact when the dead man begins to speak.
What proceeds is a kind of psychological cat and mouse very unlike the living dead films that Romero is best known for, while Jessica looks on in terror Robert slides into morbid fascination, recording long conversations with the dead man and learning the secrets of the other side.
This is when we learn of the Others, a shadow people trapped between the living and the dead who have congregated around the trapped soul of the dead man but it is when they appear to the living that the couple realise they have opened a door that cannot be so easily closed.
To those who are familiar with the source material the film is a small revelation. Poe’s story is anecdotal in nature, similarly to many of his stories it is narrated and told second hand to his audience and this allows the authors to simply not bother with a great deal of set-up normally necessary in a stand alone story.
Romero opted to create a simple structure for the story instead, updating it to modern day and creating a tale of cheating and vengeance that would not be out of place in the Tales From he Crypt comics that inspired Romero’s 1982 film Creepshow. The elements he adds to Poe’s story would make a good story on their own, and it is unfortunate that this story is truncated in order to fit alongside the Black Cat.
Though The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar does not rank up with the best of Romero it is an interesting and well crafted experiment in the macabre that manages to bridge the archaic beauty of Poe’s narrative and the cynicism of the modern world rather well. It does not carry with it any great meaning, not does it leave us with the resonance that his better films do, but it also feels a much more complete and rewarding experience than his previous film Monkey Shines, even though it arguably has a lot less to work with.
The reason for this is that The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar knows who the audience’s sympathies should lay and it plays to this with precision. Though we know very little regarding Valdemar we are reacting to the villain’s treatment of him rather than Valdemar’s own behaviour, it’s the callousness of the couple’s treatment of him that shifts our sympathies. Instead of acting in frenzy or displaying open joy in Valdemar’s demise they seem to be approaching his death as a means to an end and little more.
This leaves the viewer with the impression this is an impersonal crime, where it seems their treatment of him does not constitute any kind of revenge for any behaviours Valdemar may have exhibited, and this influences our sympathies enough to take a side.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is an intriguing short film that could have been much more, its strongest elements perhaps being those from Romero himself rather than Poe.
For a director famed as much for his writing as his directing a literary adaptation of a classic may seem an odd direction to take, but as Romero’s own scripts have failed to inspire his fans in recent years The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar shows an interesting direction the horror maestro may be able to take with future films.