Something happened to me while I was in cancer treatment, and now horror movies are way more disturbing than they used to be. I know that’s a “first world problems” complaint, kind of like complaining that the weed has gotten way too strong compared to back in the day (it has) but I am much more sensitive to body horror than I was before I became a Frankenstein monster. Because horror movies are supposed to give you a thrilling rush! So I thought the perfect thing to watch for my condition last night, since my foray into Arrow releasing’s service has been getting pretty dark, would be an anthology made up of a George Romero segment and a Dario Argento segment. Because that wouldn’t freak me out.
The first segment was done by Romero. I haven’t seen as many of his movies as I have Argento’s, nor watched them as often as an adult, but Creepshow was a huge part of my HBO-addicted childhood. And while parts of Creepshow were really scary when I was eight, it was also fun and amusing, like a ghost train ride. Which was also the tone of his segment, and what I was hoping for.
Adrienne Barbeau (also a huge fixture in my formative years thanks to not only Creepshow but also Swamp Thing) marries a rich old man, and while he’s about to die from some terrible and painful illness, she can’t wait a few more weeks/days to inherit his money for some reason. So she convinces her ex-boyfriend, a normal doctor but also some kind of kooky scientist, to hypnotize her dying husband so he will sign papers to give her a lot of cash now. Maybe she had a structured settlement. The problem is that in the universe of this movie, if you die under hypnosis, you’re undead undead undead. I didn’t know where this segment was going, but it was a pretty cool trip, as well as a reminder not to be greedy because you might end up impaled. Also, horror fan favorite Tom Atkins was there.
Ok, so old Uncle George tells the kids a creepy little bedtime story with a moral, and then unsane Cousin Dario says, naw, you little bastards are not sleeping for a week. Enter Harvey Keitel as a sicko who takes pictures of crime scenes and tries to sell them as art, and when that’s not enough, he takes pictures of himself torturing his girlfriend’s cat. And it just gets more sad and gross from there. There’s a dream sequence, and I do love a good dream sequence, especially one like this that turns out to be not just a dream but a prophecy. Also, Sally Kirkland shows up as a bartender who gives me huge ~Ania Pieroni as the music school witch in Inferno~ vibes. But most of the segment is missing Argento’s usual flair, while being shockingly mean spirited. But somehow not as nasty as we’re used to him being, ironically. If I was trying to introduce someone to his work, I wouldn’t start here.
Argento tried to match Romero’s tone, I think, so the film would flow evenly, but he doesn’t have the ability to make a fun spook show. And if he was going to be so twisted, he really should have capped it all off with a more shocking comeuppance for Keitel. That guy certainly deserved worse. And how did likable John Amos end up involved in this as a detective? And for that matter, why even include detectives when there’s really no mystery to solve, only a Columbo style how-did-they-find-who-we-just-saw-do-it. I really did want to see Amos catch Keitel, and I guess he did in a way, but I much prefer him on old sitcoms.
I forgot to mention what you probably already know, that these two segments were inspired by Poe’s writings The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar and The Black Cat. This was made in 1990, so there’s tons of natural light in the daytime scenes, a lighting style which effectively gives everything a nightmarish quality, especially in indoor scenes when the windows are just a little too bright. And in keeping with my memories of 1990, the clothes, hair, and music are awful. Both parts were filmed and set in Pittsburgh, which explains the Romero tone dominating.
I feel like Romero, who always had a broader appeal with all movie fans and not just ghouls, was trying to put Argento over in America, but Argento was destined to remain in a niche. As for Poe, I’m grateful for his contributions to the true crime and psychological horror genres, but his stories are more effective as intended, when it’s the character’s guilt that drives them over the edge. I’ve seen at least four Italian takes on The Black Cat, and as I recall they all kind of go off the rails. It’s a hell of a thing when your movie makes Roger Corman’s Poe movies seem subtle.
P.S. I just realized by looking at IMDb that Madeleine Potter, the girlfriend Annabel in The Black Cat, was in one of the most amusing episodes of Midsomer Murders, Country Matters. So I’m going to watch that now! Until next time, Arrow.
P.P.S. Now I’m finding on the old IMDb (I never check it until after I’ve written my review) that I’m unusual for liking the Romero segment better. Typical me, typical me, typical me.