A two part anthology: in the first part, "The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar", a scheming wife (Adrienne Barbeau) of a dying millionaire conspires with the doctor treating him to cheat a fortune out of the old man. But the combination of hypnosis and death make for an unexpected link with the realm of the undead...
In the second part, "The Black Cat", crime scene photographer Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel) finds himself driven mad by his live-in girlfriend (Madeleine Potter) and the black cat she takes in. When he tries to murder her, his attempts to cover up his crime don't go as well as he had hoped...
Who's the better director out of these horror greats, George A. Romero or Dario Argento? A vexing question, but on this evidence the title goes to Argento. Based loosely on Edgar Allan Poe stories, Romero wrote his Valdemar adaptation, while Argento and Franco Ferrini wrote the Black Cat script. While Romero simply updates his story, Argento turns his into a Poe compilation, starting with "The Pit and the Pendulum" and ending with "The Tell Tale Heart".
What the Valdemar section needed was a lurid approach more akin to Romero's Creepshow movie, but here he's oddly subdued, offering a simple "love of money is the root of all evil" morality lesson. It's chilly and unexciting, and although the director does add a twist that turns Poe into another version of the zombie movies Romero has become renowned for it looks more like the work of a man who has run out of ideas. Roger Corman's adaptation is better.
Argento on the other hand, makes the most of his opportunities; where the predictablity of Valdemar sinks that story, Argento uses the predictability of his segment to great effect, embellishing it with a lunatic logic. Why shouldn't Usher use a photo of himself strangling a cat for the cover of his new book? Why wouldn't there be a white gallows mark on the troublesome cat's fur? And the lengths Usher goes to conceal his murderous ways are highly amusing.
Keitel's performance is like a horror version of Basil Fawlty - frequently getting pissed (in both senses of the phrase), and letting his exasperation get the better of him. While we see his girlfriend as a sweet-natured woman, Usher has a nightmare that depicts her as a witch sending him to his death, which goes some way to explaining his behaviour. All this, which would have made a good full length movie, is very entertaining, making the Romero segment worth sitting through, so I declare Argento the winner. Music by Pino Donaggio.
American writer/director and one of the most influential figures in modern horror cinema, whose ability to write strong scripts and characters match his penchant for gory chills. The Pittsburgh native began his career directing adverts before making Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This bleak, scary classic ushered in a new era of horror film-making, but Romero struggled initially to follow it up - There's Always Vanilla is a little-seen romantic drama, and Jack's Wife was butchered by its distributor. The Crazies was a flop but still an exciting slice of sci-fi horror, and while the dark vampire drama Martin again made little money but got Romero some of the best reviews of his career and remains the director's personal favourite.
Italian horror maestro who began his film career as a critic, before moving into the world of screenwriting, collaborating most notably with Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci on the script of Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West (1968). Argento's first film as director, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) set the template for much of his subsequent work - inventive camerawork, sly wit, violent murder set-pieces, and a convoluted whodunnit murder plot. He perfected his art in this genre with Deep Red in 1975, before proceeding to direct the terrifying Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), the first two parts of a loose trilogy of supernatural chillers that were finally completed with Mother of Tears in 2007.
Since then, Argento has pretty much stuck to what he knows best, sometimes successfully with Tenebrae and Opera, sometimes, usually in the latter half of his career, less so (Trauma, Sleepless, Dracula), but always with a sense of malicious style.