When watching something, little frustrates me more than being able to predict what’s going to happen. But there is one thing that’s worse: being able to predict something that’s supposed to be a surprise or big reveal. In the case of William Conrad’s schlocky Two on a Guillotine, the film hangs a neon sign around the key set-up points and lights off fireworks around them so that it’s easy to see exactly what the big reveals will be. This wouldn’t be so bad if it offered something more, but it doesn’t. Other than a couple of frenetic scenes towards the start of the film and some outlandish characters that are moderately interesting, Two on a Guillotine is an exercise in blatantly manufactured thrills. And like the skeleton that swings down from the ceiling several times over the course of the film, it’s more corny than scary or even funny.
Like many magicians, Duke Duquesne (Cesar Romero) has an over-the-top act that blends horror and humor. After an on-stage accident involving a guillotine makes his wife like one of Henry VIII’s, he’s never the same. He also becomes estranged from his only daughter, Cassie (Connie Stevens), who long drifted away from her father. Duquesne leaves a small fortune to his daughter, but only if she can last a week inside his house where some say the illusionist will rise again.
Enter your standard haunted house type of story with creepy furnishings and out-of-the-blue three-alarm fire screams. To help Cassie get through the ordeal is reporter Val Henderson (Dean Jones), who starts out interested in the heiress only to land a juicy story for his paper. But you know the drill, boy falls for the forbidden pretty girl. Their relationship plays out rather predictably and is more of a plot device than an important part of the story. It’s not even much of a distraction because whenever they’re out driving around, I wanted them to go back to the house to find more creepy creations. However, there were a couple of times where attempts to tap into the pop culture of the time ended up causing a little (suspected unintentional) comedy. One such moment that stands out for me happens in a dance club. It’s such a jolting shift in the narrative that it serves no purpose, yet it’s still funny to see the hot moves of the time and the matching music.
Two on a Guillotine fails to carve out its own original niche that might set it apart from other like haunted house films. Its characters are shallow, the situations are predictable and it jostles between thrills and laughs. Other than being something of a time capsule for certain aspects of the mid-1960s, Two on a Guillotine doesn’t hold up well or provide much incentive for visiting or revisiting it.
Two on a Guillotine DVD Review
Warner’s print-on-demand Warner Archive line has brought Two on a Guillotine to DVD for the first time with a re-mastered print that looks solid overall. The picture is crisp, save for the occasional scratch and pieces of debris. It looked much better than I was suspecting. Like other Warner Archive titles, there are no bonus features to be had.
Two on a Guillotine Gallery