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Stephanie Korski [Celluloid 08.09.18] horror

1960's horror is a genre chocked full of heavy hitters: Psycho, Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary's Baby to name a few. So it's no surprise that the less famous films, and those with lower ratings, might get dismissed as having little to offer. In defense of William Conrad's 1965 horror Two on a Guillotine, a great cast, great location and masterful suspense add up to show that there's a lot to like about this film.

The film's plot is centred around eccentric magician Duke Duquesne's funeral, which brings his estranged daughter Cassie back to Los Angeles. She soon learns that her late father's will states that in order for her to inherit his estate, she must stay in his creepy sprawling mansion for seven nights in a row. A curious journalist Val Henderson quickly gets wind of the news and attempts to seduce Cassie for the story, but ends up falling in love and staying in the house with her.

This film is an excellent example of the classic haunted house story so popular during its time. Set in an old, lavish house that looks hauntingly beautiful in black and white, the larger than life characters seem small and powerless inside of it. What I love most about this film is that it lives in the slow-paced wide shots, letting the suspense breathe. The camera moves slowly, if at all - the way you might hold your breath a little as you tiptoe around a place you're frightened of. With modern horror films, quick cuts, close-ups and heavy music are sometimes used ad nauseum to signal to the audience what they should be afraid of, and when. Two on a Guillotine comes by its suspense honestly - the use of well-timed orchestral music and long, slow shots means the audience is front row centre for all of the action.

The film, for all of its visual achievements, is lacking in story. The pace of the plot happening inside the house can feel a little slow compared to the rapid development of character relationships, which happen over just a matter of days. The beginning of the story finds our hero, Cassie, an independent (if not a tad naive) woman determined to stay in the house on her own - that is, until she falls in love with the male lead, Val, and becomes a cowering mess. As a viewer, I found this lacking but reminded myself that for 1965 I suppose that wasn't all that uncommon. The biggest blunder in this film is the ending, a classic case of overpromising in the earlier writing. But where the ending doesn't deliver, the build-up throughout the first two acts does.

Overall, Two on a Guillotine holds its own as far as classic horror goes. Strong cinematography and a competent cast fill in the gaps where the story is lacking. This is a film that sometimes feels like it's trying to accomplish too much. My advice? It should have stuck to what it did well: classic haunted house horror.

Recommended Release: Two on a Guillotine

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Genius (11 months ago) Reply

and I recommend "The Innocents 1961 with Deborah Kerr.

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