Review Date: August 3, 2010
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 6/22/2010
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Donít horror movies have the best titles? The genre alone can transform even the plainest of words, like Pulse
into conjurements of fear. It can pose an ominous question, like Who Saw Her Die?
or What Have You Done to Baby Jane?
Or it can demand the viewer stay away in a bid for reverse psychology, like Donít Look in the Basement
or Donít Go in the WoodsÖalone!
And then, when subtlety is exhausted, it can simply flat out tell you what youíre getting, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
or 3 on a Meathook
. While Iíve still never seen the film, the latter title has always stood out for me as one of the best horror titles out there. How do they come up with that stuff? Well, fresh in the mail from Warner Archives is a film from 1965 that predates Meathook
by seven yearsÖTwo on a Guillotine
. Thatís a good title too, but does it make a good film?
Duke Duquesne (Cesar Romero
, known as The Joker on the Batman
TV series) is a wily showman and a first-class magician whose rabbit in a hat antics are only a precursor to his death-defying main act. He specializes in simulated torture of his victims, from sawing them in half to chopping their heads on the guillotine. His main subject is more than just his muse, sheís his wife. Melinda Duquesne (the blonde beaut Connie Stevens
) loves the act as she loves her husband, so much so that she gives up their daughter so they can focus on performing. She died a few years later, and Duke was so distraught they say he went mad with anguish at her loss. He became a recluse in his large L.A. mansion, and often tried to concoct ways to bring her backÖnever succeeding.
Flash forward another twenty years, and now itís Duke whoís died, and his daughter, Cassie (also Stevens
) who looks strikingly like Melinda, is back to pay her respects. She regrets not knowing her father, but sheís going to have a quick game of catch up as the will stipulates that she must spend a full week in her fatherís mansion alone. If she does not, she must give over the place to Dukeís longtime maid and admirer, Dolly (Virginia Gregg
). Staying in the house isnít going to be easy, though, because it appears the Duke took a few pages out of the House on Haunted Hill playbook and has rigged the house with ominous booby traps and scares from beyond the grave. The push of a light switch causes a skeleton to glide across the foyer on a string or a cryptic recording to play. Hell, even his stage rabbit seems to be in on it, causing heads to roll down stairs. Indeed, Cassie wonít be mourning her father so much as lamenting her time in his mansion!
At Cassieís side is an undercover reporter, Val Henderson (Dean Jones
), who may or may not have honorable intentions in pursuing the blonde. Things take a turn for the scary when Dolly informs Cassie and Val that sheís seen the ghost of the Duke lurking the halls upstairs, which causes Cassie fits of paranoia that manifest themselves in dreams and nightmares. Is the Duke really haunting the place or does Dolly just want her piece of the estate? Sheís going to have to find out alone, since a tiff with Val has her alone in the house at night, where a very shiny guillotine is waiting to split heirs and heads!
You can always count on old Hollywood for good old fashioned spooks and top tier class, and thatís mostly what you get here with Two on a Guillotine
. The sets are grand, showcasing the mansion and its exteriors in lush scope compositions. The actors are all engaging and accomplished. Stevens, in particular, just radiates on the screen having previously gotten practice at being beautiful in all those teeny beach movies she starred in early in her career. Romero is another presence, too, with a vaudevillian grin and a winning confidence that establishes him both as a powerful villain and a sympathetic griever. The story is tight and while it does drift into bits of melodrama with Cassie coming to terms with being orphaned or simply falling in love, it ends with a bang that certainly delivers on the promise of the title. As only Hollywood could make them back then, itís a horror film that has something for all audiences, guy or girl, young or old, and itís one thatís still enjoyable today.
For horror fans in particular, there are some nicely macabre moments, from the opening magic acts cast against an engulfing black background to a beheading in slow motion that looks so real itís a wonder how it ever made it through the Hays code back upon its first release in 1965. The booby traps in the house provide some good jolts, but itís probably Cassieís dream sequence later on in the film, where random hallucinations are superimposed over her sleeping, struggling face, that stands out most. Shot in slow motion and with some fine optical trickery, the scene really traps into the essence of what a dream feels like, both fractured and sometimes all too real. It ends, fittingly, with a person in her dream burying her alive by throwing dirt onto the camera, in essence reminding us that we too are at will to the ephemeral sights projected on the screen in front of us. And while itís no Eyes without a Face
, the ending has a similar weight as father and daughter must reconcile the horrors that brought them to where they end up at the finale.
The film often plays it too straight and safe to be excellent, but itís too good to have been forgotten all these years. And with a title like that, how has this fine film fallen into such obscurity?
This release is boasted as a ďRemastered EditionĒ, but I donít really know what edition they are comparing it to since itís been such an obscurity all these years. The truth of the matter is that while it does look pretty good for its age and obscurity, it certainly doesnít look like a full fledged remaster. There are white specks of debris that dance throughout the film. Sometimes there is a loose hair at the top of the gate. The low levels sometimes waver and lack deep blacks, and the overall image looks a tad soft at times given the Hollywood set pieces and professionalism attributed to the production. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is filled with lavish cinematography and grandiose locales, but the image quality doesnít entirely do it justice. For a film burned on a budget via the Warner Archive, this will more than suffice, but I just donít know why theyíd boast that itís a remastered edition when the overall transfer is as good or less than other titles to come out on the DVD+R line. Itís a good transfer, just a little misleading.
The English mono soundtrack is no surprise, but it's quite good. Itís pretty clear and clean, given the age, and actually demonstrates a solid range. The big orchestral cues during the scary moments or Connie Stevensí monster of a shriek all register with a strong presence. Dialogue is clear, music is full and overall itís about what you could ask for out of a 45 year old mix.
Some Warner Archive discs contain a trailer. This one doesnít. On load it plays the Warner Archive preview, and then itís a static menu where ďPlay MovieĒ is the only option.
Two on a Guillotine
is a classy, professional old Hollywood production that still somehow manages to live up to the grand guignol promises of the title. Itís a film thatís got something for everyone, including horror fans with a pretty wicked slow motion beheading and a stylishly effective nightmare sequence. Warner Brothers preserves both scenes and more with a good video transfer (although not quite the ďremasteredĒ quality the cover boasts) and an even better mono audio mix. There are no extras, but even still this nice little horror show is worth the DVD+R on demand prices over at the Warner Archive. Pick it up along with other worthy archive titles like Bad Ronald
and Donít Be Afraid of the Dark
and show Warner that there still is a demand for these forgotten titles out there. With a library as vast as theirs, you can bet there are still a legion of titles waiting for their time, like Two on a Guillotine
ís, on the chopping block.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - B
Sound - B+
Supplements - F
- Running time - 1 hour 47 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono