Two on a Guillotine (1965)

Directed by William Conrad [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a movie that I’ve been wanting to see for a long time. As soon as I first saw the title, I was hooked. Now fast-forward eight years or so, and here I am. Overall, while it’s not really the type of movie I expected (not that my expectations were based on anything more than the fact I knew a magician was in this movie), I do think it was a lot of fun and is worth a look should you be a fan of 1960’s horror.

Let me first talk about my foolish expectations coming into this. Before I really knew the plot (in which a young woman must spend a week in a dark and creaky house in order to fulfill the request in the will of her deceased father), all I knew was that it involved a magician. And what two films from around the same time period involved magicians? For one, the somewhat underrated 1960 film The Hypnotic Eye, along with the colorful, confusing gore-fest that was The Wizard of Gore (1970).

This movie is not anything like either of those whatsoever, and feels more like House of the Damned with maybe a few elements of House on Haunted Hill thrown in, which I think works to it’s benefit. At times it feels like it could have appropriately been made ten years earlier (and it doesn’t help that the film’s in black-and-white, which was falling out of favor around this time), but there’s also the somewhat lengthy romantic subplot that might have been handled differently in older films, so there’s enough here to place this in the 1960’s.

Though he doesn’t have much screen-time, Cesar Romero is a pleasure to see, and stands out well despite his short time on screen. Virginia Gregg did pretty well too, though half the time she played a drunk character, so more than anything, I found her amusing, but she had a few strong emotional scenes also. I don’t really know either Connie Stevens or Dean Jones, but they both did fantastic, and their slow-growing romance here (not something you’d necessarily expect to see in a horror film) was pretty delightful to see.

I can’t say that the mystery here really had the best conclusion, but it’s also accurate to say there were only so many possibilities (as I saw it, maybe four or five realistic endings), and the one that we got was still okay (and certainly led to additional emotional scenes and a solid finale). It never got too into expository as some endings, especially from the time period, can do, and I think the somber finale did well.

The setting, being a cliché mansion, wasn’t the most original we’ve seen, but I do appreciate how it stood out a bit by being filled with magicians’ tricks and props (such as that flying skeleton, which was used to great effect both times it came up), and it lent the film both a solid atmosphere and some pretty creepily creaky moments.

Two on a Guillotine isn’t a new favorite of the 1960’s, and I never really thought it would be, but it is a pretty solid film that has a decent amount to offer. It does run at almost an hour and 50 minutes, so while I never personally felt it dragged, that’s certainly something to be aware of. It also spends a fair amount of time on a building romance, so some also might not find that engaging, but overall, I really enjoyed the film.

8.5/10

Devils of Darkness (1965)

Directed by Lance Comfort [Other horror films: Daughter of Darkness (1948)]

I went into this one pretty blind, not overly sure what to expect. Unfortunately, though this British vampire movie possesses some charm, overall, I struggle to believe that Devils of Darkness will end up being that memorable.

As such, the plot itself is somewhat decent and moderately intriguing, dealing with members of a vampire-led cult attempting to retrieve something of their masters’ from an unsuspecting man, and the mysterious deaths around the man are somewhat interesting. When Scotland Yard gets involved, things become even more interesting. But despite all of this, I don’t think the movie ends up being great.

There’s no doubt some cool things here, such as a somewhat suspenseful reflection-off-water scene near the beginning (and speaking of the beginning, I did appreciate how we got eight minutes of opening before the title and credits came up), along with blood coming from a portrait. A few red herrings around Tracy Reed’s character, too, come into play. But there wasn’t anywhere near enough to keep things moving along at a brisk enough pace.

As a leading character, William Sylvester does pretty good, and I sort of liked Hubert Noel’s vampire character. But other than Tracy Reed, who wasn’t necessarily great, most of the cast is pretty forgettable, which certainly doesn’t help matters any.

Ultimately, Devils of Darkness has the occasional atmosphere that you might be looking for from a 60’s vampire film, but it’s not done nearly as well as Hammer was able to, so why go for a cheap knock-off if you can pick up the real thing? Might be worth checking out a single time, but I wouldn’t really expect to fall in love with this one. At least the color looks moderately nice.

5.5/10