John Hough, who directed TWINS OF EVIL for Britain’s Hammer Films in 1971, was only in his early 30s during the production. Most of the filmmakers working for Hammer at the time were in their 50s and 60s; as a considerably younger man with his own ideas, Hough was able to victoriously join an extra dose of sexuality with an extra dose of carnage, with the outcome being stylishly entertaining. Part of a trilogy all sourced from Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, a quote taken from the book, Best of British: A Celebration of Rank Film Classics, best describes the film: “TWINS OF EVIL is something of a Gothic masterpiece.” Now, the “Gothic masterpiece” finally (and I mean, finally!) sees a U.S. digital release (a magnificent Blu-Ray + DVD combo pack), courtesy of Synapse Films.
In 19th century Vienna, a pair of beautiful, young twins travel to the town of Karnstein to live with their harsh Puritan uncle, Gustav Weil (the legend himself, Peter Cushing), and his wife Katy (Kathleen Byron, NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT), after their parents have passed away. Maria (Mary Collinson) is pleasant and obedient while Frieda (Madelaine Collinson) is wicked and rebellious, seeking dangerous thrills. Eventually, Frieda makes her way up to the castle where the recently vampirized Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER) resides. She willingly becomes one of the undead, but is soon discovered by Weil and his witch-hunting cronies, "The Brotherhood." While being held prisoner, Frieda is rescued by Count Karnstein, who places her innocent sibling in her place. The Brotherhood nearly burn Maria at the stake, but she is saved by our young hero Anton (David Warbeck, THE BEYOND), who after almost being bitten by Frieda, knows that Weil and his men have the wrong girl. All this disaster motivates Weil and most of the town to revolt and storm Karnstein Castle in order to put an end to the Count, his Black Magic practices, and the rash of vampirism brought upon their peaceful village.
There are many components that make TWINS OF EVIL such a great film. First off, there is Peter Cushing, one of the genre’s most masterful cinematic icons, treating us to another outstanding performance. Gustav Veil is very different than Cushing's most famous vampire hunter role, Dr. Van Helsing. Van Helsing is a man of reason, great intelligence, has vast knowledge of the occult, and shows great care for those that he attempts to aid. He has a humorous side and is not afraid to show his feelings. Weil on the other hand, is stubborn, ignorant on the subject of witches and vampires, shows little or no compassion, and has absolutely no sense of humor.
Cushing is able to brilliantly convey Weil as a stone-faced somber individual. At the beginning of the film, Weil and his merry men manage to burn three girls as witches all because they're young, pretty and are estranged from the community. He is a religious fanatic who believes that his actions are in the name of God, and thus regards himself as always being in the right. He is not really an opportunist; he is misguided and presumes that his explicit slayings are carried out as an obligation to his people, though any level-headed person would know he is clearly wrong. He has the fear of the villagers, and few men ever try to oppose him.
Weil displays no couth in nearly everything that he does, and makes clear his power and position to everyone he confronts. At night, he enters the room of his nieces and beats Maria, who is covering up for the wandering Frieda. “The young must be chastised”, he exclaims to his tolerant wife. He and his men lug the body of Anton's vampire victim sister, Ingrid (Isobel Black), into the finishing school that his nieces attend. Weil feels that he must display the body in front Anton's choir class as punishment towards him since he opposes and questions his methods. When he wants things done, he can make a room full of silent and attentive followers rapidly rise from their seats to indulge in a witch-hunt by merely triggering a simple body gesture.
This is one of the first films that Cushing acted in after the death of his beloved wife, Helen. He appeared considerably more gaunt, and some believe that his mourning is reflected in his unflinching performance. Nevertheless, it’s a brilliant portrayal that ranks among his best. Damien Thomas is perfectly cast as the villainous Count Karnstein. In Hammer’s previous films in the “Karnstein Trilogy”– THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971) – there really wasn’t a strong, aggressive, and intimidating male vampire menace. Thomas thankfully changes that and gives us a vigorous Dracula-type lead in this entry. His dark features and widow’s peak hairline make him an ideal vampire Count. He is able to give us a self-assured bloodsucker who is loud, arrogant and persistent. He reeks of hatred, causing the audience to despise him, making his climatic death scene a rewarding spectacle.
The late, Australian-born David Warbeck (an actor who has also worked in films for Freddie Francis, Sergio Leone, Russ Meyer and Lucio Fulci!) is good as the handsome, likable hero, Anton. He hates perpetrators of evil, but is automatically attracted to the devilish and feisty Frieda. He is all too easily seduced when she disrobes and attempts to make love to him. He is quickly turned off by her nonexistent reflection and canine teeth, and is consequently swayed towards the more commendable affections of Maria, protecting her and saving her life in the process. Anton is also the only person who dares to challenge Weil's unorthodox ways and is able to convince him of the logical methods of how to destroy real vampires. Madelaine (aka Madeleine) and Mary Collinson are easy to tell apart, as they convincingly represent evil and good respectively. They are totally able to pull off believable, sensual performances despite the fact that they were former Playboy models and other actresses over dubbed their voices (the Collinson twins originated from Malta and reportedly had heavy accents).
Sensuality prevails throughout the entire film. Mircalla Karnstein (previously played by Ingrid Pitt and Yutte Stensgaard in the prior two films, and here played by Katya Wyeth) appears briefly after being revived by her descendant, the Count. In one of the film's most acclaimed sequences, Mircalla initially appears as an apparition, ascending from her crypt after virgin blood had seeped through. Before she vampirizes him, she entices the Count and they proceed to embrace and indulge in some heavy petting atop the crypt. In a brilliant display of imagination suggesting an orgasmic climax, Mircalla rubs a lit candle, grasps it tight, and allows wax to run down the side. Director Hough, showing off his ingenious, fresh approach to the erotic horror film thought up the idea.
Hough’s direction is utterly flawless. He adds many creative elements to the proceedings, including a great trick mirror effect that has the vampires looking at their empty reflections, while everything else in the mirror's frame materializes. Hough later handled the excellent THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), but his subsequent genre efforts such as HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE (1988) and AMERICAN GOTHIC (1988), were not up to par. Shot at the celebrated Pinewood Studios (as were COUNTESS DRACULA and VAMPIRE CIRCUS), TWINS OF EVIL is loaded with great production values; the interior of Karnstein Castle, with its massive parlor room and creepy secret passageways, is one of the most impressive sets in Hammer horror history. The film has an epic feel that's enhanced by a surreal looking forest where the puritans hunt down witches on horseback. There are also heavy gore effects (gory for Hammer at least), including an unforgettable beheading and the decomposing demise of the Count (some of the sex and gore was trimmed by its American distributor, Universal Pictures, but this presentation is of course, fully uncut).
Familiar faces in British horror films round out the supporting cast. Isobel Black was also in Hammer's KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1962) as a sexy vampire, curvy Luan Peters (who plays the Count's luscious “plaything” Gerta) was not only in LUST FOR A VAMPIRE but also in Pete Walker’s THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW (1972) and LAND OF THE MINOTAUR/THE DEVIL’S MEN (1975), which also starred Cushing. The infamous, bloated, and always-inebriated Dennis Price plays the Count's unproductive lackey, Dietrich. Price is good, but pretty much wasted here; Hammer employed him more usefully as a lazy grave robber in HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), though he was in numerous European genre pictures before his death in 1973. As nubile victims of the marauding witch-hunters, Judy Matheson had been bitten on the breast by Yutte Stensgaard’s Mircalla in LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and blonde Kirsten Lindholm/Betts was also in the opening sequences of VAMPIRE LOVERS and LUST. Character actor Harvey Hall (here as one Weil’s right-hand men), also had prominent roles in VAMPIRE LOVERS and LUST. The powerful score (which at times, is appropriately Western-tinged) was composed by Harry Robinson, not only responsible for such British horror classics as THE OBLONG BOX, but also the previous two Hammer “Karnstein” films.
Produced by Harry Fine and Michael Style (the outside, independent Fantale partners who, with Hammer, also gave us the previous two “Karnstein” outings) and written by Tudor Gates (who managed to merge witch-hunting and vampirism effectively), TWINS OF EVIL truly is a masterpiece of gothic and erotic horror and holds up bloody well to this day. In my opinion, this film, along with Robert Young's equally unique VAMPIRE CIRCUS (also available from Synapse Films), are two of Hammer's most superb achievements of the early 1970s, giving credence to the company's overall product quality during that decade, despite constant criticism by fans and writers alike.
Synapse Films presents TWINS OF EVIL on Blu-Ray (Region A) with a new High Definition transfer in 1080p resolution. Transferred in a fitting 1.66:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the superb image quality reveals the surreal, fairytale-like attributes of the film to the max. There are no blemishes on the source material, and with occasional coatings of grain, the detail is extremely sharp and well defined and colors are brilliant throughout. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is perfect, and an isolated music and effects track is also included for the Blu-Ray only. A standard DVD (a Region 1 disc carrying the same HD transfer as the Blu-Ray) is also included in the package, showcasing the film again in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement and an excellent mono English audio track. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are on both the Blu-Ray and DVD.
Presented by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, Daniel Griffith produces and directs the full-length HD documentary, "The Flesh And The Fury: X-Posing Twins Of Evil" (1:24:36). This well crafted and consistently absorbing piece looks at the origins of Carmilla, the different film versions of that very novelette, as well as the changes at Hammer and the “sexual revolution” trends which lead them to green-light THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL. The interview subjects include such film historians, writers and filmmakers as Ted Newsom, Tim Lucas, Sir Christopher Frayling, Kim Newman, Wayne Kinsey, Joe Dante, David J. Skal, John-Paul Checkett and Eric Hoffman. As the documentary heavily focuses (and rightly so) on TWINS in the second half, there’s also new interview footage with director Hough and star Thomas, and Hough (who labels himself a “supernatural director” rather than a horror director) can even be seen revisiting Pinewood Studios as well as some of the Black Park forest locations used in the film. Great stuff indeed, and long-time Hammer fans will likely be very pleased (this documentary, along with a theatrical trailer, can also found on the DVD, while all the other extras are exclusive to the Blu-Ray).
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures also presents a mouth-watering featurette called “The Props That Hammer Built: The Kinsey Collection” (23:28). Here, Kinsey shows us some of the various Hammer-related props, costumes and other artifacts he’s managed to collect, including a rejected bat from THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, a bat used for the attack scene from KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, a model of a castle (used in KISS and several other 1960s Hammer horrors), an eyeball from FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, Don Murray’s tunic from THE VIKING QUEEN, Ingrid Pitt’s blue dress from THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, Cushing’s spats from FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED and much more. A motion still gallery (also courtesy of Ballyhoo) showcases a mass of production and promotional stills, behind-the-scenes shots, poster art, and of course, all those cheesecake pics of the Collinson twins. A deleted scene (1:09) featuring two females singing the fluffy tune “True Love” while Anton plays his organ, sounds more like “The New Seekers” than something from a period horror film, so it’s a good thing they removed it from the final cut of the film, but it's nice to have. Rounding out the “Fang-Tastic Special Features” on this must-have release are the original U.S. trailer, the U.S. combo trailer (on a double bill with HANDS OF THE RIPPER, also coming in the near future from Synapse) and three TV spots taken from 16mm.
Keeping the celebration going, direct from England, the new 35mm prints of TWINS OF EVIL and COUNTESS DRACULA will be making their U.S. theatrical debut as part of our 6th annual Drive-In Super Monster-Rama at the Riverside Drive-In Theatre in Vandergrift, PA. For more information on the event, visit the official Monster-Rama page HERE. (George R. Reis)
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