Friday, October 03, 2014


I might get some argument for this statement but I feel that Twins of Evil is easily the best of the Hammer "Karnstein Trilogy" of movies. Not as slowly paced as The Vampire Lovers and not as sloppily constructed as Lust for a Vampire, this film moves with strong forward momentum as it tells a clearly defined, interesting story. Don't misunderstand me — I like all of them and have watched each multiple times over the years but as I get older and my brain-searing lust to see buxom naked women onscreen fades to a mere bonfire, I find myself able to better concentrate on the stories presented in these movies. A big part of its cinematic power comes from the excellent lead performance from Peter Cushing as a religious man at first confident of his own correctness, who slowly begins to realize he may have (repeatedly) done the wrong thing for the right reasons. Cushing was often the best performer in his Hammer pictures and he proves his talent again with this well-crafted character. It is in this light that I can say that TOE is a very well written, well-played and quite compelling piece of gothic vampire horror that just happens to have two gorgeous, occasionally nude sisters as its focus. Now, if those two lovely ladies were the film's only positive attribute(s) it might still be worth seeing, but it'd hardly be worth seeing twice. Well — maybe, but... No, the joys in this film are many and varied and start with the fact that, as it's one of the last of Hammer Films' opulent period horror pictures, it is absolutely beautiful to look at. As a horror film nut I've always been drawn to the gothic horrors of the 1960s for their ability to conjure up a mythic time and place that exists completely in its own eerie reality. Often just the sumptuous look of one of these movies is enough to draw my attention for a full 90 minutes, but this film offers much more. Of course, TOE is a great example of fine set design and dressing, amazing costumes, colorful locations and that dignified atmosphere of creepy dread I look for in a Gothic. Most of Hammer's horror output shared that particularly British trait of pushing creepy tales over the 'willing suspension of disbelief' threshold by piling on visual detail and fog.

The film relates the story of recently orphaned twin sisters Maria and Frieda (Mary & Madeline Collinson) as they arrive in the village of Karnstein circa the late 1700s. They have come to live with their pious uncle and aunt after the tragic sudden death of their parents but the relationship with uncle Gustav Weil (Cushing) is rocky from the start when he deems them to have stopped mourning too soon. It's quickly apparent that although the teenaged beauties are identical physically, their attitudes toward life couldn't be more different. Demonstrating a classic good girl/bad girl split, Marria is sweet and obedient while Frieda is a rebellious pleasure seeker who eventually makes contact with the local bad boy: Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) himself. The Count has been at odds for a long time with Gustav and his group of village men for their almost nightly rides around the countryside in search of witches. As their definition of "witch" seems to be 'young, unmarried, good-looking female' they typically find a victim to burn at the stake pretty much any time they go a-hunting. The Count doesn't like having the choicest girls killed off willy-nilly and confronts the Witch Hunters on several occasions, taunting them with their own clearly lustful actions as they go about their 'holy' work. But what Gustav doesn't know is that the decadent Count has moved into a deeper level of evil by being willing to become a vampire! He has resurrected his supernatural ancestor Mircalla (Katya Wyeth) and crossed over into the realm of the undead — mainly out of boredom! Did I mention the implied incest inherent in this activity?

Adding complications to this juicy scenario are the romantic attentions paid to Frieda by the studly and handsome Anton (David Warbeck). A pious and intelligent composer of music, he is drawn to the darker sister just as she becomes fed up with her repressive uncle and seeks out the attentions of the Count. Will hunky Anton and the well-meaning but stern Gustav be able to save either of these beautiful girls from an unholy, bloody fate?

Twins of Evil really is a great Hammer film and is one of the very last of their classic-styled gothic horrors. There would be two or three more period monster movies from the studio after this but the coming of the 1970s signaled that time was running out for this kind of scary movie. No matter how good this film, Captain Kronos, Vampire Circus or Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell might be, times had changed and these quaint, old fashioned fairy tales were just not going to cut it any longer. It's a shame as everyone involved seemed to be working hard to do the best job possible. The performances are mostly excellent with Cushing being joined by a fine cast of actors that are consistently convincing in their roles. The only weak spots are (as you might expect) the titular twins, who were really only models pressed into film work because of their fantastic physical attributes. They still manage to do a solid job but the fact that their voices were dubbed by other actresses to make them more understandable puts a distance between us and them that makes their lack of experience stand out all the more. This isn't always a bad thing, as in several scenes the twin's lack of onscreen confidence causes their performances to have a nice touch of naiveté that plays very well, especially for Maria as the 'good' sister.

No comments: