|'); document.write(''); //-->|
Probably the best Hammer horror to emerge from the downgrade years 1970-75, Twins of Evil is the third entry in their "Carmilla Karnstein Trilogy", a series rather sketchily written by Tudor Gates to favor plenty of undraped female flesh. The Vampire Lovers and especially Lust for a Vampire were erratic at best, sacrificing story coherence to the need for a clockwork quota of large, firm Hammerbreasts™, the pinker and bouncier the better. Twins of Evil has a refreshingly clear storyline that doesn't constantly pander to what was once known as the raincoat-in-the-lap ticket buyer. Previous Eurohorror star Barbara Steele cast a shadow of darkness and morbidity around her tight cheekbones and hollow stare, the women of Hammer's trilogy. The Trilogy films suffer from the apparent contradiction between incredibly healthy-looking actresses like Ingrid Pitt, and the vampire ghoul she is supposed to be. Wide-eyed boys entranced by Vampire Lovers probably got the notion that all European women are statuesque, gorgeous, and sex obsessed. As the twin female stars of Twins of Evil (heavily promoted as two-for-one Playboy foldouts) are supposed to be mortal (at least most of the time) this third installment doesn't have that problem.
Twins of Evil lays out a rigid scheme of female victimization. In a European backwater, puritan zealots calling themselves "The Brotherhood" make it their business to burn agents of the Devil, all of whom seem to be beautiful, attractive women. Leading the Brotherhood is Gustav Weil, a fanatic fixated on his mission to punish female sexuality. As with any conservative witch hunter, Gustav considers anyone that questions him to be likewise inspired by Satan. When his wife Katy (Kathleen Byron of Black Narcissus) welcomes two orphaned nieces, Frieda and Maria Gellhorn (Madeleine Collinson & Mary Collinson); Gustav greets them with dire warnings and stern disapproval, simply because they've come from Venice, on the 'outside'.
The Brotherhood plucks "suspicious" local girls off the roads for their sadistic bonfires of purification. Music teacher Anton Hoffer (David Warbeck of Duck You Sucker) knows that the terror must stop, but doesn't want to risk his life, or that of his sister Ingrid (Isobel Black) by opposing Gustav. What neither of them know is that the local aristocrat Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), a satanic debaucher and despoiler/murderer of women, has inadvertently summoned the wraith Mircalla (Katya Wyeth). Mircalla grants Karnstein's wish to truly serve the Devil by vampirizing him. The Count almost immediately turns his attention to seducing the succulent Frieda. Excited by the notorious Count's transgressions, this 'bad' twin comes to him and becomes his vampire bride. Meanwhile, Anton has fallen in love with the 'virtuous' twin, Maria. He connects with Gustav by convincing him that the undead vampires are untouched by fire, and can only be dispatched by decapitation and staking. Caught in the act of vampiric murder, Frieda is condemned by the Brotherhood, but Count Karnstein pulls a fast one by switching the twins. Will the monomaniacal Gustav realize his mistake before he executes the wrong sister?
With their left-hand detour into sexy horror territory, Hammer brought in outside producing talent experienced in keeping pace with the newer allowances for adult material. The problem is that the Hammer name lost its brand identity when its films exploitative blood-soaked girly shows. Just the same Twins of Evil fares reasonably well thanks to a solid technical contribution, especially from cameraman Dick Bush. The cinematography of the comely Collinson twins has the richness of Playboy pictorials that excel in making bare flesh look warm and attractive. Although lonely guys and daydreaming male teens in the audience surely weren't offended, the production's most concerted effort goes into displaying those impressive Hammerbreasts™. Young girls in this Bavarian backwater invariably wear blouses and dresses cut lower than what passed for saucy at the French court. The secondary actress-victims are like bimbos in a burlesque act, with little function but to display cleavage, be manhandled by Count Karnstein and roasted by Gustav Weir.
Although Mary Collinson's Maria is supposed to be demure, the wardrobes of both carry only dresses that expose practically everything they've got. The choice of angles becomes silly when Frieda, while conversing on the street with Karnstein, bends in his direction 90 degrees over a railing. These girls certainly found a great source of foundation garments in Venice -- or in their catalog from Fredericks of Transylvania. 1
Events soon reach a fairly absurd level. With every girl in the vicinity likely to be sacrificed by Karnstein or 'purified' by Gustav, one would think that the Brotherhood would come across at least one irate father, but none of the women appear to have relatives. Gustav's wife Katy is clearly upset by her husband's activities, yet remains largely unconcerned. The story doesn't examine the oppressive, wider church society that might condone this... it's just those enthusiastic
Pro's pro Peter Cushing holds up his end well, letting a smidgen of regret and doubt show in a performance that requires uninterrupted intolerant brutality. Director John Hough improves on Roy Ward Baker for a Cushing-delivered decapitation by sword -- the cutting is quite good and fairly shocking. Madeleine and Mary C. look like twin High School prom queens, the kind that deliver every word of dialogue in breathy anticipation. We're told that they're both dubbed, and quite well. Kathleen Byron must have dropped by for the paycheck, and Dennis Price makes a two-scene appearance as a procurer for Karnstein, staying around just long enough to run afoul of a pair of vampire fangs. Damien Thomas as Karnstein makes the right faces for a generic Hammer Dracula substitute. "The aristocracy around here is very decadent", says Gustav with a complete lack of irony, and this Karnstein is at least consistent in his commitment to evil. Katya Wyeth's gorgeous Mircalla shows up, explains to Karnstein that he can no longer be seen in a mirror, and departs the movie never to be seen again. Loose ends of that kind turned the continuity of Hammer's Vampire Circus into a joke, but Twins of Evil builds to a reasonably sharp and eventful (and violent!) finish.
Synapse hits the wooden stake fair and square with their Blu-ray + DVD presentation of Twins of Evil. The transfer is nigh-flawless, with super-saturated colors and luscious detail. The picture pops so beautifully that it temporarily overruled my bias against Hammer from this period. Certain other new Hammer BDs have had a greenish skew to their colors but the hues on view here couldn't be bettered.
The extras are dominated by two long-form featurettes by Daniel Griffith's Ballyhoo, an economical outfit that turns out impressive graphic work. The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil is just a couple of minutes shorter than the feature itself. Director John Hough and actor Damien Thomas are interviewed while wider Hammer issues are covered with the aid of authoritative secondary source critics -- Kim Newman, Ted Newsom, Tim Lucas, Wayne Kinsey. The docu makes extensive use of reams of BTS stills. Producers Fine and Style invested heavily in special glamour photography of all the female talent. I'm half-awaiting a thesis paper comparing & contrasting Hammer Films to Minsky Burlesque. All kidding aside, combining the appeal of Playboy pictorials with the gothic trappings of the Hammer cosmos is just the ticket for a lot of Horror fans. Although my personal coming-of-age jollies reference less graphic thrills in horror pix of earlier decades, I'm not knocking the fans that 'warmed up' to Mircalla, Carmilla & Co.
Author Wayne Kinsey returns for a second piece on Hammer props and artifacts. The interesting items include an entire model castle, but considerable time is spent lamenting props that were summarily destroyed or discarded after production. Both Ballyhoo pieces look great but could some discretion in the graphics department -- as with their earlier work, animated chapter breaks and other interruptions are too frequent and too lengthy. Even if they're produced on a shoestring, it's nice seeing real extras produced for genre films again.
The second DVD disc of the show duplicates most of the Blu-ray's extras. Also present is a deleted scene (a wildly anachronistic song), a fancy depth-animated still montage, an isolated M&E track featuring Harry Robertson's music score, Trailer and TV spots. Twins of Evil is yet another stunning horror Blu-ray from Synapse, that joins the equally good product flowing this year from distributor Kino Lorber. And Synapse includes English subtitles, for hearing-impaired fans of Hammerbr... you know what I mean.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Twins of Evil Blu-ray rates:
1. I know this is an unpleasant subject, but it's Savant's mission to explain exactly how great cinema works. In fact, I think I'll need to re-run Twins of Evil at least once more -- you know, to make sure I'm being expressive enough.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.
Also, don't forget the 2011 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.