Friday, July 29, 2016

TWINS OF EVIL 1971

Superb Late Period Hammer Gothic with Twin Vampiresses & Peter Cushing !!


"The Devil Has Sent Me Twins Of Evil !"



    For the last film in their "Karnstein Trilogy" Hammer unleashed not only the best film of the trilogy, but one that stands among the best of their Gothic horrors. Dismissed by some simply because of the publicity fueled inclusion of Playboy's first "twin" Playmates, it features one of Peter Cushing's finest performances and dripping with Gothic atmosphere it's a wonderful example of Hammer doing what it did best. Sadly, though by this time Hammer's patented trappings of heaving bosoms in tight fitting corsets, shadowy candlelit rooms and mist shrouded graveyards were almost coming passé with the release of THE EXORCIST looming a few years down the road.
    Following 1970's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and 1971's problematic LUST FOR VAMPIRE, Hammer proved with TWINS that it could successfully take the expanded use of nudity and blood (TWINS is probably one of Hammer's bloodiest) and integrate them into a compelling story. Filmed partially at Pinewood Studios (on sets VAMPIRE CIRCUS would share the following year), it was directed by Hammer one and done John Hough (and in '74 would direct HELL HOUSE) and although marred by some dodgy day for night sequences it's beautifully shot by Dick Bush (THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and DRACULA A.D. 1972).




    The inclusion of the Malta born twins Mary & Madeline Collinson, was most likely seen as a major marketing plus for Hammer as they had appeared as the first Playmate twins in the October 1970 issue of Playboy. Although one would think that this would lead to bare skin soaked vampire movie, TWINS OF EVIL is quite restrained in its use of the twins in their all their glory and does away with the "wink wink" adolescent wet-dream nude romping of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and the unintentional comedic overtones of LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. Hammer's stills and promo material for TWINS showed quite a bit more of Mary & Madeline then the actual movie does.
     Scripted by Tudor Gates, this like the previous two films in the series was nominally based upon Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and like LOVERS and LUST doesn't follow and thematic chronology in the series (although there are a few hints concerning the timeline that TWINS might be looked upon as a prequel to the previous entries).

  

     Peter Cushing plays the wonderfully named Gustav Weil who holds sway over the small village of Karnstein located in that usual vague Hammer central Europe location populated entirely by Brits. Heading up a religious organization known as "The Brotherhood", Gustav and his brethren run roughshod over the local countryside as they capture women they feel are of low moral order and/or involved with witchcraft and summarily burn them at the stake. However, things go bad for Gustav one night when he runs afoul of the local Count Karnstein (played with gleeful over-the-top evilness by Damien Thomas) who belittles Weil in front of his followers and sends him slinking home.
      Later the Count while attempting some satanic rituals in his castle (along with his lackey played by Jess Franco regular Dennis Price) revives the vampire form of his deceased relative Mircalla (Kara Wyeth - who would show up in a couple of Monty Python sketches) and without much prodding she turns the Count into a vampire. Into this Gothic brew of witch burning and vampirism Weil's two orphan nieces Maria and Frieda (the Collionson twins) arrive to stay with him and his wife played by the great Kathleen Byron (best remembered as the insane nun from Michael Powell's BLACK NARCISSUS - and sadly not given much to do in her only Hammer outing). It's immediately shown that the newly arrived twins have two distinct personalities with Frida being the more rebellious one while Maria is the more wholesome one.




     The twins enroll at the local school and the hunky male teacher Anton (David Warbeck THE BEYOND & THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD) is initially attracted to Maria, however she begins sneaking out at night for evil doings at the Count's castle and is soon immersed in the vampire world. Meanwhile Frieda is left at home to face the wrath of the increasingly violent and seemingly going slightly mad Gustav. The plot neatly uses the old troupe of "which twin is which" for its blood soaked climax.
     The film while presenting the vampires as supernatural forces of evil also shows Cushing and his followers to be almost as big threat to the community as the amount of lives bloodthirstily taken by them rivals that of the vampires. TWINS also downplays somewhat the lesbian vampire angle that permeated the first two films (although there is a breast biting sequence just for the heck of it) and as mentioned above the film while having some nudity doesn't present it as a the peep show that turned up in VAMPIRE LOVERS. The film is one of the more gorier in the Hammer cannon as the climax features beheading, an axe in the head and stakings along with some beautiful set design in the moss covered tombs and graveyards.
     Cushing is really excellent here (this was the first film he did after the death of his wife) and brings a tremendous amount of pathos to a character that while blinded by religious furor and killing people as a result of his own twisted moral outrage is still somebody that we can find sympathy for. Whether shouting down his subordinates or spitting out evil incantations, Thomas gives his vampire's lines the authority of a Shakespearean actor. It's really hard to make any acting judgement about the Collinson twins as they were both dubbed, but they both seem to carry a blank expressionless look most of the time.











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