It’s a common misconception (to my mind at least) that by 1970 Hammer Films had ‘reached their peak and were beginning to decline’, to paraphrase Alan Frank in his book Horror Films. I, for one, would disagree. 1971, apart from being Hammer’s most productive year, also resulted in some of their best films, among them Peter Sasdy’s HANDS OF THE RIPPER, Peter Sykes's DEMONS OF THE MIND (probably the Hammer horror to have dated the least) and TWINS OF EVIL.
While some express a preference for Roy Ward Baker’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Le Fanu’s Carmilla) and there is perhaps the (very) odd and misguided individual who likes LUST FOR A VAMPIRE the most, it’s TWINS OF EVIL that’s my favourite of Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy. It’s a film that manages to be both original and stylish while remaining utterly true to the company’s exploitation roots by having, as its centerpiece attraction, Playboy’s first twin nude centerfolds.
A mixture of sex and the gothic that could have been an embarrassing disaster, it’s to the credit of the specific creative team involved on this one that it turned out so well. That includes director John Hough, screenwriter Tudor Gates, composer Harry Robinson / Robertson, art director Roy Stannard and most of all a terrifying performance by Peter Cushing, ably aided by devilish Damien Thomas as the Count, dashing David Warbeck as Anton, and decidedly drunk and doddery Dennis Price (who was in both KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS and THEATRE OF BLOOD and therefore deserves nothing but our love and respect).
But that’s enough alliteration – what’s it all about? At his lovely crumbling Hammer castle, naughty Count Karnstein (Thomas) is bored with the ‘Satanic’ performance put on for him by Dietrich (Price). He dismisses all the actors except for the pretty one, stabs her, and her blood trickles down into the catacombs to revive Mircalla Karnstein (Katya Wyeth). Thomas gives in to her charms (and who can blame him) and he becomes a vampire himself, setting his sights on the sexy twins (Madeleine & Mary Collinson) who have just arrived in the village, and are already being beaten regularly by Cushing’s puritan Gustav Weil for only wearing funerary black for three months after the deaths of their parents.
Weil and his puritan brotherhood aren’t that kindly disposed to pretty girls in general. In fact, it’s surprising there are any left in the area, since the moment there’s news of one, spotted gaily skipping along one of the roads in Black Park, off they all trot to burn her to death. I could think of much better things to do with Judy Matheson and Luan Peters, but then I suspect the puritans can as well, which is why they burn them.
Only one twin actually ends up evil & it’s up to Anton (Warbeck) to save the other. There’s the usual rather rushed Hammer ending. Closeup on the dusty old corpse of a vampire (despite the fact he was only turned into one a couple of days ago). The End.
The stars of TWINS OF EVIL are Cushing – all cold menace in a remarkable performance influenced by his tragic personal circumstances – and Hough, fresh off THE AVENGERS and keen to make the most of the opportunity Hammer had given him. His enthusiasm shows, and undoubtedly rubbed off on the rest of his team. TWINS OF EVIL remains one of the most sumptuously gothic of the 1970s Hammers, with a richer colour palette, and more expensive feel than VAMPIRE LOVERS. The score is Harry Robinson’s best of the three as well.
Network’s Region B Blu-ray actually looks a bit better than the Region A release from Synapse Films. The extras are different, however. Here we get trailers, a deleted scene featuring a hippy song that it was entirely appropriate to leave out, an image gallery, and a commemorative booklet.
Network are releasing Hammer's TWINS OF EVIL on Region B Blu-ray on 8th September 2014