BR: Twins of Evil (1971)
Label: Synapse Films / Region: A / Released: July 10, 2012
Genre: Horror / Hammer Horror
Synopsis: The taught sibling relationship between two newly orphaned lusty, busty twins is stressed by an evil vampirical count, and their Puritan uncle.
Special Features: Making-of documentary: “The Flesh and the Fury: X-posing Twins of Evil” (84:00) / Featurette: “The Props That Hammer Built” (23:00) / Motion Still Gallery / Deleted Music Scene (1:00) / Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / TV Spots / Bonus DVD [Region 1]
After rebirthing the classic Universal monster icons of Dracula, The Mummy, and werewolves in blazing Technicolor during the fifties, Hammer Films had to reinvent its franchises beyond mere sequels, and the results during the early seventies were some of the most bawdy, gory, erotic entries in the company’s history.
Even without its flashy new attractions – namely the quadruple threats from busty twin Playboy Centerfolds Madeleine and Mary Collinson, freshly imported from their native Malta – Twins of Evil features one of Peter Cushing’s best performances, plus strong dialogue from Tudor Gates that evokes the roughly 18th century period without being stilted, and overly prosaic.
The core story of Count Karnstein (gleefully arrogant Damien Thomas) wanting an allegiance with Satan (because he’s utterly bored with ersatz Satanic rituals protracted by a minion) is contrasted with the more intriguing thread of local with hunter Gustav Weil (Cushing), a snotty moralist in charge of an all-male mob whose weekend fun consist of singling out suspected witches and burning them at the stake.
Weil is in no way a good man: he’s a delusional moralist who relishes his position of power, much in the way Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) exploited his fearful position in Witchfinder General / The Conqueror Worm (1968), but because of his devotion to scripture, Weil is unable to cross the line into full hypocrisy and indulge in carnal behaviour with his victims before they’re burnt to death.
The way the previously pristine women are shown tattered and bruised after being snatched from pathways and lonely cabins for execution suggests Weil allowed his mob to assault the women (or at least turned a blind eye to the implied violations), perhaps because having chosen sin, the independent minded wenches are simply deserving of mob assault. The only exception within the film is Weil’s niece Maria (Mary Collinson), whose hair and clothes remain ‘pure’ and unruffled, after being arrested and tethered to a cross before the first torch is lit.
Until the emergence of local musician Anton Hoffer (David Warbeck), there isn’t a single nice person in the film; the townsfolk are comprised of opportunists, sadists, and onlookers too afraid to speak up because of Weil’s fierce local power, and Count Karnstein’s protected status courtesy of the king. Even when Weil’s twin nieces arrive as newly minted orphans, they too have been touched by a little sin, having come straight from wild Venice, sporting blazingly vain clothes that immediately offend their piercingly conservative uncle.
Of the two girls, little Maria is the good lass, being too afraid to curtail sister Frieda’s keen interest in carnal Karnstein; the good sister also covers for Frieda when she begins itinerant midnight rendezvous with the Count.
If there’s any major flaw within Gates’ script, it’s that it takes a long while before hero Anton (David Warbeck) is introduced, and the filmmakers seemed to realize the problem too late into production, which may explain the handful of disjointed edits between scenes. The biggest gaping hole lies in an exchange between the two sisters where Maria, while impersonating Frieda one night, was whipped by Weil for being insolent. It’s a scene meant to demonstrate the sisters’ weakening relationship, but was likely dropped from the final edit for reasons of timing.
Synapse’s Blu-ray also includes a bonus scene where Anton has two students participating in a sing-song prior to Weil delivering ‘proof’ of the existence of vampirism. The tune’s melodically pretty, but it’s jarringly contemporary compared to the rest of Harry Robinson’s score (and it also makes an otherwise serious scene very, very silly).
If the film was shot under tight budgetary restrictions, it’s hard to tell because director John Hough manages to keep the film moving through several beautifully photographed scenes, with cinematographer Dick Bush (Phase IV, Tommy, Sorcerer) lighting the detailed sets to create eerie shadows, and occasionally using trick lenses for clever blurred and ghostly images. (Hough, a persistent stylist, is more restrained in Twins, having gone completely bonkers with angles, camera movements and snooty reflections in Eyewitness, a tepid 1970 remake of the 1949 noir classic The Window.)
Robinson, a Hammer veteran (The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, Countess Dracula, Demons of the Mind) composed a potent score based around a very odd main theme that apparently fulfilled his earnest wish to score a western, and while a blatant homage to Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western themes, it nevertheless works well for the film’s numerous sequences of characters moving furtively or manically through the town’s verdant forest on horseback.
That Twins is a strange film is readily acknowledged by the myriad interview subjects in the feature-length documentary that accompanies the BD and DVD. “The Flesh and the Fury” provides an excellent overview of the production while Hammer was trying to remain relevant as mores and censorship rules where shifting, and the British film industry was running out of steam and headed towards collapse a few years later.
Christopher Frayling has already detailed the studio’s history within his moderated commentaries for Anchor Bay’s prior Hammer DVDs, and Synapse’s new doc smartly avoids repeating chunks of that info. What we get is an overview of the studio, as well as the Carmilla saga by author Sheridan Le Fanu from which Hammer and the production team of writer Gates + producers Harry Fine and Michael Style fleshed out into a trilogy that’s (roughly) comprised of The Vampire Livers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971), and Twins.
More attention could’ve been devoted to composer Robinson, but like other members of the film’s creative team, his screen time is dependent on what’s left after a lengthy preamble on Le Fanu’s Carmilla which depending on one’s POV, is either an obvious or discrete lesbian vampire tale. Among the interview subjects is Damien Thomas, another RADA trained thespian who could’ve appeared in further Hammer films but wisely moved on to other roles in TV, and the odd feature film (notably Shogun and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, respectively).
Also on hand is director Hough, whose career weirdly moved from eerie genre classics like The Legend of Hell House (1973) and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) to kid-friendly, Disney shockers like the Escape to Witch Mountain franchise, and generic TV movies.
The bittersweet featurette “The Props That Hammer Built” deals exclusively with surviving Hammer props, models, and costumes in the collection of Wayne Kinsey, and it’s tailored to Hammer fans wanting the most apocryphal details of what survives from the studio’s once-massive archive of props, art, and special effects gear spanning coats, sketches, model work, and fake bats.
Filling out the set are the U.S. theatrical and TV trailers, plus the aforementioned deleted scene for which the BR’s producers offer no info. Based on the details within the documentary, one must presume that unlike the inclusion of a musical number in Lust for a Vampire, the Twins vocal piece – likely designed to sell a single – was wisely axed to avoid unintentional laughter.
The last goodie is a lengthy montage featuring production stills, nude stills of the Collinson twins in non-production poses with their raw assets, and the film’s striking comic book poster campaign.
One little detail not picked up in the doc is a subtle make-up trick that seems to have been used to help the cast & crew keep track of which Collinson twin was which: if you closely at the actresses, genteel Mary (Maria) wears glossy lipstick, whereas sinful Madeleine (Frieda) sports matching matte pink lipstick – something readily apparent in the HD transfer. Once evil Karnstein does his old switcheroo in the denouement, the twins share few scenes, so the use of differing lipstick is completely dropped.
In terms of the film transfer, Twins is a very grainy film that seems tied to the use of a faster film stock for many day-for-night shots (of which a mere handful actually maintain a semblance of continuity), and the HD transfer does bring out all the raw details of the stock, but it gives the film a slight arty, docu-style that’s appropriate. (There’s peculiar compression issues at the beginning of the Rank logo that’s not present on the DVD transfer, but this might be isolated to review screeners.)
Finally, a significant transfer oddity: the film’s ratio is stated to be 1.66:1, but there’s slight pillar-boxing on the left & right sides, which will undoubtedly puzzle fans about the film’s correct ratio. The deleted scene – taken from an unidentified yet lesser quality source – is presented in full 1.85:1. (By comparing the last shot, which was retained in the final film edit, and counting the drawers in the furniture at the frame edges, it’s clear the HD transfer was masked to create the 1.66:1 ratio.)
Actor David Warbeck had a small role in Hough’s directorial debut at Hammer – Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin Hood (1969) before arguably wasting his talent in lesser works, although he’s perhaps best known for starring in a pair of Lucio Fulci shockers – The Black Cat and The Beyond (both 1981).
Tudor Gates’ other Hammer scripts include the aforementioned Carmilla trilogy, as well as Peter Collinson’s Fright (1971). The writer also scripted Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968) and Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968), plus a series of provocative British comedies, including Martin Campbell’s The Sex Thief (1974) and Three For All (1975).
The Collinson twins appeared in just a handful of films, but none were starring roles, except for the nudie short Halfway Inn (1970).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review