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July 10, 2012

Twins of Evil

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John Hough - 1971
Synapse Films Region 1 DVD

Looking beyond the eye candy, the single most striking key to Twins of Evil is Peter Cushing and the character that he plays. More gaunt than usual, Cushing portrays the leader of a group of men called "The Brotherhood" that seek out and kill women accused of being witches. While not necessarily intended, there are contemporary reverberations here, with a group of men using religious piety as their motivation to put to death women who may be independent and sexually active without marriage. There's an obvious thrill to running around with torches, and burning the women to death, a thrill that's amplified when the men find out that hunting vampires requires sharpened blades and wooden stakes with pointed tips. Cushing's character of Gustav Weil is dressed in black, as are the rest of his group. While not stated as such, it is suggest that the men are self-appointed Puritans who act as moral guardians in the community where the film takes place, the town of Karnstein, named after the family that lives in the big castle that overlooks the town, in a rather hazy, unspecific past.

What makes Weil different from the character Cushing is most associated with, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, is that Hammer now allows ambivalence, so that Weill illustrates the old saying of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. What makes Twins of Evil of interest is not simply that the sex and blood suggested in earlier Hammer films was amplified in keeping with newly liberal production codes in the U.S. and U.K., but that the film reflects a world that is not so evenly split between good and evil.

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Actually one of the twins might be considered evil. The twins are two orphans who come from Venice to live under the guardianship of their aunt and uncle. The uncle is witch hunter Gustav, while the Aunt Katy is the often ignored voice of reason. Maria is the goody goody who plays it safe following the house rules. Frieda isn't so much evil as much as she just wants to be bad, stay up late, go to parties, and let the men take long glances at her generous cleavage. Frieda seeks out the young and wealthy Count Karnstein after hearing rumors of his devil worshipping ways and decadence, representing everything opposite of Uncle Gustav. That it turns out that Karnstein is a vampire is an unexpected bonus.

For those who love classic movies, there's Kathleen Byron, best remembered for her two Powell-Pressburger films, Stairway to Heaven and Black Narcissus, as the wise Aunt Katy. It's almost shocking to know that Dennis Price, another Price-Pressborger veteran, was 56 at the time he made Twins of Evil, extremely overweight and prematurely aged by alcoholism.

As for the Collinson twins, their acting really can't be judged as they were dubbed to cover their Maltese accents. Various characters mention how much they look alike. Maybe it's light and make up, but it seems to me that Mary, who plays Maria, has a slightly wider nose and fuller lips. Madelaine is the twin who shows more skin, especially when trying to seduce Anton, more or less the hero here, played by David Warbeck.

The DVD supplement is especially useful in discussing the history of Hammer films at the time of production and the various elements that lead to the making of Twins of Evil. There's some humor in knowing that the producers were named Fine and Style, neither men known as being particularly fine or stylish. For those who may have seen Twins of Evil in its theatrical run, one gets to see what shots in the film were edited out either for the British or U.S. release versions. One of the deleted shots was of a close up of a woman's hand stroking a long, lit candle. The scene in question takes place when Count Karstein is turned into a vampire by a newly revived member of the undead, a beautiful blonde. Which is all well and good except that this gorgeous vampire is Count Karstein's great grandmother, or some kind of relative, so it's probably just as well that we never see what the two are actually doing together. Talking about making the film are director John Hough and Damien Thomas, the film's Count Karstein. Among the film scholars adding their thoughts are Joe Dante, Tim Lucas, Kim Newman and Christopher Frayling. Those with Blu-ray players can enjoy some extra bonuses.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 10, 2012 08:13 AM