Sexual repression, misogyny, and "religious" zealotry: A dire formula.
TWINS OF EVIL, the last of Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy and a film I'd heard was not all that, despite it starring a pair of very, very cute twin sisters who were not afraid to get nekkid, was a movie I almost ignored. Well, I'm glad that I put forth the effort because TWINS OF EVIL came from out of nowhere to become my favorite Hammer vampire flick. No disrespect to Christopher Lee's work as Dracula, but this film works solidly for me from start to finish, something I can't say about most of Lee's films.
Taking place in that signature Hammer world that's like some particularly grim fairytale (pun totally intended), TWINS OF EVIL opens on an ominous note as we see a group of witchfinders dragging an innocent woman from her hovel and burning her at the stake. They are the Brotherhood, led by the fanatical Gustav Weil, played by Hammer mainstay Peter Cushing in what may be his most intense performance.
Basically a pack of sexually frustrated religious fanatics and misogynists who can't deal with the existence of sexy women, The Brotherhood is feared throughout the land for their sadistic activities, but the public can do nothing by way of protest because The Brotherhood has the support of the government. Into this not exactly female-friendly environment come the lovely Gellhorn sisters, Maria and Frieda (played by Mary and Madeleine Collinson, respectively), just in from Venice in the wake of their parents' deaths and now they are entrusted to the care of their uncle, who, unfortunately for them, is Brother Weil.
Upon seeing their "disrespectful" attire, Gustav's dislike of the girls is instantaneous and he relegates them to their room, where they spend a lot of time hanging out (quite literally, if you get my drift) in their diaphanous nighties. It is there that we get to know the girls' unguarded personalities and they are quite easy to tell apart, thanks to the lusty-eyed Frieda being something of an enthusiastic "bad" girl with an interest in boozing and men, while Maria is sweet, innocent and decidedly virginal, as well as being the never-heeded voice of reason in their sibling dynamic.
Upon their arrival in town, the tasty twins catch the eye of every creature with a Y chromosome and in short order they are informed of the castle across the way from their uncle's house, a textbook example of the kind of place in horror movies where you just know great evil resides. It's the home of the sybaritic Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), a sleazy and totally evil aristocrat who would be Number One on Brother Weil's hit list if not for his connection to the government, and he's introduced when The Brotherhood goes to burn another innocent woman and finds her about to get her hump on with the Count.
In the exchange between Brother Weil and the Count during that sequence, we witness the interesting contrast/comparison between the two characters, one being balls-out and unashamedly evil, and the other committing heinous atrocities but deluding himself into believing he's doing God's work, and it sets the two on paths of character development that bears satisfying fruit as the film progresses. Anyway, upon hearing about the forbidden pleasures to be had up at Castle Karnstein, Frieda practically drips like a broken fridge at the prospect of spending some quality time there, while her sister implores her not to consider such pursuits.
Meanwhile, the Count earnestly seeks to be even more evil than he already is, openly proclaiming his desire to become an active agent of Satan and going so far as to conduct a black mass in his dining hall, complete with a naked local peasant girl — who is equipped with an impressive briefly-glimpsed '70's bush — as a sacrifice. Dissatisfied with the performance of the so-called professional Satanists brought in by his chief servant (where one found those back in the days before Craig's List is anyone's guess), the Count dismisses them and himself prays to the Devil in what amounts to a job application, and in no time the spirit of his infamous vampiric lesbian ancestor, Countess Mircalla Karnstein (Katya Wyeth), manifests, fucks him senseless and puts the bite on him before returning to her infernal rest, thus transforming him into an undead suckface and he could not be happier.
Once happily vampirized, the Count embarks on a wanton and unholy killing spree, setting his sights on the clearly interested Frieda as a very personal "fuck you" to her uncle.
Quicker than you can say "girls gone wild," Frieda sneaks out of her uncle's house and hightails it to Castle Karnstein, where the Count turns her into a vampire and offers her his understandably horrified girlfriend as her first kill.
From that point on, Frieda becomes a full-blown force in direct opposition to common decency and starts feasting her way through the immediate populace, all while innocent Maria realizes something is quite wrong and the hunky boar-hunting choirmaster at the girls' needlepoint school (who coincidentally happens to be an expert on the occult in general and vampires in particular) begins fancying Maria, a sentiment that is definitely mutual. Needless to say, these plotlines eventually collide with apocalyptic results, and no one comes out of it unscathed.
Following THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971) as the final installment of the trilogy, TWINS OF EVIL kicks the shamelessly exploitative lesbian angle to the curb, presumably in favor of the titillating twin thing, but the two do not spend even one second face-deep in each others' humid and furry recesses, which is surprising since the Collinsons reportedly did exactly that three years earlier in SOME LIKE IT SEXY, one of the innumerable European softcore flicks, a film shot when they were seventeen (!!!). Hailing from Malta, the mirror-image beauties came to the attention of the American public when they became PLAYBOY's first twin centerfold models in the landmark skin-mag's October 1970 issue.
Mary and Madeleine Collinson, PLAYBOY's first twin centerfold models. Jumpin' Jesus in a basket of honey-glazed chicken...
Sadly, TWINS OF EVIL proved to be the last acting work of the Collinsons but their legacy lives on in the hearts of vampire fans and Hammer devotees. What I would not give for their autographs on this behind-the-scenes shot...
This is only a third of the shot in question; the rest can be seen in author and Hammer expert Wayne Kinsey's excellent book HAMMER FILMS: A LIFE IN PICTURES (2008).
Along with the indelible presence of the Collinson sisters, TWINS OF EVIL offers a plot that's sure to keep vampire fans glued to their seats and is a firm reminder of the time before Anne Rice ruined vampires by making them into unscary fops, a cultural blight that opened the door for the even more odious pussification found in the TWILIGHT series (aka "Transylvania 90210"). Hammer's trademark Gothic sensibility is in full effect here, aided and abetted by Peter Cushing's fantastic performance as Brother Weil, and the expected amount of gore and boobs that put the company on the map. Though quite tame by today's standards, the "adult" content found here was the good stuff back in the days and it still serves its purpose, yet its excesses are nothing that I would not allow my nieces and nephews to see.
Madeleine Collinson's "rightie": not a threat to western civilization. Quite the opposite, actually.
The sexy bits are handled with considerable good taste and would mostly go right over the heads of the under-tens — a naked boob here and there notwithstanding — and the gore, while shocking, is of the bogus but fun red paint variety familiar to anyone who's seen even one post-1966 Hammer flick. For example:
The film also contains what may be the best Hammer beheading on record, but I'll let you see that one for yourself when you check out the movie.
TWINS OF EVIL definitely doesn't deserve its rep as a feeble late entry in Hammer's vampire cycle, and I'm guessing it wears that ignominious mantle due to audiences who'd enjoyed the Sapphic elements in the two previous Karnstein movies being irked at the loss of the girl-on-girl action. Whatever the reason for that assessment, it is an unfair cross that the movie bears, but now the film can be re-evaluated on DVD by those who did not get to see it thanks to it being infrequently run on TV or any of the numerous cable movie channels (although I hear it has run fairly recently in uncut form on Turner Classic Movies). If submitted as is to the MPAA nowadays for a rating, TWINS OF EVIL would most likely garner an R for the very brief nudity, but it's really a hard PG-13 if you ask me, so TRUST YER BUNCHE and add it to your Netflix queue.
Poster from the original theatrical release.