I’ve been a fan and an obsessive collector of horror movies for 25 years now, and I can pinpoint the start of that obsession to one particular night in 1979.That was the night my grandmother went to bed early, but allowed me to stay up and watch the horror double bill on BBC2.Im fairly certain that the first film was the hokey but fun "The Beast with Five Fingers", but I know for a fact that the second film was John Houghs "Twins of Evil" from Hammer studios.
Twins of Evil was released in 1971,when Hammer were at something of a crossroad due to the increasing amounts of screen violence coming out of the American studios with films such as The Wild Bunch, and UK based films such as Straw Dogs. People were beginning to see Hammer’s output as dated and quaint, so Hammer’s response was to dramatically increase both the nudity and violence on display in their films. This tactic didn’t always pay dividends (see Lust for a Vampire), but Twins of Evil was a very different story, and remains to this day both my favourite Hammer film and an all time classic to boot.
The film begins with a group of men dressed in black chasing a beautiful young girl through a forest. The girl is caught and tied to a stake, and the men proceed to burn her alive, her agonizing screams playing over the opening credits.
Two young girls, Frieda and Maria (played by real life twins Madeline and Mary Collinson), arrive at their uncles house. The girls have recently been bereaved, yet despite losing their parents more than six months ago their uncle Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) berates them for not dressing in black, telling them they look like "birds of plumage".
It soon becomes apparent that the twins, whilst identical, have very different personalities. Maria is a nice wholesome girl, while Frieda, to use a particularly English phrase is definitely "up for the cup"! She soon discovers that the castle on the hill is owned by Count Karnstein, and she is immediately attracted to him due to his dark nature.
The count is a bit of a hedonist, and spends his spare time stabbing young girls to death on his sacrificial altar. When some of the blood from his latest victim enters the tomb of his relative "Mircalla", he is astounded when she rises from the dead, beautiful and naked. After a quick snog (hang on a minute, isn’t she his granny?), she bites him on the neck and he becomes a vampire.
The village is then subjected to a series of vampiric attacks, but this goes unnoticed by Gustav and his black clad cronies (now named "The Brotherhood"), because they are too busy riding round the woods burning "witches". Meanwhile Maria falls for the town doctor Anton (the late great David Warbeck), while her sister gets caught up in Count Karnstein’s antics.
Gustav gets wind of the counts vampiric shenanigans and also captures Frieda, sentencing her to death. The count is having none of it, however, and swaps Maria for Frieda in her prison cell. The Brotherhood then decide to storm Castle Karnstein, where they meet unexpected resistance from Joachim, the counts mute servant.
Several scenes of abject mayhem follow, including decapitations, axe attacks, spikings etc which go far beyond the levels of violence seen in previous Hammer films.
Twins of Evil has always been my favourite Hammer film, partly because of the debt I owe it for kick starting a lifelong love of horror films, but also because it was a genuine attempt by Hammer to change with the times. Peter Cushing gives one of his finest performances – this was one of the first films he made after the death of his wife and he gives a steely eyed, gaunt performance that is perfectly in keeping with the nature of his character. It is interesting to note that his character, while ostensibly a puritan and on the side of "good", is responsible for as many deaths of innocent young girls as the evil Count Karnstein is.
The Collinson twins are no actors, but they are both beautiful and are quite prepared to drop their clothes at the drop of a hat. I remember my delight at tracking down their nude set in an "adult" magazine many moons ago. Incidentally, the film’s title itself is pretty misleading - only one of the girls is evil, but I suppose Twin of Evil doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!
The British DVD looks great. It’s bare bones, but is both widescreen and anamorphic and is fully uncut. It’s available in a box set with Countess Dracula and the superb Vampire Circus, and is available at a bargain price. It goes without saying that this is an essential purchase for all Hammer fans.