Blu-ray Review: Toothy, Sexy Horror With Hammer's 'Twins of Evil' (1971)

Why can't we have nice things like Twins of Evil any more? I mean an unashamedly sexy, luridly violent, and well-produced horror movie shot with actors who weren't especially embarrassed to be a part of the bloody happenings on screen. This late-era Hammer film, stars Peter Cushing and twins Mary and Madeleine Collinson as the titular sources of evil and recently got a very, very nice release stateside courtesy of Synapse Films in an excellent Blu-ray/DVD combo that wonderfully exploits this piece of 70's sex and horror.

Cushing plays the stern witchfinder (and killer) Gustav Weil, who makes a habit of roaming the countryside with the other menfolk and seeking out would-be witches and burning them at the stake (although usually, they're just single women who live at the edge of town). After their parents' deaths, twins Maria and Frieda arrive in Gustav's sleepy, not entirely witch-infested hamlet from Vienna, where they're forced to live in his strict household.

Oh, and there's the cruel Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) would like nothing more in the entire world than to summon his dark lord Satan. What he gets for his trouble is immortality and a case of vampirism, so it seems to work out for him. Frieda, the wicked twin catches his eye, and it's not long before he shares his dark gift with her and they're both nibbling their way through the local population.

So technically speaking, the title is something of a misnomer since, at most, its like A Twin of Evil, but that's beside the point, really.

Synapse's Blu-ray release includes a feature length documentary (alone worth the price of the disc) about the state of the horror industry and Hammer in particular. By the late 60's and early 70's, the British studio's brand of classy, cobweb-covered horror wasn't in vogue any longer, overtaken by some of their more extreme contemporaries like Roger Corman's American International Pictures, studios that were pushing the boundaries of sex and violence in their films. Plus, you had the Italian film industry responding with stylish works from the likes of Mario Bava, and it was clear that Hammer would need to change or die.

Twins of Evil does ramp up the amount of skin on display in your vampire movie with posh accents, but for all that it never feels or looks cheap (take it from someone who's seen a lot of cheap, exploitative horror movies). Director John Hough, who directed episodes of The Avengers along with Disney's Escape from Witch Mountain and its sequel works with all sorts of stylish touches here, in particular the bonfire opening sequence with a suspected witch writhing on the stake over the credits and the inverted, glowing cross in Karnstein's castle.

Cushing is an old hand at the monster killer role, but he brings particular vigor to the part of the witch hunter who's whipped himself into a religious, burn first, ask questions later frenzy. He's all repressed sexuality and he's especially put out by having two very attractive young ladies lacking an austere Christian upbringing in his home.

Thomas is also great here--one part Count Dracula, one part Marquis de Sade. You get the feeling that he's just all orgied out and wants to call up the devil for kicks--it's just a happy accident that instead of immediate damnation he gets to hang around and get up to some more torture and murder.

The Collinson sisters suffer in comparison to their co-stars, but both beautiful actresses are mostly called on to hang around in their sheer nightgowns and argue in their bedroom before Frieda goes full vampire. Let me redact my previous remark: Madeleine seems to be having the most fun as the wicked twin, who throws herself at the count before attempting to pull a Parent Trap involving her sister (one that would have ended in her sister burning at the stake in her stead).

The politics of the movie are kind of interesting as well, pushing the same kind of paternal rejection of female sexuality, but twisting it so far that it's bent and crazy. Gustav has formed a black-clad "Brotherhood" to murder the evil out of the local ladies, while at the same time, the two characters who own their sexuality are both just as wicked. It's up to milquetoast piano teacher Anton (David Warbeck) and Maria to represent for old-fashioned protestant goodness and chaste decency.

Synapse's disc reproduces the film with a crisp, beautiful picture. Skin tones seem right, while other color levels remain consistent. There appears to be some damage to the source print, which shows up early on the film, but it's not persistent enough to ruin the experience.

Special Features

There's plenty to watch here, including the aforementioned 84-minute doc, The Flesh And the Fury: X-Posing Twins Of Evil. It's essential viewing if you're a fan of classic horror history. The disc also includes an isolated score track from composer Harry Robinson, a short feature on the film's props, stills, a deleted scene, and the original theatrical trailer and TV spots.

Twins of Evil is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Synapse Films.

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