New from Synapse Films, in a Blu-Ray+DVD combo pack, comes another entry in its Hammer Horror Collection: Twins of Evil, featuring Playboy Centerfold models, Mary and Madeleine Collinson, in the titular roles. The 1971 Hammer classic is part of the Karnstein Trilogy, along with The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire.
The film begins as beautiful, buxom twin orphans Frieda and Maria are sent to live with their uncle, the humorless puritan leader of a witch-hunting brotherhood, in the village of Karnstein. Hedonistic, Satan-worshipping Count Karnstein finds an admirer in rebellious Frieda, and he turns her into a vampire. Virtuous Maria tries to cover for her sister, but Frieda is caught by her uncle’s brotherhood and thrown in jail until her fate can be decided. Count Karnstein kidnaps Maria and leaves her to be burned at the stake in Frieda’s place. Anton, the local schoolmaster, realizes what the Count has done and rushes to Maria’s aid…but will he be too late?
Hammer favorite Peter Cushing is exceptional as the girls’ puritan uncle, Gustav Weil. Looking older and frailer than he did in earlier Hammer roles, but no less intimidating, Cushing brings commitment and complexity to a role that could have been a one-dimensional lunatic if played by a lesser actor. I was sad but not shocked to learn that Cushing’s wife passed away shortly before filming began, which I’m sure added gravity to his nuanced performance.
Because of Cushing’s unsettling portrayal of a fanatical puritan, I found the first twenty minutes of the film truly disturbing. What seemed like it should be a simple good vs. evil story was colored with several shades of gray. Was Cushing’s Weil the good guy because he was acting in the name of the Lord? Probably not, given the woman he burned at the stake in the film’s opening scene. But Count Karnstein (played not, as I first thought, by Jimmy Fallon, but by the charismatic Damien Thomas), the devil-worshipping pleasure-seeker who practiced human sacrifice, surely couldn’t be the hero of our story? Nope. Not him, either. Where have all the good men gone?
This struck me as a very interesting study of motives and perceptions. But then the vampires showed up. And that’s how it should be in a proper Hammer film, I suppose, but I couldn’t help but feel as though vampires were the easy way out. Everyone knows vampires are evil and must be destroyed. But then it was a vampire movie where good would prevail and the varying degrees of evil in men wouldn’t need to be explored much further.
Twins of Evil has all the Hammer-isms one would expect: luscious colors, elaborate sets, lavish wardrobe and plenty of voluptuous women. The Blu-Ray features a beautiful 1080p high-definition transfer that really complements all those elements that make Hammer great. Because this release is a Blu-ray+DVD combo pack, I was able to compare the two versions. While the picture quality of the DVD is certainly respectable, the Blu-ray is startlingly clear in comparison. The set also has plenty of special features to delight fans. I found it interesting that the narration of the two theatrical trailers included here actually helped me to better understand the plot of the movie, so you may want to watch those first if you haven’t seen the film before. There is a reel of several TV spots as a fun little addition. An isolated effects-and-music audio track made for a very odd watching experience, but the score is really quite enjoyable. (Let me know if, after listening to the main title theme, you also notice a striking similarity to the animated Justice League theme song.) The 23-minute featurette on Hammer’s props is great for posterity but is definitely for the hardcore fan, as I found it a bit tedious after a while. The single deleted scene added very little, and was deleted for good reason.
Alone worth the price of admission, though, is the feature-length documentary The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing the Twins of Evil. Clocking in at 84 minutes, this brand new, beautifully produced piece includes back story on not just Twins of Evil, but much of the Hammer legacy. Interviewed are well-respected film buffs and historians, along with some of the cast and crew to give first-hand insight, such as Damien Thomas’ anecdote of how he was barely tall enough to pass for the role of the Count, or John Hough giving a tour of the outdoor locations. The piece also delves into the source material, Le Fanu’s Carmilla, and even goes so far as to film reenactments of the novella as illustration.
Fans of Twins of Evil or of Hammer films in general will be pleased with the quality of this Blu-Ray and the thought that went into the extra features. Kudos to Synapse for a great release!
Reviewing for Beyond the Marquee, this is Angie Olson!