Friday, 25 January 2013

Twins of Evil (1971)

Twins of Evil1Twins of Evil was the third film in Hammer’s notorious Karnstein trilogy. The series had got off to a great start with the superb The Vampire Lovers and had then gone badly off the rails with the ill-fated Lust for a Vampire. Twins of Evil was a definite improvement over that film but it still fell a long way short of The Vampire Lovers.

Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) is a decadent aristocrat who lives for pleasure, but he is bored. Ordinary pleasures don’t interest him at all these days. He wants something stronger, more shocking. His secretary Dietrich (Dennis Price) provides black magic spectacles to titillate him but the Count knows they’re faked. He wants real magic, real blood. He desperately wants to be evil. When he unwittingly calls up the spirit of Mircalla Karnstein he gets his wish. She transforms him into one of the undead.

While all this is happening at Castle Karnstein two orphan teenagers arrive at the home of Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing). Frieda and Maria Gelhorn (Madeleine and Mary Collinson) are from Vienna and they’re used to the easy-going pleasure-seeking ways of that city. But Gustav Weil is a humourless puritan obsessed with evil. He leads the Brotherhood, who fill in their leisure hours burning witches. He immediately disapproves of the two girls. 

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Maria is basically a good girl but Frieda is a wild child. She is a bit like Count Karnstein - she’d love to play at being evil. She will get her chance. Gustav Weil will find that his next witch hunt will lead him to his own door.

The setting of this movie is rather puzzling. Mostly it looks like typical Hammer 19th century middle Europe but Weil’s puritan dress and the witch-hunting theme strongly suggest the 17th century.

There’s one major problem with any vampire movie. Vampires have a lot of weaknesses. They’re either helpless in daylight or they burn up, if you can find their coffin filled with the earth of their homeland they’re doomed, they’re powerless against anyone holding a cross and they can be destroyed in various ways. And their enemies always know these weaknesses.

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To make a vampire a convincingly menacing monster something has to be done to shift the odds in their favour. There are three main ways this can be done. Firstly, by giving the vampires the power to transform themselves into other creatures. Secondly and more effectively, the vampires can be given formidable hypnotic powers. And thirdly, you can simply cast an actor who can convey the necessary menace. That’s what made Christopher Lee so effective as Dracula - he had the presence to make us believe he was truly dangerous.

And that’s where Twins of Evil falls down badly. Apart from one brief scene the vampire’s hypnotics powers are ignored, he has no compensating special powers and Damien Thomas conveys no sense of being a threat to anyone but himself. His Count Karnstein is a vampire wannabe, a bored and spoilt aristocrat playing at being evil. The result is a very unscary vampire and a very unscary movie. It’s not that he’s a bad actor - he just isn’t the slightest but threatening.

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The movie’s second big problem is that the Collinson twins don’t have the acting chops top carry off their roles. Hammer’s strategy of casting Playboy centrefolds in their gothic horror movies often worked better than you might expect. Susan Denberg is extremely good in Frankenstein Created Woman. But in Twins of Evil the results are disappointing, and coupled with such an innocuous master vampire as Count Karnstein it’s almost enough to doom this movie.

Fortunately Peter Cushing is on hand, delivering one of his most thoroughly evil and frightening performances as the disturbingly obsessed Gustav Weil. Of all Hammer’s vampire movies this is the one that most strongly suggests that vampire-hunters can do more evil than vampires. In fact it’s as much a witch-hunting movie as a vampire movie and was clearly influenced by other non-Hammer horror movies like Witchfinder-General and Blood on Satan's Claw. Peter Cushing is much more frightening than Damien Thomas as Count Karnstein. Cushing’s performance can be favourably compared to Vincent Price’s turn as Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder-General although Gustav Weil differs from Matthew Hopkins in being truly sincere even if he is tragically wrong.

The rest of the supporting players are adequate enough.

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There’s nothing particularly wrong with Tudor Gates’ screenplay or John Hough’s directing and the scene featuring Mircalla includes one of the best special effects shots you’ll see in any Hammer movie.

The Synapse combo pack includes the movie on both DVD and Blu-Ray. There is virtually zero difference between the two, with the DVD being perhaps marginally superior. If you already own this movie uncut on DVD there is no reason whatsoever to upgrade to this Blu-Ray edition. If you don’t own the movie already then it’s worth buying for the extras, among which are an excellent 90-minute documentary on the movie featuring people like Kim Newman and Tim Lucas and including interviews with star Damien Thomas and director John Hough.

Twins of Evil is very much a lesser Hammer offering but it’s still great fun. Recommended.

4 comments:

Kho said...

I think I may have enjoyed the film a little more than you. I thought Thomas, while not as dangerous as Lee or even Lugosi, did an adequate job conveying menace. Yeah, the Collinson twins did not display much if any acting acting chops though the bad sister seemed to convey the needed wickedness the character called for. Her sister however was a nonentity save for the cleavage. Cushing's character managed to get some sympathy from me. He was not out and out evil but was seriously misguided to the point that yes, the evil that resulted was far worse than what the vampire was doing.

dfordoom said...

Kho, I agree about Peter Cushing. He was very good at playing characters who start out with noble intentions but end up doing great evil. I did enjoy the movie.

dfordoom said...
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Rose Kiraly said...

I actually really enjoyed Karnstein trilogy - yes, even silly, overtly melodramatic Lust for the vampire.
Twins has superb Gothic atmosphere of set design and rich lighting, which modern films, sad to say, just do not grasp with their desaturated colors and CGI overdose. It is extremely frustrating, really. Karnstein was pretty Mu-ha-ha-villain, but I found him enjoyable and pretty young Frieda rather despicable little bully. Cushing´s stereotypically "evil member of older generation terrorizing young" had touch of tragedy; it´s probably more Cushing than character but when he says sadly that he has always tried to be a good man, I sympathize with him.