Synapse // 1971 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 3rd, 2012
Which is the virgin? Which is the vampire?
"The devil has sent me...twins of evil!"
After the deaths of their parents, voluptuous identical twins Maria and Frieda (Mary and Madeleine Collinson, co-Playmates of the Month in Playboy, October 1970) go to live with their uncle and aunt. Uncle Gustav (Peter Cushinmg, Horror Express) is a witch hunter; he and his merry band of black-cloaked puritan co-horts ("The Brotherhood") target (exclusively) beautiful young women, accuse them of witchcraft, and burn them up in makeshift bonfires. Aunt Katy (Kathleen Byron, Black Narcissus), on the other hand, is a simple housewife.
Also in the village is the decadent Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas, Nobel House). Karnstein is a debauched young noble who enjoys the protection of the emperor, otherwise Gustav and company would smite him.
Karnstein isn't just a lusty rake; he's a full-on, blaspheming pervert who enjoys torturing the local lovelies and longs to meet Satan. One night, after casually sacrificing a young village girl, Karnstein almost gets his wish, as his victim's blood reanimates the long-dead-and-abiding-in-hell Countess Mircalla. The Countess gives him a gift: Immortality! In the form of...Vampirism!
And now, the 17th Century Count decides that what he wants is not unlike what a 20th Century "Swinger" might want: those comely twins with the ample bosoms. And, as luck would have it, Frieda, the "naughty one," has exactly the same idea.
Twins of Evil is the third part of a loose trilogy from Hammer Films involving the vampiric Countess Mircalla Karnstein; the first two films were The Vampire Lovers (with Ingrid Pitt as Mircalla) and Lust for a Vampire (with Yutte Stensgaard). The character Mircalla was based on the book Carmilla, a 19th Century story that popularized the connection between female vampires and lesbians.
In Twins of Evil, the lesbian aspect is pretty nonexistent, and the Mircalla/Carmilla character only makes a brief appearance, vampiring her grand-descendent, and then, of course, having sex with him. It's not necessary to have seen the previous films to enjoy this one. Twins of Evil stands on its own as a twisted little sex and gore gothic chiller and a fine example of '70s era Hammer Horror.
The film opens with Gustav and the Brotherhood dragging a woman out of a cottage, accusing her of witchcraft, and burning her alive. The woman screams, her bosoms heave -- evidently, heaving bosoms were a prerequisite for being burned alive, as all the witches have them -- and Gustav prays. He's clearly a pious bastard, but is he a charlatan, another in the long line of witch hunters like the ones we'd seen and hissed in Witchfinder General and Mark of the Devil?
It's on one of these witch-hunt excursions that we meet the Count, who's preparing to commingle with a suspected sorceress when the Brotherhood bursts in. Obviously, he's decadent -- black, poufy hair, penetrating stare, perpetual sneer, and casual sexiness would affirm that -- but he stands up to the Brotherhood and calls them on their hypocrisy. OK, he's our horned-up, aristocratic anti-hero.
But then, he tosses the wench to the Brotherhood, offering them the chance to have at her; he might be a libertine, but he's no gentleman. Later, when we see Karnstein dabbling in the black arts and eagerly joining up with the undead, we realize that Gustav was right all along -- there is evil here, it's not just a product of his fevered-zealot imagination.
So after setting us up to expect another witch-hunt film, director John Hough (The Incubus) and writer Tudor Gates (who scripted the previous Karnstein films, as well as Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik) pull the rug out, and Twins of Evil develops into a lush, sexualized supernatural number, with the willfully malevolent Count vs. the cluelessly malevolent Gustav. The duality of the different natures of evil is a nice fit with the theme of twins -- in fact, while the Twins of Evil of the title obviously refers to Maria and Frieda, it could almost be referencing Gustav and the Count.
There's a healthy dose of cynicism powering the film, along with a healthier dose of sadism. Both Karnstein and Gustav celebrate tormenting women, only Karnstein does it for pleasure, while Gustav does it in the name of all that's holy. Tormented women, of course, were a staple of Hammer horror, and by the time Twins of Evil rolled out, many of those torments came while the women were in the buff; the sexuality in these later entries was much more explicit than in the earlier Dracula films. While there's quite a bit of sex in Twins of Evil, there's surprisingly little nudity, but the lurid, lascivious goings-on unquestionably make this an erotic, adult-oriented thriller.
Cushing is excellent here, offering a nuanced, complex performance of an increasingly conflicted man. Thomas is appropriately skeevy as evil Count. While the Collinson twins weren't particularly good actresses -- they were born in Malta, and their heavy accents resulted in their performances being dubbed -- they look great, and are effective in their respective roles.
Hough deftly navigates Gates' twisty script and creates a strong, if occasionally slow, entry, heavy with atmosphere, and benefiting mightily from the presence of Cushing. The costumes and sets are well done, up to the standards that fans expect from Hammer; they add to the period feel, as well as to the film's edginess. There's also a good amount of grue (a vampire's got to eat, right?) and a better-than-average level of suspense. It's an all-around high-quality effort, and a real treat for Hammer fans.
Synapse offers an outstanding release of Twins of Evil (Blu-ray). The 1.66:1/1080p high-def picture looks great, with solid detail, colors that are vivid and true, and a fine, film-like grain. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is crisp and clear.
The Blu-ray comes fully loaded with supplemental material, with the 85-minute documentary "The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil" the crown jewel of the set. This is a great documentary that offers up some history on Hammer Studios, with the emphasis on the Karnstein films, including background on Carmilla. "The Flesh and the Fury" is an outstanding supplement and makes this disc a must-own; Synapse could have released this documentary as a stand-alone, it's that good.
"The Props that Hammer Built" is an excellent 24-minute piece focusing on Hammer memorabilia collector Wayne Kinsey. Kinsey shows off some of the prizes in his collection, each accompanied by the story of how the prop fit into a particular film, as well as personal observations. It's a winning little mini-doc. Other supplements include an extensive and handsomely produced stills gallery, an isolated track featuring Harry Robertson's score, a deleted scene, and trailers and TV spots. There's also a DVD copy of the film with "The Flesh and the Fury" documentary included.
When the folks at Synapse go all out, they really go all out; this one tops the superlative work they did on last year's Hammer release, Vampire Circus. A great release, a model of how to do a "special edition," and an unqualified recommend.
Twins of Evil is quintessential Hammer, and Twins of Evil (Blu-ray) is an essential disc.
Crosses? Stakes? Axes? Ha!
Still not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scene
* Isolated Score
* Photo Gallery
* DVD Copy
* IMDb: Twins of Evil
* IMDb: The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil