Like Vampire Circus, Twins of Evil came along at a time when Hammer was on the fast track to ruin. The market was oversaturated thanks to direct competitors, like Amicus and Tigon, among others, and the studio’s strategy of churning out nothing but cheap looking franchise films. In 1970, Hammer decided to change up their approach to vampires with The Vampire Lovers, the first entry in the Karnstein trilogy. The gentleman vampire and his converted minions had been done over and over again, so with Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla serving as an inspiration, the name of the game became sexy lesbian vampires.
Twins of Evil is the farthest removed from the source material out of the three films, and is also great because of that – the other films are fun, but mixing it up was a smart move. While one of its biggest draws is the sexual presence of Mary and Madeleine Collinson, sisters that were the first identical twin Playmates, there are very few references to woman-on-woman action and little nudity, effectively removing the biggest reasons for its predecessors’ cult status. Screenwriter Tudor Gates also takes a page out of the Witchfinder General handbook by having Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) blur the line between good and evil. As leader of Karnstein’s ‘Brotherhood,’ he lives as piously as possible, hunting down suspected witches and burning them at the stake. He looks down at those who enjoy earthly (carnal) pleasures, which is why he is constantly at odds with Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), a man interested in black magic, Satanism, and sleeping with pretty much every strumpet that passes by. This is also why he’s taken aback by his recently orphaned nieces from Venice, who come to live with him and aren’t exactly Puritans.
Twins of Evil has vampires in it, but it’s more of a folk horror film that focuses on the grey area that lies between what is distinctively black and white. The Collinson twins are surprisingly good as the dual natured sisters, establishing what is good and evil in the context of the film early on, but Cushing is who really sells the conflict of cult vs. occult. The question of whether his methods for purifying the earth of evil are morally justified or hypocritical is the cornerstone of the film. Coupled with some fun gore and hilarious innuendo (a candlestick being stroked is worth a few laughs), Twins of Evil is one of Hammer’s best.
God bless Synapse, their 1080p transfer for Twins of Evil is almost Criterion worthy. The colors are preserved wonderfully, particularly the blue hues of the forest at nightfall. Aside from some very minor speckles and scratches, the picture is flawless and vivid with no DNR or banding issues of any kind. With such a balanced transfer and grain that’s still intact, it’s hard to imagine that the film is forty years old. The DTS-HD 2.0 track captures the emptiness of Castle Karnstein and the open air of the woods, but is limited by being 2.0; in other words, it’s good but not great.
The Flesh and The Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil (83:24) – Like the documentary Synapse put on their Vampire Circus release, The Flesh and The Fury is a really good, in-depth documentary on Hammer vampire history. Joe Dante, Kim Newman, and Tim Lucas – among others – chat about the more outwardly erotic direction Hammer went in after the British censors raised the X certificate age to 18. The influence of Le Fanu’s Carmilla – which predates Dracula by a quarter of a century – helped shift their focus from sequelizing their movies from the 50’s to creating the Karnstein trilogy and giving their vampires a new angle. The feature-length documentary, which is only three minutes shy of its subject’s running time, details the development of the film, including its original direction, the discovery of its two leading ladies, and spotlights on the other actors individually.
The Props That Hammer Built: The Kinsey Collection (23:28) – Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey shows off his impressive prop collection and gives some insight into their place in the studio’s history. He has a really impressive assortment of miniatures, concept art, and fake body parts (especially since most of the props were sadly thrown away before Hammer’s relevance was truly established), but the most unique thing he has is a bat puppet, which was created for an alternate ending to The Brides of Dracula.
Deleted Scene (1:09) – A sequence where Anton’s (David Warbeck) class of young girls sing along to his new composition. In the theatrical version, Gustav bursts into the house right as they’re getting started; the scene’s absence suits the flow of the film much better.