Jun 152011
 

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Written by: ,
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HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still can not forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore….our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.  Here Dr Lenera brings you his thoughts on the third and final instalment in Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy.

 

HCF REWIND NO.12:TWINS OF EVIL [1971]

AVAILABLE ON DVD:Now

DIRECTED BY:John Hough

WRITTEN BY:Tudor Gates

STARRING:Peter Cushing, Damien Thomas, Madelaine Collinson, Mary Collinson

RUNNING TIME:83 mins

REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic


Karnstein village and the surrounding area are being terrorised by a group of witch hunters called the Brotherhood, whose zealous, puritanical leader Gustav Weil seems to need little reason to burn women at the stake.   After they have harassed the rakish Count Karnstein, who is protected by the Emperor, the Count swears revenge.  During a black magic ceremony, the evil Carmilla’s ghost is accidently summoned and turns Karnstein into a vampire.  Meanwhile Gustav’s recently orphaned nieces, identical twins Frieda and Maria Gellborn, arrive in Karnstein.  Maria is a prim virtuous girl, but Frieda is wild and cruel and sneaks off one night to Karnstein castle………..

 

Twins Of Evil, the last film in the Hammer Karnstein trilogy, is, despite only having Carmilla [the main villain in The Vampire Lovers and Lust For A Vampire] in one scene, the best of the three movies.  It’s a tightly plotted tragedy with very strong characters that would have actually worked just as well without the vampire part of the plot, and it’s intelligent script certainly doesn’t seem like the work of the same guy who wrote Lust For A Vampire!  It was originally intended to be called The Vampire Virgins and was to star Peter Cushing, in his comeback role for Hammer after spending two months grieving over the death of his wife, as the vengeful Count Karnstein spreading terror through the village.  Of course it was also to feature the return of Carmilla.  This script was rejected, possibly due to the commercial failure of Lust For A Vampire, so Tudor Gates reworked it, all but removed Carmilla from the story and added a character who was perhaps even more of a villain than Karnstein, that of cruel witchfinder Gustav Weil.  Supported by Rank, Hammer decided to use John Hough, a relative newcomer, to direct.  He filled the cast list with alumni from his TV movie Wolfshead:The Legend Of Robin Hood, though of course most of the publicity concerned the twin ladies who were starring!  Released in the UK on a double bill above Hands Of The Ripper, the film did fair business but didn’t really halt Hammer’s declining fortunes.  The film suffered only a couple of fleeting trims in the UK, but in the US, the film was cut by almost three minutes, removing most of the gore and sex, though considering there wasn’t actually much sex anyway in this one, the MPAA must have just been in a fussy mood.

Twins Of Evil begins with the Brotherhood burning a woman as a witch, and it’s a nicely different opening, though automatically one thinks of Witchfinder General!  Soon we have the revival of Carmilla, and, out of all the effective, creepy shots of the shrouded, hooded vampire shuffling about you get in these films, this one has the best, as she almost glides around the main hall of the castle.  Unfortunately, she’s not in the film after this, and I really think it was pointless putting her in-yes I know it was to connect more with the previous two movies, but they still could have done without her.  I assumed from the other films that Count Karnstein was a vampire anyway, you’re certainly led to believe that, so they could have totally done away with the Carmilla scene.   Twins Of Evil moves at a slightly faster lick than it’s predeccessors and has considerably more going on in it’s plot, though it’s fair to say that the aspect of the story concerning Weil and the Brotherhood is actually more interesting than the vampire stuff.  Most of the violence, even the vampire biting, occurs mostly off screen until the last twenty minutes, where for once we are given an exciting final reel with lots of rushing about and tons of brutality with a machete in the face, a torch in the eyes, an axe in the back and even a reasonably convincing decapitation!  Because the film has made some attempt to build up its’ characters and their relationships, there is actually a genuine sense of tragedy towards the end, though the staging is a little rushed and clumsy.  Still, there’s more action in this final section than in probably the first two films put together.

The script for this one really is good, it takes the idea of repression versus libertarianism, a common Hammer subject, and runs with it.  It also refuses to take sides- yes, Karnstein might be a degenerate who murders and practices black magic, but at least he tries to enjoy himself, unlike the Puritanical Brotherhood.  Weil is a really interesting character-he’s single minded and misguided but at least he practises what he preaches and really believes he is doing the right thing.  “I’ve always tried….to be a good man” he says wearily to his wife during one effective little moment.  All the characters in the film are painted in shades of grey, as opposed to white, even the nominal young ‘hero, with one exception-Maria [a common name for Hammer heroines].  She’s extremely ‘good’, and honest and virtuous, but you want to slap her when she takes beatings intended for her sister and generally let’s herself be controlled by her.  Now I’ve praised this effort quite a bit so far, but, as with all the later Hammer entries, there are things which let it down.  Once again the ‘rules’ of vampirism are changed- for example, one can now be bitten by a vampire once, and become a vampire straight away.  The sets [which were reused for Vampire Circus] look especially cardboard this time, with little attempt to disguise this, while little effort seems to been made to create the atmosphere which played such a big part in shaping the Hammer classics of the 50s and 60s.  Of course the favourite wood location of Black Park makes an appearance, but it wouldn’t matter so much if Hammer didn’t keep shooting in the exact same areas each film!

Cushing is simply superb in this movie, it’s his coldest, harchest characterisation yet for Hammer, but one always senses that Wiel believes entirely in the correctness of his actions, and that he once had humanity but it’s almost all been stripped away by his obsessive desire to supposedly purge the world of witches.  As I’ve mentioned before this was his first role after the death of his wife, and this traumatic event appeared to change his appearance, giving him a very gaunt, pained look.  Compare to how looks here to how he is in The Vampire Lovers just a year before, and the difference is striking, not to mention extremely sad.  He threw himself into his work for the rest of the decade, averaging five or six films a year.  With Cushing at his very best none of the rest of the cast have a chance, but Damien Thomas is by far the best of the three incarnations of Count Karnstein, at times giving off a cruel charisma that might go some to way to explaining why women fall at his feet, and David Warbeck, in the first of several memorable cult movie roles, is a very likeable romantic interest for the twins.  They are played reasonably well by Madeleine and Mary Collinson.  The score this time is by Harry Williamson, another occasional composer for Hammer, and it’s a rather more conventional Hammer ‘blood and thunder’ score.  Though good in places, the music sounds very tinny and Williamson certainly didn’t have the knack that James Bernard  [the main composer for the studio] had, of being able to make a small orchestra sound like a big one!   If Twins Of Evil had been made, say, ten years before, by the original Hammer team in their original shooting place Bray Studios, with for example Terence Fisher directing, Christopher Lee as Karnstein, Jack Asher photographing, James Bernard doing the music, etc, I have little doubt that it would be a true Hammer masterpiece to go alongside films like Dracula and The Devil Rides Out. The trouble is, it wasn’t, and that’s a shame, because the ingredients are there, and it remains a highlight of the studio’s later years.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

[pt-filmtitle]Twins of Evil[/pt-filmtitle]

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