Thursday, December 25, 2008
Twins of Evil (1971) review
TWINS OF EVIL 1971
Peter Cushing (Gustav Weil), Damien Thomas (Count Karnstein), Madeleine Collinson (Frieda Gelhorn), Mary Collinson (Maria Gelhorn), David Warbeck (Anton), Dennis Price (Dietrich), Roy Stewart (Joachim)
Directed by John Hough
Gustav Weil, the puritanical leader of The Brotherhood, travels the forests at night in search of alleged vampires and servants of the devil to burn at the stake. Count Karnstein, a disciple of Satan, is untouchable by Gustav and his band of witch hunters. Protected by the Emperor, The Brotherhood risks hanging should any action be brought against him. Weil has two pretty nieces from Italy that come to live in his home. Karnstein eventually sets his sights on one of them. Transforming her into one of the undead, Frieda Gelhorn and Karnstein go about terrorizing the countryside till the village schoolmaster, Anton, manages to convince The Brotherhood to attack Karnstein and end his reign of evil.
John Hough's excellent addition to Hammer's Karnstein series ends the trilogy on a major high note. Combining vampirism with elements of the witch hunts that reached a frightening degree of "popularity" in the 17th century, Hough's film stars Peter Cushing as the leader of an anxious group of witchfinder's. Hough directs his film with lots of style and unlike some of Hammer's 70's output, it's dripping with atmosphere.
One such scene that reeks of gothic trappings is the sequence in which Carmilla returns from the dead to turn count Karnstein into one of the undead. As the hellish spirit rises from its musty tomb draped in a hooded cloak, smoke is seen emanating from beneath the vampiric creature as it approaches the unsuspecting worshipper of Satan.
Another supremely Gothic sequence has Count Karnstein sending the vampirized Frieda outside a castle escape route to see if the way is clear for them to pass. Unfortunate for the beautiful undead Frieda, her uncle, Gustav awaits with his massive cleaver to separate her head from her torso. Again, the use of fog permeates the scene as does a matte painting of a sinister woodland in the background. This scene is one of the best and most shocking moments in the movie. Director Hough guides the film masterfully but he is assisted by Dick Bush, the cinematographer who captures a dark fairy tale quality with his camera.
John Hough directed a number of intriguing and wonderful genre films throughout his career that began in the late 60's on some British television programs. Hough directed the superb as well as the ultimate haunted house movie, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973). Released several months prior to THE EXORCIST (1973), it is an unsung classic of the horror genre with a good amount of tension and scares. Hough then came to the United States to direct DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (1974), one of the best chase movies of all time.
In addition to helming some Disney light horror pictures such as the WITCH MOUNTAIN movies and THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980), Hough tackled the overly grim and misogynistic 1981 demon rape movie, THE INCUBUS. In 1987 Hough directed AMERICAN GOTHIC, an interesting throwback to the TEXAS CHAINSAW style of moviemaking dealing with a crazy family isolated on a deserted island terrorizing some stranded vacationers. John Hough proved he could handle any type of film genre but excelled in horror cinema.
Initially, TWINS OF EVIL (1971) began as VILLAGE OF THE VAMPIRES, the third co-production between Hammer and Fantale Films. This story was rumored to have had Cushing in the role of Count Karnstein. It wasn't long before the story changed drastically, retaining the element of the twins and a couple other hold overs.
At first, the producers were not confident on obtaining the services of Peter Cushing since his wife had died in January of 1971. Two months later, Cushing would sign on to play the puritanical leader of The Brotherhood, Gustav Weil. The grief Cushing was feeling at the time is evident in his performance on a number of occasions. He had lost a great deal of weight and his frame had become very gaunt especially noticeable in his face.
Cushing's role is, on the surface, a protagonist. But judging from some of the actions of Gustav and his followers, they are as much a bloodthirsty bunch as the supposed vampires they seek to destroy. No doubt the bulk of the pretty girls they burn at the stake are innocent. The men all seem to get a disturbing gratification in the murdering of those that they see as apostates of the Devil. Some of their victims are sexually liberated women and others are burned simply because they are undeniably beautiful.
There is also something to be said of the inherent impotence that is prominent throughout the members of The Brotherhood. For their lack of ability for sexual fulfillment with the opposite sex, they instead stamp out that which threatens what remains of their manhood. This is also mentioned in a scene in which the twins discuss their uncle's strict disciplinary methods and that he would derive some form of carnal thrill by coming into their room to "punish" them for something they did against the rules of his house.
Damien Thomas was a theater actor before landing his first film role in TWINS OF EVIL (1971). In an interview Thomas said he tried to come across as "Shakespearean" in his performance and he succeeded in my opinion. All his lines are bellowed with an air of arrogance and extreme confidence. This self-assurance is most palpable after Karnstein has been turned into a vampire. Endowed with newfound supernatural powers, Karnstein moves on his enemy, Gustav, setting his sights on the more freethinking and sexually experiential of the twins. Thomas would later get smaller roles in SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) and the mini series, SHOGUN (1980).
The Collinson twins were discovered from an issue of Playboy wherein they were the first twins to be featured in the hugely popular mens magazine. Both their voices were dubbed for the picture and both their performances were extensions of their offscreen personalities. As per everyone that was given the chance to work with the man, both twins adored their time sharing the screen with the revered and much loved, Peter Cushing. There were a couple of scenes where you get a gander at the twins (well, one of them) most memorable assets, but the nudity isn't quite as explicit as it is in VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971).
David Warbeck plays a supporting role as Anton, the true protagonist of the film. However, Warbeck's performance is eclipsed by both Cushing and Thomas as they wage a battle of "purification" and sin respectively. There's a great shot when Anton first lays eyes on the enchanting twins. From his POV, the shot of Frieda is in clear view while everyone else around here (including her sister, Maria) are obscured in a blur. Anton, the good, less adventurous man is attracted to the untamed and wayward nature of Frieda. Even still, she has no such attraction to such a man, preferring the corrupt and debauched disposition of the wicked Count Karnstein. And of course, this type of attraction proves fatal for those defiant souls.
The gore featured in TWINS OF EVIL is some of the strongest of any of Hammer's pictures and nearly rivals that of what is shown in the uncut version of VAMPIRE CIRCUS released later that year. A cleaver to the head, some bloody impalings and graphic decapitation are the gruesome highlights of this gothic exercise. The movie is not without its unintentionally humorous moments.
During the finale when The Brotherhood marches on the castle, the Count's mute servant, Joachim instructs Karnstein of the approaching horde. In what looks like charades, Joachim uses hand signs and grunting sounds as the Count, with each succeeding hand gesture, yells out, "swords...stakes...and axes?!?!"
One of the most interesting plot devices utilized in this movie is the treatment of the vampire myth. Gone is the notion that daylight is fatal to the undead. Here, the vampires can walk around freely in the sunlight without fear of destruction. Also different is that when a victim is bitten by a vampire, they die becoming a damned soul. Only those that worship the devil will be turned into a member of the vampiric cult.
As said by Karnstein in the film, "It is a test. One who is dedicated to the Devil and his deeds will not die by a vampires bite...but will become one of the undead...a vampire! The good...and the innocent die!" Furthermore, the bite doesn't kill those satanic faithfuls, but seemingly transforms them instantaneously. The 'vampire bite as death' scenario was also seen in VAMPIRE CIRCUS, sans any explanation, but one can assume the same applies in the circus film.
It is also detailed that The Brotherhoods practice of burning their victims (or who they claim to be vampires) is an ineffectual method of destroying the undead. Burning the infernal creatures merely melts away the body leaving the demonic spirit to enter another body.
Nonetheless, there is also a bit of confusion during the course of the picture. Prior to Count Karnstein being turned into a vampire, there is a scene where The Brotherhood discover dead bodies of men drained of blood with the bite of a vampire on their necks. Since Carmilla isn't summoned till a pretty girl is sacrificed a short time later, just who, or what is it exactly that's claiming victims in the fog enshrouded woods?
The budgetary shortcomings are also in evidence as a later shot of a woman being burned at the stake is the same one that opens the movie. Also, the shot of the blood spilling onto the corpse of Carmilla/Mircalla beneath the tomb is footage from LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1970). In an ingenious method with which to show the vampires lack of reflection in a mirror, the glass is removed and a separate room is replicated to look like the adjoining room. What gives the trick away is the flicker of a candle as both flicker in different directions.
TWINS OF EVIL suffered some cuts for both its British and American release. A sex scene between Karnstein and Gerta was removed as was some shots from the black mass sequence. For its US debut, some five minutes of footage was removed from the movie which included nearly every shot of gore in the film in addition to the nudity. In addition to the tremendous score by Harry Robinson, the producers insisted a song be added for one of the choir girl scenes to be sung by two of Anton's students. The sequence featuring the song, 'True Love', was shot but later dropped from the finished production although some DVD releases feature this cut bit as an extra.
Bolstered by two excellent performances by Cushing and Damien Thomas ably assisted by an astounding score, TWINS OF EVIL (1971) is one of Hammer's best of their 1970's slate of productions. Those years were not comparable to their films of the late 50's and 60's, although a few definitely came close. John Hough's epic tale of puritans and vampires is assuredly one of them.
This review is representative of the Carlton region 2 DVD from the UK.