Director: John Hough
Cast: Peter Cushing, Kathleen Byron, Mary Collinson, Madeleine Collinson, David Warbeck, Damien Thomas
Length: 87 min
Rating: FSK 16
Label: Anolis Entertainment
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1,66:1
Audio: German, English 2.0 Mono DTS HD Master Audio
- Exclusive Audio Commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad
- Exclusive Interview with Director John Hough, conducted by hammer specialist Marcus Hearn
- Documentary “The Flesh And The Fury – Exposing Twins Of Evil” – (84 Min)
- Interview with Damien Thomas
- Deleted Scenes
- Super-8 version
- Trailers (German / English), Double Feature trailers, TV spots
- Film program
- Image gallery
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, the Victorian-era Irish writer of ghost stories, could never have dreamt that his subtly suggestive vampire novella Carmilla would someday spawn an entire subgenre of lesbian vampire films, with cheesecake and gore to the fore, courtesy of exploitation filmmakers of the 1960’s and 70’s. Of the more notable entries, Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy stands out. Produced by Harry Fine and Michael Style, two independent producers working under the Hammer emblem, the Karnstein Trilogy is notable for its consistently high production values, erudite scripts, and superlative acting — especially by the inimitable Peter Cushing. Their first installment, Vampire Lovers (1970), which was based directly on Le Fanu’s novella and featured a charismatic performance by Ingrid Pitt as the title character Carmilla, was quickly followed by Lust for a Vampire (1971), a direct sequel which was mostly a variation on the same theme. Lust was a decidedly inferior effort — directed with robotic efficiency by Hammer’s veteran writer, Jimmy Sangster — but does benefit from copious amounts of gratuitous nudity and the presence of Danish model-turned-actress, Yutte Stensgaard as the titular vampire. It is perhaps Stensgaard, more than anything else, that gave the film its cult status. Then, hot on the heels of Lust, came Twins of Evil ( also 1971), a reboot of sorts, which many regard as the finest of the three films. Germany’s Anolis Entertainment has now released the film on blu-ray, and the results are predictably very fine.
Set almost a century prior to the first two films, Twins of Evil acts as more of a prequel, owing virtually nothing to the Le Fanu novella. Instead, it is a separate adventure in the ongoing saga of the Karnstein family, infamous for debauchery and Devil worship. Carmilla does make a brief appearance, but only to induct Count Karnstein, the main villain, into the world of the undead. The rather ingenious story is set in an Austrian village where a religious cult known as The Brotherhood has been terrorizing the countryside by burning at the stake anyone suspected of vampirism or Devil worship. When two beautiful young twins arrive from Vienna to stay with their Uncle Gustav, (the fanatical leader of The Brotherhood), the lascivious Count Karnstein sets his sights on them. It’s not long before the twins’ distinct personalities become apparent, as one of them is drawn into a life of debauchery and vampirism at Karnstein Castle, while the other remains pious.
As usual for a Hammer film, the low-budget production values are uniformly excellent, making the the whole affair look much more expensive than it really is. Much of the acting style is mannered and theatrical, and seems old-fashioned even for Hammer, but, once you accept that as the modus operandi, it is mostly superb. Peter Cushing, as Gustav Weil, delivers one of his very best performances. This was one of the first films he made after the passing of his wife, and the actor’s own grief seems to lend an extra dimension of realism to an embittered character who has dissociated himself from the last vestiges of human feeling. Damien Thomas is suitably aristocratic and virile as the young Count Karnstein, delivering a swaggering (and at times over-the-top) performance that is truly a lot of fun to watch. He gives Cushing a fair run for his money as to who can be the nastier villain. In fact just about everyone in the film is either a villain, or a victim, reflecting the pessimism of the 1970’s. The exception is Anton, a handsome, young music teacher, played earnestly by David Warbeck, who has an eye for the evil twin. That brings us to Mary and Madeleine Collinson, the Maltese twins who deliver remarkably satisfying performances as Maria and Frieda Gellhorn, when you consider that their previous experience consisted entirely of modeling and cheesecake roles. And boy do they look fetching in their see-through nightgowns — something the film exploits at every opportunity.Director John Hough and cinematographer Dick Bush distill a heady fairy tale atmosphere that effectively transports you to the dark, misty forests of Central Europe, even if the day for night photography is unconvincing. The rather imaginative script by Tudor Gates is perhaps the best of his three for the Karnstein Trilogy, although, like in the others, some of the dialog is as mannered as the acting. The one element that’s consistently outstanding in all Hammer films, and what became one of the hallmarks of their Gothic horrors, is the music, and for Twins of Evil, composer Harry Robinson provides a kaleidoscopic pallet of musical color, using harpsichord and other unusual instruments as ornamentation. It has been remarked that this score plays like a Western, but it fits the image of The Brotherhood riding through the forest on horseback, as they hunt for Devil worshipers.
Seeing Twins of Evil in HD, after many television and VHS viewings, is like seeing it for the first time. A quick comparison of this Anolis release with the earlier Synapse release reveals that they are virtually identical, and look to be struck from the same HD master, although I have not confirmed this. Perhaps the shadows and contrast on the Anolis release are a touch more solid, and the film grain a bit more consistent, but the differences are minuscule. The Synapse release is a little brighter, with colors a little more amped up, but this is not necessarily a plus, because the Anolis release looks just that much more organic. Otherwise, both releases display superb image depth, and close-ups have an almost startling level of detail. Both releases also suffer from a slight amount of black crush, which seems to be a feature of the cinematography and the film print more than of the transfer. My personal preference is for the Anolis release, for its slightly more natural look, but again, the differences are slight and both releases should give equal pleasure. Without a doubt, this is the best that Twins of Evil has ever looked on home video.
With Harry Robinson’s score carrying much of the drama, the original English DTS Master Audio 2.0 track accommodates it very well, allowing climaxes to expand as needed, with no constriction. The sound has a natural fullness and the dialog is clear and easy understand. Any hiss and other age-related blemishes are extremely slight. The German dub track is similarly natural sounding, but there is a slight amount of distortion in the music at times, which is inherited from the original recording sessions. When you pop the disk into the player, it defaults to the German track, but it’s easy enough to switch to the English one if you so choose.
As expected from Anolis, there is a wealth of extras, including an excellent 84 minute documentary, “The Flesh and the Fury — X-Posing ‘Twins of Evil’” produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, in association with Synapse Films. This extremely comprehensive documentary on the history of Hammer, Carmilla, and the Karnstein Trilogy is ported over directly from the Synapse blu-ray release, and features interviews with some of the film’s actors, as well as with the leading genre experts of the day. They include Ted Newsom, Wayne Kinsey, John-Paul Checkett, David J. Skal, Kim Newman, and others. Next, we are given an exclusive audio commentary (in German) with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad. This is the only part of the Anolis release that is unfriendly to non-German speakers. Not being one myself, I could not understand what they were saying, but it certainly sounds like a lively conversation. Next is an exclusive interview with director John Hough, conducted by Marcus Hearn in 2013. Hough gives interesting insight into his own career, (how he almost came to direct two James Bond films), as well as his take on Twins of Evil these 40 years later. Next is a 47 minute interview with Damien Thomas, conducted on stage by Wayne Kinsey. We are also given a number of Twins of Evil trailers, an image gallery, some super-8 footage from an old reel released for home projection in the 70’s, and a visual run-through of the Twins of Evil graphic novel which appeared in an old issue of “The House of Hammer” magazine.
Accepting the theatricality of some of the acting and dialog, Twins of Evil wears its 40+ year vintage remarkably well, and any Hammer fan will want this in their collection. Obviously, a great deal of thought and care on the part of the folks at Anolis went into this release, and the results should give hours of enjoyment, especially if you like your vampire films laced with cleavage, cleavage, and more cleavage!