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Director: John Hough
Writer: Tudor Gates
Cast: Peter Cushing, Dennis Price, Mary Collinson, Madeleine Collinson, Damien Thomas
Length: 87 min.
Rating: BBFC: 15
Release Date: September 8, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM 1.0
- Never Before Released Deleted Scene
- Original Theatrical Trailers
- Stills Gallery
- PDF of Original Script
- Collector’s Booklet
[/toggle]It comes with a sad resonance that I should be reviewing the long awaited British Blu-ray debut of fan favourite Twins of Evil (out now courtesy of Network). The film has become a well regarded highpoint from the studio’s lengthy spot as dominating genre kings. Twins of Evil star Madeleine Collinson sadly passed away just four weeks ago on the 14th of August 2014 at the relatively young age of 62. I therefore dedicate this review to one of Hammer’s enduring icons- R.I.P Madeleine Collinson 1952-2014.
Hammer’s take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, The Vampire Lovers (1970), —one of the most faithful cinematic adaptations of the original text—delivered emphasized erotic lesbian themes and predatory violence to British audiences in a way that had never been seen before in the domain of home-grown film. American independent giants AIP were drafted in order to part fund the British production. The American producers, apparently much to the distain of director Roy Ward Baker, demanded titillation and sexuality to be the main tone of the feature. As a result, the film saw Ingrid Pitt take the helm as the beautiful seductress Marcilla Karnstein; the lesbian vampire who sets her sights on innocent Emma (played by Madeline Smith, in one of her defining roles for the studio). Following the success of The Vampire Lovers the studio embarked on what was to become their ‘Karnstein Trilogy.‘ Pushing ahead at a fairly brisk pace, Hammer put out part two a year later- Lust for a Vampire. This second entry in the trilogy is widely considered the weakest, saved by the enigmatic Yutte Stensgaard in the lead role of Mircalla Karnstein. However, for many, it is the third instalment Twins of Evil that is the highlight of the series. Moving into completely unchartered territory—and owing nothing but a basic inspiration to the Irish scribe Le Fanu—scriptwriter Tudor Gates instead crafted a script that infused vampy eroticism with some interesting, and unconventional, twists and turns. The result is a clever script that also touches on witch finding and the hypocrisy of religion, thus portraying a message that not everything is as black and white as it seems.
The story focuses on a two pronged attack. Early on we are introduced to the foppish and decadent Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who holed up in a luxury castle passes the hours of boredom by dabbling in occult practice. Tired of playing around the Count, a descendant of the infamous Karnstein line, manages to resurrect Mircalla from her undead slumber, and in the process he is infected with the family vampire curse. In the village below, following the recent death of their parents, two orphan—twin sisters Maria (Mary Collison) and Frieda (Madeleine Collinson)—arrive to take their place with their uncle Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), a local puritan and witchfinder. The Twins, although alike in looks, differ greatly in type; Frieda is a force of nature and a wild creature, unable to contain her burgeoning sexuality, while Mary is good and wholesome. It doesn’t take long after Frieda tires of life in a sleepy village and her Uncle’s draconian rule before she finds solace in the arms of the nefarious Count.Twins of Evil works for many reasons. Firstly—as previously mentioned—Tudor Gates’ tight scripting imbibes the feature with a sense of depth. One thing is for sure, Gates as a writer had a certain panache that set him apart from many of his peers—the writer also working on screenplays for Mario Bava’s iconic Danger Diabolik (1968) and cult sci-fi hit Barbarella (1968). Although Gates wrote all three scripts for Hammer’s Karnstein films, Twins could be considered his best for the studio, considering the multi-faceted approach to building up the narrative. Director John Hough is the second cog in the wheel toward success, a young director who was not ground down by a lengthy service for the studio (like many of the resident directors of the time). Hough’s youthful energy and experience working on stylish and hip, pop culture infused shows like The Avengers enabled him to inject a different voice—like a breath of fresh air—into the associated subject matter. Twins of Evil is a slick production, standing head and shoulders above many of the other genre fare of the time. It also holds a unique tone that sets it out from amongst its peers. The production values enable the film to revel in gothic decadence and atmosphere—and dare I say camp brilliance—, with luxurious sets and costuming all adding to the look and feel. Harry Robertson’s rousing score asserts a strong feeling of drama that compliments the overall piece. As always, however, the key is in the casting. Here, we see the beautiful Playboy models, Maltese born, Madeleine and Mary Collinson placed in the roles of Frieda (Madeleine) and Maria (Mary). The girls are dubbed with European accents—a practice widespread at the time if a studio were going for a certain vibe—but, despite not providing their own voice-work, demonstrate such a strong screen presence; the two have been remembered as enduring icons for the studio. There were many women to move through the doors of Hammer studios, all strikingly beautiful in their own ways, yet regardless of the fact they only starred in this singular role, the Collinson Twins often make the Top Ten Hammer Glamour lists that dominate fan sites and forums. Damien Thomas is a fantastic edition to the cast, making for the type of Count that makes your skin crawl—if you watch closely it is the little nuances of distain and ego that make his performance mesmerising. Kathleen Byron, as Aunt Katy, demonstrates a warmth in her depiction of a wife bound in duty to her husband, but also a caring aunt to her nieces. Fans of 80’s Italian film will find a well-known face in the form of Fulci favorite David Warbeck—here, cast as the romantic lead as a potential suitor to Maria, in the guise of teacher Anton Hoffer. Warbeck, who was often placed in the role of good looking hero, demonstrates what he does best, in this one of his early major roles. However, it is the inclusion of prolific genre star Peter Cushing that makes the film. Cushing, who also played a heroic role in The Vampire Lovers, at the start of the trilogy, was an actor who crafted a reputation in genre film as something of a gentleman. The actor, who was a party to many horror features, was most known for his studio roles as Dracula’s Nemesis Van Helsing, and also for his many depictions of Victor Frankenstein. Here, in Twins of Evil he is seen in one of his most powerful—and non-typical roles (if you exclude his performance in the wonderful sleaze-fest Corruption (1968)—to come out of his weighty filmography in horror. As the puritan Witchfinder Gustav Weil, Cushing successfully depicts a mean spirited, misguided bigot who rules his household with an iron fist. The actor, who was regarded as one of the most professional names in the business, was never the same after his beloved wife Helen died in the same year Twins of Evil was produced. Although it can be argued Cushing never put in a performance that was not 110%, there was a noticeable difference—especially in his physical appearance—following his wife’s death. On that note, his performance in Twins of Evil could be considered one of his last great roles before his mental and physical health started to decline following his grief for his lost love from which he never recovered.
This release by Network is presented in a theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and upgraded to 1080p high definition. Comparing this to the previous DVD release a few aspects are striking. Firstly, the depth of cinematic grain is present on this upgraded release, which was not apparent on the DVD version. Colors, although dark, and sombre—in line with the tone of the piece—are well contrasted. The detail is clear, with color levels presenting at the appropriate levels especially on skin tones. The use of colored filters on the night time lighting in some of the forest scenes are now restored to their former glory, which supports the mood and tone of the film. The print is also free from dirt and scratches, yet not cleaned to the point of losing detail. One of the most remarkable features of this print is the natural look of the blood tones on offer, with a lot of retro features falling foul to that horrible seventies red/orange when upgraded to Blu-Ray; thankfully, this is not the case for this new release of Twins of Evil.
The film is presented with its original mono audio elements. Noise levels are free from distortion and well mixed. The score is presented with a wonderful depth and clarity, while dialogue is delivered clearly and at the appropriate levels. Sadly, there are no audio extras available on this release and the distinct lack of commentary—director, cast, or expert—comes as a bit of a disappointment.
Rather light on extras, when compared to other releases, Twins of Evil does come with a deleted scene True Love Sequence—which according to Network is the first time this has been available. As a long-time fan of the time film this is certainly the first time I have come across this material. This scene—in an unrestored version—features a slightly bizarre musical number with David Warbeck on the piano and his students singing along. Given the constant criticisms from fans of Lust for a Vampire’s musical insertion ‘Strange Love,’ is it not surprising this similarly odd piece was cut from the final release—as the tone of this segment could have seriously undermined the overall feel of the final version. Being only a few short minutes this addition is bound to please fans as a camp curiosity piece, if nothing more. Also included are some theatrical trailers (UK and US versions) for the main feature, a gallery of stills, a PDF of the original script and collector’s booklet.
Network has done a fine job in restoring Hammer fan favorite Twins of Evil to Blu-Ray for UK fans. This release has been a long time coming and Network has provided a faithfully restored version that is sure to delight fans. A highpoint for Hammer, and a top contender in vintage gothic, Twins of Evil is a film that revels in the decadence and sultry seduction inherent in the sub-genre, thus making it a stand out piece for Hammer, and gothic horror in general. Slightly disappointing there are not more in the way of extras on offer, when compared to other Blu-Ray releases of the film, but a welcome release for UK fans who have not adapted to region free.