Twins of Evil is perhaps the finest Hammer film of the studio’s early Seventies period, and undoubtedly the most underrated. It is a mixed saddlebag of influences, a consolidation of many elements, and at least on par with the excellent Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. The two films were made only one year apart with Twins (Pinewood) coming first. Monster from Hell (Elstree) was not released until 1974. Twins seems as vast and open as The Sound of Music compared to the intentionally set-bound Monster from Hell.
The score for Twins is a quasi-hybrid of Dvorak and Louis Bacalov (Django). It’s not quite James Bernard, but then what else can really compare? The shots of the first carriage riding into town always reminded me of the courtyard scenes from Joshua Logan’s Camelot (1967); the bustle of peasant activity tangible, not stagey. Like Le Fanu’s novella, Carmilla (on which it is based like the previous two entries in Hammer’s unconnected Karnstein Trilogy), there are bloodsuckers in it. Hough and Gates bring the Malleus Maleficorum into the mix, and the final dish comes out more like a grim fairy tale telling of Reeve’s Witchfinder General. But instead of Price as a vengeance-fuelled sadist we have Cushing as a redemptive villain (he’s Moff Tarkin, only this time pausing before annihilating the planet Alderaan). The real villains in Twins are far more obvious.
Vampires have always been Hammer’s bread and butter, at least since the late Fifties onward. It’s easy to come across as camp if not done with the precise amount of gravity. On the other hand, too much gravitas and then you’ve got moody pretense (see Interview with the Vampire). Hammer always seemed to get this fusion right (that’s why we’re still talking about them today). There is much camp on display in Twins, especially thanks to a delightfully malevolent and fangy Damien Thomas as the main baddie. Thankfully, Cushing is on hand to exact a little thorough ruthlessness of his own, Puritanical style, with feet firmly planted on the ground. Two villains for the price of one.
It’s a sad truth that countless numbers of women and men were subjected to the lethal brunt of one positively diabolical tome. Many historians now believe that Kramer’s Malleus Maleficorum (written in 1486) was falsely approved into publication as an official document of the church. Its initial attempt was seemingly meant to refute the idea that witchcraft could not exist. What it became was a bible of hate and a means for punishing anyone the so-called righteous saw fit. If a man did not like his neighbor or he harbored an unjust grievance then he could easily accuse him (especially his wife, mother or daughters) of being a witch. This was the most direct result it had, as opposed to the standard belief of a superstitious populace being convinced of possession and otherworldly powers.
Spreading like wildfire it began what is now commonly known as the Inquisition. What we get in Twins is more or less a condensed version of this record married to the vampire myth. It’s an hour into the film before the vampire story even kicks in, and it’s not really lacking. The film works so well because one theme is no more outlandish than the other. In fact, it’s almost easier to side with the freewheeling vampires than it is with the local Inquisitors (here called the “Brotherhood”). At least the vampires knew how to throw a party.
In keeping with the spirit of the Karnstein Trilogy, there is flesh to be found on display in director Hough’s motley little village. While it’s not as bountiful as in The Vampire Lovers (1970), it is still nice to see the amazing Hammer glamour assembled for this yet-to-be universally hailed classic. What’s even more amazing is the way the Collinson Twins play completely in tandem, yet Madeleine (as the evil one) gives a totally singular performance from the innocent Mary. It’s good acting, or good direction, or both. Their voices may have been dubbed but these twins sold me from the first frame to the last.
The camera zooms and glides with such effortlessness and ease and is quite pleasing to watch. I’ve always been a sucker for riding shots, and while it’s not quite The Charge of the Light Brigade, there is some competent horsemanship. I simply adore the scene when the Brethren ‘ride the girl down’ then proceed to carry out their sinister work. The scene cuts to Weil (Cushing), in full close-up spewing God’s will in his prudent dining room.
I love the transitions in this film. The evil twin Frieda wishing aloud at the window to meet the Count, and then a quick cut to Damien Thomas enjoying a humble night of debauchery and human sacrifice. He yearns for “something different”. Who wouldn’t in his place? The truly gorgeous sets are only topped by the gorgeous compositions of shots and lighting. The spooky, blue-hued atmospheres of the outdoor sets are punctuated by a pounding (if not a bit repetitive) soundtrack. It keeps the tension tightly mounted. The film seems almost entirely shot at night or within darkened chambers and corridors half-past midnight. Karnstein’s newly decked-out vampire lair (complete with inverted glowing cross) is a serious delight.
The scene when the congregated Brotherhood dramatically pauses for Weil to decide their next move for them is almost comical at first. I half expected him to shout: “To the lumberyard!” before leading the charge through the door (Cushing’s asides are wonderful). Weil and Karnstein’s contempt for one another is the fuel that drives the whole thing along.
It’s no secret that good guys always wear black. Cushing is nothing short of tragedian when he abruptly enters the house and bellows: “What kind of plumage is this?” upon seeing his nieces in their flaunty dresses. While we are uncertain at first when the change will take place, we know in our bones that Cushing’s Weil will make good, even if it’s of the ‘bit too late’ variety (which it almost certainly always is). After Thomas’ satanic Count Karnstein chooses the path of the undead, it’s only a matter of time before these two feuding heavies come head to head in the main event. It’s not much of a fight really. Weil finally gets a one-way ticket to his own judgment and Karnstein naturally faces the bellicose music not soon after.
The legacy of this film could be summed up in the moment Weil finally realizes he’s almost murdered the wrong girl. It’s another timeless Cushing moment and proof-positive of this man’s power and grace in front of the camera. He looks totally defeated, as Cushing no doubt felt during filming (his beloved wife Helen had just succumbed to complications from emphysema – an outcome from which he would never recover). Looking practically into the camera, he utters: “Oh, lord. Lord forgive me.” It’s his character’s moment of choice to light that one candle, rather than curse the dark.