Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
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Starring: Peter Cushing, Mary Collinson, Madeleine Collinson
Director: John Hough
The final chapter in the loose Karnstein trilogy, Twins Of Evil shifted the focus away from the bewitching Carmilla to her (initially at least) human descendant, the debauched and very decadent Count Karnstein.
With a taut script that rattles along at a fair pace, Twins Of Evil ups the sex and violence quota (especially the violence) that was the norm with Hammer at the time, but with its brilliantly realised gothic setting and a powerhouse performance from Peter Cushing, it stands out as a perfect blend of Hammer’s golden and modern eras.
The village of Karnstein is plagued by the activities of the local Puritan witchhunters led by the cruel and pious Gustav Weill (Peter Cushing), a man on mission to do God’s work, even if it involves burning innocent young women alive on a regular basis.
Up in the castle that overlooks the village, Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) is a bored, decadent nobleman, tiring of petty debuacheries. When he offers up a peasant girl as a human sacrifice, his prayers are answered, calling forth his ancestor Countess Mircalla Karnstein (Katya Wyeth) from her grave, who turns the willing Count into a vampire.
When Weill’s newly-orphaned twin nieces arrive in the village, both immediately capture Karnstein’s interest. Maria (Mary Collinson) is an innocent and good-hearted soul, but her sister Frieda (Madeleine Collinson) has somewhat of the devil in her, and soon gives herself to the Count, willingly becoming a vampire herself…
Hammer might have been arguably past it’s prime, but Twins Of Evil is up there with its very best. The slow and measured pace that characterised even some of their finest films in the past is completely abandoned here, with Tudor Gates’ script moving at a relentless pace from that first shocking scene of Weill’s Brotherhood acting as judge, jury and executioner.
Damien Thomas makes an immediate impact as the debauched Count and would have made a fine villain in any other film, but is faced with an impossible task here of competing with the peerless Peter Cushing in one of his finest ever performances.
Initially, Gustav Weill is to all intents and purposes a villain. Ostensibly a man of god, he sees evil everywhere and acts accordingly. Playing him almost like a Van Helsing gone badly wrong, Cushing is magnificent here, cold, callous and downright malevolent, he’s a holy terror and a truly frightening presence on screen.
There’s more to the character though and the great man carries it magnificently. His conversation with his wife when he first finds out about Frieda’s turning and has to be talked out of turning the Brotherhood on Maria too is beautifully played, subtly showing the man underneath the cloth, who genuinely believes he’s doing the right thing until challenged.
Similarly, seeing him almost broken when he realises he’s almost burned the wrong sister is almost heartbreaking, with Cushing making you feel for a man you’ve been hating for most of the film. He’s never anything but superb, but in Gustav Weill, Cushing gave one of his very best performances and he’s nothing but a joy to watch here.
As the eponymous twins themselves, Hammer made a real discovery with the Collinson sisters. No mere eye candy, both actresses are totally believable in their very different roles, with Mary’s vulnerable but essentially strong Maria holding her own against her sister Madeleine’s more showy turn as the wilful and corruptible Frieda.
Beautifully shot by director John Hough, Twins Of Evil is laden with atmosphere, evoking an almost fairy tale quality within its dark morality tale. There’s no real heroes here, just well-rounded characters of varying shades of grey up against the darkest of evils, with only David Warbeck’s schoolteacher/would-be love interest Anton Hoffer taking a stand.
It’s that ambiguity that makes Twins If Evil stand out, that and its relentless pace, thrilling set pieces, gorgeous design and most of all, that towering central performance from Mr Cushing.
Their twilight years might have been approaching fast, but in Twins Of Evil, Hammer proved that they still could be a force to reckon with. Magnificent.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy