JUNE 22 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : TWINS OF EVIL (1971)
Deep in the forest, a woodman is alone in his cottage with a woman who is being sought by the local town elders, and they mean to do her harm, believing she is of low morals. When they find her, they drag her out and take her to a pile of branches where she is promptly burned at the stake until dead, the accustomed punishment for going against what the Puritans see as the will of God Almighty. But their leader, Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) will have to rethink his take no prisoners policy when his twin nieces, Maria (Mary Collinson) and Frieda (Madeleine Collinson) arrive to be looked after by him and his wife...
Twins of Evil was the third in Hammer's Karnstein trilogy of vampire movies which ended up being more notable for the amount of undressed actresses featured over the bloodsucking that went on. Not that they were overburdened with nudity, after all only one of the twins - Playboy centerfolds, remember - gets naked here, but it was the talking point at the time and the reason they still turn up with fair regularity on late night television. More interesting than that, however, is the blurring of the lines between good and evil, with the supposed decent folk the cause of more death than the bad guys.
Usually with Hammer vampires you knew whose side you were on, and that was with the fearless vampire killers, but here those Puritans are holding the land in a feasome grip, killing off anyone they consider demeaming to the public good and the word of God, without even so much as a trial to confirm their lawbreaking or assumed witchcraft. Cushing here gives one of his most humourless performances, a ruthless and utterly unloveable moralist who cannot understand the terrible irony in actions that see him carry out horrendous injustices all because he cannot see beyond his own strict religious zeal.
It cannot have gone unnoticed by the studio that with the relaxing of censorship laws in the late sixties and early seventies that there was a correpsonding upswing in voices crying out against a lax morality overtaking Britain, and this background would seem to clearly have influenced Tudor Gates' script. It was refreshing to see a horror film that attempted to claim the middle ground, as the schoolteacher Anton (David Warbeck) is the closest character we had to a hero in this, a moderate who not only complains about the Puritans, but is determined to see off the vampires as well. The voice of reason, if you will.
Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) is our chief bad guy (supernatural division) as here is one of those chillers which equates vampirism with Satan worshipping. The Count is the opposite to Weil in his decadence, and when he sacrifices a peasant girl to the Devil he revives the body of Carmilla, the vampire from the previous instalments, here played by Katya Wyeth in a too-brief role (where does she go?). After Karnstein feels the fangs, he turns the same way and soon is biting the necks of the local ladies, including bad girl Frieda. Harkening back to Olivia de Havilland in The Dark Mirror and beyond, there has to be a good twin and an evil twin, and director John Hough employs plenty of mirror imagery, even extending to the Count being the reflection of Weil. The horror elements may be routine, but Twins of Evil has interesting themes that belie its surface novelties. Music by Harry Robertson.