Twins of Evil / Twins of Dracula (1971/1972) ***½
The natural assumption to make after watching Lust for a Vampire is that screenwriter Tudor Gates had used up all of his good Carmilla ideas in The Vampire Lovers, leaving nothing of value in reserve for the sequels. That might even have been true at first, too, since 70’s Hammer boss Michael Carreras— not a man known for his discriminating taste in projects for the studio— rejected Gates’s third Carmilla script, Vampire Virgins, as too repetitive and derivative. But Gates and his partners, Michael Style and Harry Fine, weren’t done with the Karnstein vampires yet, and neither, in the end, were Hammer. The impetus for the third and final film in the Karnstein series sounds far from auspicious: Style, always the most porny-minded of the trio, stumbled upon Mary and Madeleine Collinson’s pictorial in the October, 1970, issue of Playboy (the first time the magazine had ever featured twin Playmates), and thought, “Sexy lesbian vampire twins! It’s perfect!” Amazingly, though, what Gates made of that tawdry premise was one of the best and smartest gothic horror movies that Hammer Film Productions would ever release. Twins of Evil was not merely another lesbian vampire film, you see. Drawing perhaps on another abandoned Gates screenplay entitled Vampire Hunters (which was to have concerned a posse of bounty hunters preying on the undead), Twins of Evil is also both a Conqueror Worm-style witch-burner and a heavily veiled parable of its era’s generational strife in the vein of The Blood on Satan’s Claw.
Don’t ask me what a sect of English Puritans are doing living in German-as-fuck, Catholic-as-fuck Styria. That is unmistakably the situation, though, for this is the village of Karnstein (which the preceding two movies established as being in Styria), and the Brotherhood could be no more obvious as English Puritans unless they built a ship called the Mayflower, sailed it across the ocean, and gave smallpox to the Narragansetts. And like all fictional English Puritans, the brethren of the Brotherhood enjoy nothing better than the burning of witches. (Real-world English Puritans, as we all know, preferred to hang their witches instead.) “Witches,” of course, are any young women whose personal lives the Brothers disapprove of, or who give them unwelcome hard-ons when they pass by on the street with their hips swaying and their tits bouncing pertly and their— well, you get the idea. But while the conduct of the Brotherhood may be typical, they have an atypically solid reason for believing that the Devil has taken a special interest in the region. Three times in recent weeks, people have been found dead in the surrounding forest, their blood drained and their only visible injuries two small but very deep punctures on the throat. There’s also the matter of Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas, from Journey into Darkness and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger), the reprobate lord of village, who practices something rather like the Anton LaVey school of Satanism more or less openly, but enjoys the protection of the Habsburg emperor due to his family connections.
Such is the environment that greets Maria and Frieda Gellhorn (the Collinson twins, whose other acting gigs included She’ll Follow You Anywhere and Some Like It Sexy) two and a half months after the death of their parents, when they arrive in Karnstein to move in with their uncle, Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), and his wife, Katy (Kathleen Byron, of Burn, Witch, Burn and Nothing but the Night). The Gellhorn sisters are clearly foredoomed to get it from all sides. Count Karnstein collects pretty girls— or at any rate, he habitually sends out his steward, Dietrich (Dennis Price, from Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein and Horror Hospital), to collect them for him— and the twins are exceedingly beautiful. Meanwhile, pretty enough to catch the count’s eye is also pretty enough to give boners to the Brotherhood, and as city kids, Maria and Frieda’s morals are automatically suspect so far as those fanatics are concerned. And as if that weren’t enough trouble waiting in the wings already, Uncle Gustav is not merely a member of the Brotherhood, but their local leader. Maria nevertheless trusts that everything will work out for the best, provided that she and her sister submit to their uncle’s will and do their best to assimilate to locally prevailing values and customs. Frieda is not so optimistic, however. Both temperamentally inclined to cynicism and considerably more streetwise than Maria, she recognizes at once what a fix they’re in. Frieda sizes Uncle Gustav up for the repressed pervert that he is within moments of meeting him, and rapidly concludes that she (and Maria too, for that matter) would be better off with the honest creep in the mountaintop castle than with the hypocritical one whose home they’re supposed to be sharing.
Not everyone in Karnstein is crazy or evil, however. Katy, for example, isn’t really so bad, however dreadful her choice of husbands. The Brotherhood allow no women at their meetings, and it seems that in Katy’s case at least, the sect’s very misogyny has served as insulation against their most noxious beliefs and practices. Then there’s Ingrid Hoffer the schoolteacher (The Kiss of the Vampire’s Isobel Black) and her brother, Anton (David Warbeck, of Panic and Trog). I have to assume that the Hoffers are not natives of Karnstein— surely this is no breeding ground for free-thinking intellectuals! In any case, they’re equally opposed to the count and to the Brotherhood, which means that they’ve had to cultivate a talent for keeping their mouths shut. Even so, Anton is growing increasingly dissatisfied with decorous silence, especially now that Weil and his cult have graduated from inveighing against “witches” from the pulpit to actually burning them. He, too, is sharp enough to see the danger that the Gellhorn twins’ new living arrangements have placed them in, and his instant attraction to Frieda gives him his first nudge toward overtly defying the fanatics.
Meanwhile, up at the castle, Count Karnstein is also starting to chafe against the limits of a purely theoretical philosophical commitment, longing to take his professed allegiance to Satan in a more practical direction. In this, the count is but following his ancestors of the preceding century, who not only worshipped the Devil, but wielded power on loan from him via a variety of Faustian pacts. The orgies and sham ceremonies of diabolism organized by Dietrich, amusing though they may be, are no longer fulfilling Count Karnstein’s spiritual needs. So the next time Dietrich sets up one of his mock observances, Karnstein angrily sends away everyone but the village girl hired to serve as the “sacrifice,” and emphatically removes those ironic quotation marks as soon as he and the victim are alone together. That’s exactly the sort of self-starting that Satan likes to see. The next thing Karnstein knows, he’s receiving a visitation from one of those ancestors he so admires. The “altar” on which the sacrifice had been laid out was actually a sarcophagus borrowed from the family crypt, and within it lie the bones of the count’s great-great aunt (or something like that) Mircalla (Katya Wyeth, from Hands of the Ripper and Straight on Till Morning). As soon as the spilled blood reaches her remains through a crack in the sarcophagus lid, Mircalla recrudesces amid a cloud of infernal vapors to inform Count Karnstein that the powers of darkness see great potential in him. Satan will grant him ageless immortality on Earth and virtual invulnerability to physical harm, and all it will cost him is his mortal life and his eternal soul— both of which he can relinquish by the agreeable means of taking Mircalla to bed. Karnstein eagerly accepts the Devil’s terms, and becomes a vampire like his risen forebear.
With the impeccable timing of the cosmically fucked, Frieda picks the night after the count’s abandonment of his humanity to make good on her longstanding vague plan to sneak out of the Weil house after the adults have gone to bed, and pay a visit to the castle. Karnstein is having a little get-together with his favorite mistress when Frieda arrives, but that’s no problem. One doesn’t become known as a host of orgies without taking a “the more, the merrier” approach to such things. Mind you, Gerta (Luan Peters, from Land of the Minotaur and Pacific Banana) isn’t exactly thrilled to have the competition, and Dietrich is downright dismayed at the prospect of his master hanging out with Gustav Weil’s niece. The count tires very swiftly of both Dietrich’s bellyaching and Gerta’s petulance. The former he dismisses for the night, and the latter he has taken down to the dungeon to await the appropriate chastisement. Then Karnstein turns his full attention to Frieda. She’s starting to grow alarmed at her host’s behavior, but not so much as to overpower her excitement at being with him. Remarkably, that attitude persists even after Karnstein reveals what he really is, and what he really intends to do with her. And once Frieda’s conversion is complete, even that trace of fearful ambivalence melts away.
Frieda turns out to be a rather gluttonous vampire. In addition to joining the count in correcting Gerta (as Delbert Grady would no doubt put it), she quickly sets upon both Dietrich and Ingrid Hoffer. The latter she claims just when Anton had decided to pack his sister off to some relatives in order to protect her from Weil and the Brotherhood! At first, though, Frieda covers her tracks pretty well, so that not even Maria suspects her twin’s role in the escalating epidemic of vampire-related deaths. Still, it isn’t long before Gustav catches his undead niece in the act on one of his increasingly frequent witch-hunts. On the face of it, that sounds all well and good— Weil finally has a victim who deserves a pyre in the woods, and it’ll be one vampire at least out of the way. There are some serious problems with that analysis, however. For one thing, Lust for a Vampire already established that fire destroys only a vampire’s material body; a burned vampire still exists in Hell, and can acquire a new physical form anytime it wants through some means that Gates leaves tantalizingly unexplained. So by torching Frieda, the Brotherhood will be gaining the village nothing but a false sense of security. Secondly, Anton Hoffer’s anti-Brotherhood agitation has finally led the sect to agree that any further burnings must be preceded by a proper trial. Again, that’s superficially a victory for reason and sanity, but it also entails a delay which Count Karnstein can exploit by kidnapping the still-human Maria, and substituting her for Frieda in the village jail. Not even Katy Weil can consistently tell the twins apart, so Gustav and his cultists will never know the difference. And worst of all, Weil seems fundamentally unclear on the concept that his nieces are two separate people, each with her own identity, and he might not care overmuch if he happens to burn the wrong girl anyway. Fortunately, Anton has been studying up on the undead ever since his sister’s bloodless body came to light, so Count Karnstein and his minions will soon be facing a vampire hunter who actually knows what he’s doing.
Peter Cushing’s wife, Violet Helene Beck, had been in failing health for some time by 1970. The onset of her final illness late that year was what caused Cushing to bow out of Lust for a Vampire, in which he was to have played the part of Giles Barton. The Vampire Lovers was thus the last movie Cushing made before Beck’s death, and Twins of Evil the first one he made afterwards. The contrast is shocking— he seems to have aged a decade or more overnight. In The Vampire Lovers, Cushing is unmistakably getting on in years, but he’s still not merely vigorous, but indeed rather dashing. Here, less than a year later, his is but a ghost of his former self. His hair has lost all of its original sandy color; his face, always inclined to pallor and gauntness, has grown positively skeletal; and his body has wasted away to very nearly the mummy-like scrawniness that it would display in At the Earth’s Core and Shock Waves. The change in Cushing’s condition contributes to a characterization of Gustav Weil that strays far afield from the usual 70’s horror movie witch-killer. Sure, he exhibits the expected fanatical faith, righteous intolerance, and sublimated sexual perversity, but the root note of Weil’s personality is fear: fear of evil, fear of sin, fear of sex, and most of all, fear of his own weakness— fear that despite his best efforts, he will nevertheless fail his graceless, hateful, unforgiving God, and suffer the consequences. And like Paul Naschy’s character in Inquisition, Weil lives to be confronted with the truth that he has failed, that in his headlong rush to do good according to a twisted and severely blinkered understanding of the concept, he has instead committed unconscionable evils. The Weil who breaks into the homes of “immoral” women to burn them alive is tortured, for all his outward certitude, by terror and doubt, and the one who ultimately follows Anton Hoffer with a mob to besiege Castle Karnstein is a chastened, regretful, and in some ways even broken man. Cushing obviously had no difficulty portraying either of those states at this point in his life.
Weil is actually guilty of two failures, though, and the less obvious one is more interesting in its implications. After all, isn’t it Gustav, with his cruel and singleminded severity, who drives Frieda into the arms of Count Karnstein? And isn’t it precisely the viciousness and injustice of the Brotherhood’s conduct that allows Count Karnstein to pose credibly as an agent of liberation? This is what I meant when I called Twins of Evil a parable of Vietnam-era generational strife, and what makes this movie so fascinating in that capacity— especially coming from Hammer— is that it doesn’t side with the establishment. Think about it. Two teenagers, one naturally demure and one naturally rebellious, find themselves subject to the effective rule of well-intentioned, “respectable” people who in their zeal to hold the line against evil have become brutal oppressors. Those upstanding elders, meanwhile, have come to mistrust, to fear, and even to hate their own young, to the point where they’re perfectly willing to murder them on suspicions which have more to do with the adults’ neuroses than with the young people’s actions or beliefs. At the same time, there is actual evil afoot on the society’s fringes, but that evil could ask for no better press agent than the self-styled forces of good. Forced to choose between one bunch of malefactors and the other, the rebellious teen knowingly embraces the anarchic evil of Count Karnstein, while the demure one attempts instead to placate the authoritarian evil of the Brotherhood— yet each is destroyed equally (or at least threatened with equal destruction) as a consequence of her choice. Genuine good in Twins of Evil is represented by those who reject both forms of extremism, the establishment and the doctrinaire opponents of same. To be sure, I strongly doubt that Tudor Gates really set out to say any of that; most likely he wanted nothing more than to write another fright-film script to prolong the life of his and his partners’ cash cow, and added the witch-burning stuff to the original “Carmilla” premise because that unjustly ignored mini-genre was doing big business on the Continent at the time. I suspect, rather, that stories pitting adolescents and post-adolescents against their elders were just sort of in the air in the early 1970’s, as events in the real world exerted their influence over the imaginations of creative writers in all fields. Deliberate or not, though, the subtext comes through loud and clear, in a way that makes for a striking contrast with, say, Dracula, A.D. 1972. By sticking to the familiar Hammer period-piece format, Twins of Evil is able to sidestep the requirement to render modern youth culture believably. It can concentrate on the ideas, rather than getting tripped up by the minutia of music, clothing, hairstyles, and teen slang. That was a big part of what made Tigon’s contemporary The Blood on Satan’s Claw work so well, too, which suggests that there was a lesson here for those who could be bothered to learn it.
Nevertheless, Twins of Evil does fall a little bit short of its full potential. Like a lot of Hammer’s early-70’s horror films, there’s a tremendous lot of stuff going on in this story, and Tudor Gates simply isn’t able to keep track of it all. Most conspicuously, there’s Mircalla Karnstein, who vanishes from the film without a trace as soon as her assignation with the count is at an end. Since this movie apparently takes place well before The Vampire Lovers (the late 17th century as opposed to the early 19th, if we may judge from the costumes), I suppose she sneaks off to begin a long career of deadly serial dalliances with lonely teenage daughters of the Austro-Hungarian petty gentry, but the handling of her exit is still inelegant in the extreme. Similarly, there’s never any attempt to address the issue of the first-act vampire attacks. Count Karnstein is still human at that point, so we know he isn’t behind them. Mircalla is still a pile of bones wrapped up in a burial shroud, so she can’t be the culprit, either. Maybe it’s Joachim (Roy Stewart, from Arabian Adventure and Games that Lovers Play), the count’s mute, black servant? But Mircalla has to lay out the nuts and bolts of vampirism for Karnstein when she proposes to turn him, which shouldn’t be necessary if he already had a vampire on staff. Or are we meant to be thinking about the vampires who act as Mircalla’s parental figures in The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire, who have proven themselves twice to be slipperier than 20 pounds of hagfish? That’s who I’d like to pin those early killings on, but they’re neither explicitly seen nor mentioned at all this time around. In any case, that’s two nagging plot holes for which there seems to be no better excuse than sheer inattention. Then there’s the problem of Maria, who never really comes into focus as a character, beyond that she’s an unquestioningly well-behaved damsel, suitable for whatever form of distress the filmmakers see fit to throw at her. That last might be the thing that bruises Twins of Evil the most, since it throws the central dichotomy between Maria and Frieda woefully out of balance.