Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blu-ray Review: TWINS OF EVIL (1971)

Blu-ray + DVD Combo 
Label: Synapse Films
Region: Region A
Duration: 87 minutes
Rating: Unrated

Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 
Director: John Hough
Cast: Peter Cushing, Damien Thomas, Dennis Price, David Warbeck, Madeleine Collinson, Mary Collinson
Tagline: Which is the Virgin? Which is the Vampire? 

Synopsis: Two beautiful orphaned identical twins, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn (Playboy centerfold models Mary and Madeleine Collinson), move to the village of Karnstein to live with their uncle Gustav Weil (played by Hammer horror favorite, Peter Cushing), a fanatical puritan and leader of the local witch-hunting “Brotherhood.” The village Count (Damien Thomas, Never Let Me Go), an evil man who secretly practices Satanism, uses black magic and transforms into a vampire. Unhappy with her new life, Frieda seeks escape and tragically falls under the spell of the Count. Now overcome with an insatiable hunger for human blood, Frieda has to hide her secret from her sister, and escape her uncle’s killing grasp!

The Film: Twins of Evil (1971) is Hammer's third and final entry in a series of films known as the Karnstein trilogy following The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire (1971)  and in it village elder Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing, Shock Waves) is the stern and rather unpleasant leader of a fanatical group of witch-hunters called The Brotherhood. Cushing's portrayal of the witchfinder is differentiated from Vincent Price's depiction of Mathew Hopkins in the film The Witchfinder General (1968) in that he truly and sincerely believes he's doing the Lord's work while Price's character was merely profiteering from other's misery in the most reprehensible way. The true tragedy is that while these busty innocents burn there is actually a devil among them - Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas)  looms over the village from his castle where he engages in wicked orgies and Satanic rituals but The Brotherhood dare not touch him for he is under the protection of the Emperor, the monarchies weren't really down with religious fanaticism... so let's burn some busty blondes instead, right? Right! The decadent Count Karnstein comes from a long lineage of sadistic evil-doers and and his depraved aristocratic lifestyle leaves him yearning for a taste of true-evil but he surrounds himself with wannabe cultists and so he grows bored and deeply unsatisfied, that is until one-night when he offers up a human sacrifice conjuring the long dead Coutness Mircalla (Katya Wayeth, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange), a true beauty who fornicates with the Count and in the process gives us a nice tidbit of eroticism as she simulates a hand-job with a candlestick - it's a nice touch, way to go Hammer. Oh yeah, and she transforms him into a vampire - that's important to know.

It's right about then that Weil's newly orphaned identical twin nieces Maria (Mary Collinson) and Frida (MadelineCollinson) arrive in the village of  Karnstein and quickly discover what a strict and religious man their Uncle Weil truly is - he's definitely no fun. His puritanical persecution of the voluptuous beauties pushes them away and none more so than kinky Frieda who is quite obviously the more deviant of the duo with a keen interest in the darker side of what life has to offer.  It's not long before freaky Frieda falls under the spell of the Count after overhearing tales of wild orgies and his wicked ways. She steals away in the dark of night to his castle swearing her sister to secrecy, she's a pretty typical teen. Maria, the more virginal of the twins, takes a liking to a much nicer young man, a schoolteacher named Anton Hoffer (David Warbeck, Lucio Fulci's The Beyond) who studies superstitions and believes in witchcraft and vampirism. Weil not surprisingly doesn't approve of Anton's interest in the occult but when Freida falls victim to Karnstein's vampirism becoming a bloodsucker and killing one of The Brotherhood the two men join forces and lead The Brotherhood on a bloody assault of Karnstein's castle.

The film was shot on many of the sets used for Hammer's Vampire Circus so it definitely has that Hammer familiarity to it. The outdoor scenes shot in Oxhead Park are outstanding, particularly an early night scene wherein The Brotherhood capture and burn a suspected witch - the nighttime woods laden with fog are quite eerie and wonderfully Gothic, the film is drenched with loads of tense atmosphere.

As with the preceding films in the Karnstein trilogy it's saturated with overt and lurid sexuality though perhaps not as much vampire lesbianism as one might expect from a film featuring Playboy Playmate twins, there's just a brief titillating moment that passes far too quick. Fear not though, this is an early 70's Hammer endeavor from the production duo of Harry Fine and Michael Style so there's plenty of blood, breasts and other exploitative elements on display. It's lurid but definitely not to such great heights (or lows) as the aforementioned Vampire Circus which reviled us with elements of pedophilia and the murder of small children but it's pretty great nonetheless. 

Peter Cushing is a legend among legends and the star of countless horror classics and his performance is a coldly intense and blistering, I think it's a standout even among his oeuvre. Damian Thomas as the evil Count Karnstein turns in a decent performance but I just wasn't feeling it, not to constantly compare this film to Vampire Circus but Robert Tayman's perverse-bloodsucker Count Mitterhaus runs circles around Karnstein. Thomas is a bit goofy at times I must admit his fanged facial expression elicited more than a few a laughs, it's not fatal to the film but it detracted a few points. The Collinson Twins are are gorgeous from head to toe, voluptuous brunette beauties who were very easy on the eyes.

There's some nice carnage up on the screen to, the blood flows deep red and quite freely. Of course we get a few nice burnings at the stake, each one staged quite nicely, a machete to the head, fire applied to the eye, a shocking decapitation and an axe flung into someones spine - pretty great stuff.

Blu-ray: Hammer's Vampire Circus was Synapse's initial Blu-ray offering and it was quite a presentation, probably my favorite Blu-ray of that year. With Twins of Evil I would say they've raised the bar even from that high watermark. The film looks quite brilliant in 1080p high definition presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen sourced from a very nice print. There are a few rough moments particularly during some noisy nighttime scenes but overall this is a stunner with a nice layer of natural film grain and with beautifully resolved fine details and texture. The colors are appropriately vibrant and black levels are consistently strong. The English language DTS-HD mono audio track sounds great, too. It's a mono track so we don't get any dynamic range or use of the surrounds but the audio is crisp and the dialogue rings through clear.

The audio and visual presentation is sweet let us look into the wealth of special features beginning with a feature length documentary The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil (1hr 24 mins) is nearly as long as the feature itself, a fantastic retrospective exploring the origins of the film's story in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella Carmilla (1872) - a story that pre-dates Bram Stoker's Dracula by some 25 years. While discussing the Carmilla aspects of the film there's some dramatic re-enactment video footage accompanying the story, fun stuff. There's a ton of cinematic adaptations of the story from Joseph Dreyer's Vampyr (1932) on through to Blood and Roses (1960), Terror in the Crypt (1964) and Roy Ward Baker's The Vampire Lovers (1970) starring Ingrid Pitt. There's plenty of involvement from director John Hough too who openly discusses many facets of the film and it's origins, it's great stuff. There's also plenty of Hammer facts, trivia and critique from authors, critics and film historians Kim Newman, Joe Dante, Tim Lucas, Eric Hoffman, Ted Newsom - all quite enriching and not just about this film specifically of Hammer in general, particularly 70's Hammer and the sexploitation direction they were headed. Everything you could want to know about Twins of Evil and this particular era of Hammer is here for your enjoyment and nicely put into context. If the feature alone weren't enough this fantastic documentary is worth the price of admission alone.

The next feature is The Props that Hammer Built: The Kinsey Collection (23:28) featuring a guided tour of Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey's private collection of Hammer memorabilia which begins with a saddening story of Pinewood Studios tossing many of Hammer's props in the trash-bin, ugh. Kinsey shows us a model castle that was retrieved from the bin by a technician working on the lot at the time, the castle was used in the films Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)  and The Gorgon (1964) - truly  sweet piece of Hammer history. We also get to see bats used in Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and Brides of Dracula (1960) . An eyeball prop from Frankenstein and the Monsters from Hell (1973) and a few others including a prized jacket and books from Peter Cushings own collection. Kinsey's a bit dry honestly but the props and the story behind each one is pretty awesome.

On top of these features we also get a Motion Still Gallery (14:01) with tons f production and promotional stills and artwork not to mention a bunch of sexploitation promo shots of the Collinson Twins - sweet stuff. There's a US Trailer (2:31) plus a Double Bill Trailer (2:31) with Hands of the Ripper (1971) a selection of TV Spots (1:10) and an odd musical  Deleted Scene (1:09) that's more a curiosity than unburied treasure. There's also a DTS-HD MA mono Isolated Music and Effects Track highlighting Harry Robertson's dramatic score of the film. This is a Blu-ray/DVD combo but it should be noted that not all of the special features are carried over on the DVD.

Special Features:
An all-new, feature-length documentary exploring Hammer's infamous 'Karnstein' trilogy from the origin of Carmilla, to the making of TWINS OF EVIL! Featuring exclusive interviews with director John Hough, star Damien Thomas, cult film director Joe Dante, Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, and more!
- Motion Still Gallery* (14:01)
- Deleted Scene* (1:09) 16:9
- Original Theatrical Trailer* (2:31) 4:3
- Double Feature Trailer (2:31) 4:3
- TV Spots* (1:10) 4:3
- Isolated Music and Effects Track 
* (Blu-ray Exclusive)

Verdict: Twins of Evil (1971) gets an easy recommend from me - this is essential stuff. It's not quite the lurid shocker that Vampire Circus (1972) was but it's fantastic just the same. Synapse Films have done right by Hammer with a gorgeous presentation and a wealth of bonus content - the feature-length documentary is just as essential as the film itself. Yet another superb presentation from Synapse - and there's more Hammer on the way from 'em too with The Complete Hammer House of Horror 5-DVD Collector's Edition
4 Outta 5