United Kingdom. 87 minutes. Directed by John Hough, 1971. Starring Peter Cushing, Madeline Collinson, Mary Collinson, Kathleen Byron, Damien Thomas, David Warbeck.

Beautiful twin sisters Maria and Frieda Gellhorn have traveled to a distant village to live with their uncle Gustav after the deaths of their parents. The pious, devout and strict Gustav is the leader of a vigilante group, the Brotherhood, dedicated to stamping out the evil of witchcraft in the region, mostly by organizing burnings of suspected witches. Politics prevents Gustav from acting against the decadent Count Karnstein, a libertine who indulges in Satanic rituals–but enjoys the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor. But the Count’s activities bring him to the attention of his vampiric ancestor Mircalla, who transforms him into one of the undead. Soon, the Count turns his gaze to the Gellhorn sisters, particularly the rebellious Frieda. Can Maria save her sister from the vampire’s ministrations, or is her soul already damned?

The “ruthless witch hunter” horror sub-genre popular in the late ’60s (Witchfinder General, 1968) and early ’70s (The Bloody Judge and Mark of the Devil, both 1970) offered opportunities for filmmakers to indulge in period settings and erotically charged psychological set pieces. So right now the question going through your head should be, “So surely Hammer Film Productions would have made one of those movies at some point, right? With added vampires?” And the answer to that question is, of course, “Yes.”

1971’s Twins of Evil is the final entry in Hammer’s “Karnstein Trilogy,” a loose series of films based on (read: “borrowing character names from”) J. Sheridan le Fanu’s Gothic novel Carmilla. You don’t need to be familiar with its predecessors (The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire) to understand what’s going on here; indeed, Mircalla Karnstein–the primary antagonist of the first two films–is little more than a sideline here.

Twins isn’t as strong as Hammer’s other vampire films of the period. Largely this is due to the characterization: most of the characters simply aren’t particularly memorable or well-drawn. This is somewhat to be expected when it comes to the “good guys,” which include the virginal Maria, the twins’ aunt Katy, and Anton Hoffer, the choirmaster at the local girls’ school. But Freida and the one-dimensionally evil Count suffer from this as well. Uncle Gustav should provide an interesting source of moral ambiguity, but instead makes a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn from baddie to reformed baddie halfway through the third act; there’s no real “redemption arc” here. And I was personally disappointed that screenwriter Tudor Gates didn’t use his premise to comment on the gender and generational issues of the time.

The films’ other major weakness comes with its stars, Mary Collinson (as Maria) and Madeline Collinson (as Freida). The Collinson twins were Playboy’s Misses October 1970, and their performances are pretty much in line with what you might expect from former Playmates. The fact that they can’t consistently keep their German accents going for more than a few words at a time could become the source of a drinking game. Indeed, one wonders why they’re bothering with the accents at all, considering no one else is. The lack of acting skill is less of a problem for Madeline (who’s given little to do but vamp) than for Mary, who’s got an actual character portray. Still, at least they look great in cleavage-enhancing corsets.

Despite a limp script and unconvincing leads, Twins does have a bit going for it in other departments. The supporting cast, particularly Damien Thomas (Count Karnstein), Peter Cushing (Uncle Gustav), David Warbeck (Anton) and Kathleen Byron (Aunt Katy) are excellent. Director John Hough isn’t quite as much of a stylist as his contemporaries at the studio, but the direction is solid. The production design is gorgeous and the photography lush, two Hammer trademarks, and several of the effects sequences are better than you might expect from a film of this budget and vintage.

Still, one can’t quite shake the feeling that Twins of Evil doesn’t quite live up to its potential, and can only be recommended to diehard Hammer fans. For everyone else, it’s significantly less than essential.

TWINS OF EVIL poster

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