After lesbian tinged The Vampire Lovers and Lust For A Vampire, Hammer Films closed out their lusty Karnstein Trilogy with Twins Of Evil, an apparent prequel that sees a couple of twin girls – one virtuous, one hornier than a vixen in heat – get mixed up in the sexy, satanic shenanigans of the debauched Count Karnstein.
Like the films that preceded it, it gave the vampire genre a far more overtly hot under the collar kind of nature than the ones that featured Christopher Lee running about the place in a cape and tackled the subjects of sex and lesbianism far more directly than other entries in the Hammer cannon. While not tackling the latter thread as much as the first two movies in the trilogy, the film still presented us with the buxom Collinson twins (hired after being spotted in an issue of Playboy) and tucks them under the wing of an impossibly stern Peter Cushing.
It’s the 17th century and the hollow cheeked puritan Gustav Weil travels across the countryside with his band of god fearing fanatics, burning any wayward young woman he finds at the stake for the perceived crime of witchcraft. Into this tense atmosphere come the Gellhorn twins, recently orphaned and now placed under the care of their tyrannical uncle who practically sees everything as a sin, however, while one twin, Maria, is virtuous, shy and kind, her sister, the far more forward and cruel Frieda, rails against her new life, despising her surroundings and longing to meet the enigmatic Count Karnstein, a man who regularly butts heads with their uncle for having a voracious sex drive that would make Russell Brand’s legendary bed hopping exploits seem positively shy in comparison.
Thing is, Weil has something of a point, because in an effort to wring as much sinful pleasure he can out of life, Karnstein has turned to worshiping Satan (the mess perverts got themselves into before Pornhub was invented, eh?) and after a human sacrifice accidently revives the vampire Countess Mircalla Karnstein from the dead, the Count is transformed into a bloodsucker by his comely descendant.
With Weil burning his way through all the young girls he can condemn and Karnstein feeding on the other, I’m genuinely stunned there’s any women left in the village below the age of 24, but that doesn’t stop Frieda from sneaking out to the Count’s castle in order to see if the dashing fop can sate her lusts.
Turned into a vampire herself, Frieda starts feeding wantonly on anyone she can entice into her warm embrace, the young bloodsucker is soon caught by her uncle, but after being imprisoned and awaiting her fate, Karnstein springs her, pulling the old switcheroo with a kidnapped Maria and confusing everyone with the swap. Which sister is good and which is evil becomes the question of the day as the evil of Count Karnstein envelops everyone it touches.
In many ways, the Karnstein Trilogy always felt like Hammer had matured somewhat from their earlier, vampiric works, chiefly because as they didn’t have to shoehorn in Dracula in evermore ludicrous ways, the movies were free to explore more daring plots that hinted at the real terrors men are capable of that didn’t involve a single fang. Thus Twins Of Evil kicks off right out the gate with the sight of the usually benevolent and grandfatherly Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein notwithstanding) ordering a young woman to be roasted alive purely because he finds her carefree ways sinful and ungodly – it’s a jarring way to kick off a Hammer movie and it keeps you nicely on the wrong foot as rather than being an out and out cad á la Frankenstein or a god fearing white hat like Van Helsing, Weil’s undentable faith has him utterly convinced that he’s genuinely doing good. It’s a layered role that vibes nicely with the overall theme of identical twins with vastly differing morals as that for all his unwavering confidence in his grisly work, the very fact he can’t be bothered to actually differentiate between the good and evil twin simply marks him out as the murdering hypocrite he actually is. Considering their limited acting experience, Madeleine and Mary Collinson are memorable for more than just their wide-eyed, jail-baity appearance and a guess being dubbed to oblivion helps, but it’s interesting that both keep their naive, childlike ways even when Frieda becomes a highly sexed creature of the night and wades into every interaction with her formidable cleavage leading the way. Rather than becoming an arch succubus, Frieda even approaches her awakening evil the way a seventeen year old girl would, feeding mindlessly, assuming that she’s utterly untouchable and invincible the way that only an immortal teenager can.
In comparison, it’s weird that the vampire aspect of the film turns out to be the weakest aspect of the story as it would probably would have remained just of strong if it had left out the pointy teeth and just focused on the witch burning instead. The main reason is Damien Thomas’ flamboyant Count Karnstein who is entertaining enough as he strides about the place like the furry chested, preening peacock he is even before he gets vamped-up and he feels like a camp throwback to Hammer’s earlier stuff has just been thrown in to meet audiences expectations. Yes, watching him strut around like a decadent, 17th century, Billy Idol, sacrificing girls to satan and making out with his own resurrecting descendant is rather fun, but his addition throws off the drama a little, especially considering that if there actually is a supernatural agent of Satan humping his way across the countryside, then the sadistic acts perpetrated by Weil and his Brotherhood technically aren’t wrong, just misguided and poorly planned.
Still, the toughening of Hammer’s usually carefree bloodletting always makes for genuinely gripping viewing with the violence taking a more tangible feeling – especially when Cushing goes into utter beast mode at the finale and hoofs off a villain’s head with a single blow and then chooses to carry it around by the hair. Elsewhere, while the aforementioned sexuality is a little muted compared to its Karnstein stablemates, the whole film is still hornier than three whole seasons of Love Island (the cinematographer’s even called Dick Bush for heaven’s sake) with Frieda’s first take of bloosucking sees her going straight for a woman’s beast instead of her neck and David (Zombie Flesh Eaters) Warbeck’s worryingly lustful thoughts for the meaner of the two twins despite him being the belated hero of the piece.
Hammer purists may balk at the idea of witnessing someone else schooling Peter Cushing on the finer points of vampire killing, but Twins Of Evil still is a fine example of Hammer showing its blunter, harsher edge as the 70’s rolled around and it doubled down on some horny nastiness.