Following on yesterday’s viewing of Hammer’s Countess Dracula (1971), here’s another Hammer film made that same year, this one with actual vampires. I’m actually coming into this Karnstein trilogy backwards, but Twins of Evil is the only one I have on hand right now; Twins is preceded by The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire (1971). Christopher Lee also played the Count in Crypt of the Vampire (1964).
Based on Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla characters, Twins’ fast-paced and enjoyable story involves Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), leader of a religious sect who seeks to purify the area by hunting evildoers and suspected witches. They bust into homes and break up couples, and have burned at the stake some innocents, so Gustav has earned himself the enmity of many in his village. Gustav and his men could end the threat entirely if only they dared to confront the right kind of evil, namely Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), the decadent, peacockish aristocrat-recently-turned-vampire, but Gustav scoffs at peasant superstitions about such creatures and targets naughty girls instead.
Into this tense situation arrive Gustav’s recently orphaned twin nieces, bombshells Frieda and Maria (Madeline and Mary Collinson). Frieda is the more mischievous thrill-seeker whose search for excitement in this dull little burg naturally leads her straight to the forbidden and mysterious Count, who turns her into a vampire. Maria, on the other hand, is sweet and innocent and constantly warns Frieda about her risky behaviour. They’re cared for by Aunt Katy (Kathleen Byron) and attend a small school run by dashing composer/historian Anton (David Worbeck) and his sister Ingrid (Isobel Black).
Where there are twins, there must be switching of places at school and one sister feeling the pain of the other sister’s injury, in this case during a dramatic decapitation. The switcheroo device really plays into the story when Frieda is hunted by Gustav and crew, and they almost burn poor Maria at the stake instead. She’s saved by Anton’s pleas to test her with a cross, and that staple of vampire lore also figures in a great scene where the Count hovers over Maria as she sleeps and waits for her to toss and turn and drop the cross she’s clutching so he can bite her.
Thomas makes a showy and entertaining vampire, comically self-centered and cowardly, barking orders to his henchman/servant Joachim (Roy Stewart), and emoting with maximum drama. In the final battle he goads Gustav to come at him with that sharpened axe, warning of the doom if he misses, which poor Gustav does. The Count wasn’t so brave a few scenes before, when he urged (nearly shoved) Frieda to walk out ahead of him where he expected an ambush and beheading. Cushing is always fun to watch and wrung the most out his material, here whipped into a fanatical zeal–“God has given me twins of evil!”–which mellows into doubt and guilt over almost killing the wrong niece. The crisis opens him to learning some tricks from Anton, a fount of vampire knowledge and source of instruction about fashioning the right weapons to defeat the Count.