There was a time when the name “Hammer Films” represented a level of maturity, violence, and raciness that ordinary Hollywood horror films couldn’t match. Then the late ’60s changed what was acceptable in American cinema, and Hammer started to look stolid and creatively exhausted by comparison. Before the studio petered out completely, it had a brief ’70s resurgence, thanks to an influx of young TV directors looking to break into film, and thanks to the new freedom to lace movies with more gore and nudity. One of the most entertaining Hammer products of the period was what came to be known as “The Karnstein Trilogy,” based loosely on Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 vampire novella Carmilla, which is said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After opening with the fairly straight 1970 Le Fanu adaptation The Vampire Lovers—all about a cursed lesbian who can’t help but feed on the women she desires—Hammer continued the series with the 1971 sequel Lust For A Vampire, then jumped back to the earlier days of the villain’s family history with 1971’s Twins Of Evil.
The origin of the last film was reportedly pretty casual, inspired by a Hammer producer seeing a layout of Playboy playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson and deciding that vampire twins could be a sexy twist on a played-out premise. But the studio was on a roll at that time, and Twins Of Evil became one of Hammer’s better efforts, and a fan favorite. Credit for that is due in large part to its cast. The Collinsons don’t have to do much besides look pretty and doff their clothes occasionally (even their voices were dubbed by other actresses), but Peter Cushing and Damien Thomas are terrific as, respectively, a soul-sick witch-hunter and a Satanist plagued by ennui.
It’s no coincidence that Hammer brought so many TV vets on-board in the ’70s; by then the studio was practically a horror anthology series, pumping out so many features that one Hammer movie frequently competed against another in the market. The result was that a low-budget quickie like Twins Of Evil could look polished and feel assured, even if its highest ambition was to flash a little flesh and blood. Not that director John Hough and writer Tudor Gates don’t deepen the material some. The story plays the people who know that evil exists—Cushing and Thomas, primarily—against those who find the idea of debauched black orgies either preposterous or titillating. But mostly Twins Of Evil, like the best of Hammer, is about entering a world of castles, creatures, and torch-wielding mobs, all a little darker and more colorful than expected.
Key features: A deleted (and highly anachronistic) musical number, a 20-minute featurette about Hammer’s props, and a documentary that runs almost as long as Twins Of Evil, covering Carmilla, Hammer Films, and “The Karnstein Trilogy.”