Monday, April 22, 2013

Twins of Presumed Evil

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so a deranged, witch hunting zealot comes across an actual servant of the devil now and then. Such is the gist of Twins of Evil, a 1971 Hammer horror film starring Peter Cushing, the third in Hammer's Karnstein trilogy. The first film is the best, The Vampire Lovers, which is loosely based on Le Fanu's Carmilla and stars the incomparable Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla/Mircalla . Pitt wouldn't return for the next two films, which is one of the reasons The Vampire Lovers is the best one. The final film is a more solid piece of filmmaking than the second, a great deal less silly, though it's disappointing in its lack of silly sexploitation. A puzzling distinction given that Twins of Evil stars the luscious Playboy Playmate Collinson Twins.

The twins, only one of whom we ever get to see naked and in only one scene, are the nieces of Cushing's character, Gustav, who roams the countryside at night with his fellow zealots to drag attractive young women out of their homes and burn them at the stake. I think the movie's still supposed to take place in Germany so I guess these guys are Pietists?

The funny thing is, Gustav basically becomes the hero of the movie when Count Karnstein, made a vampire in the one brief scene in which Mircalla appears (played by yet another actress), terrorises the town. Gustav never has any regrets about his murders--his arguments with the younger male hero, a scholar, revolving only around the fact that fire won't harm vampires, only a stake through the heart or decapitation will work.

There are a couple scenes, I rather wish had been expanded on, where Gustav argues with his wife, Katy, about his religious fervour. Katy's played by Kathleen Byron, who played Sister Ruth in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus, and it's interesting to find her again playing a character beset by the constrictions of piety. It's really great seeing her performing with Peter Cushing, however briefly.

Cushing is great as Gustav. He plays the character with complete commitment, going right along with the movie's ambiguous perspective on him. Really, there's a lot of material here that could have been exploited. The movie's kind of like two movies of unrealised potential; the one about religion and preying on the weak, and the one about kinky sex.

The Collinson twins always, without exception, wear gowns that bare most of their chests, but there's nothing like the dumb fun sex scenes in Lust for a Vampire, or even the bits of fun in The Vampire Lovers. It makes The Vampire Lovers' peculiar mix of fun and heart seem even more remarkable, and I'm looking forward to it coming out on Blu-Ray next week.

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