A predictably plotted Hammer vampire film with a decadent atmosphere, two former Playboy Playmates and a surprising amount to say about the nature of human evil.
Twins of Evil is the third and final Hammer film to be based (loosely) on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. It is a sequel of sorts to the novella- featuring added witchhunters, satanists and of course, vampires and twins.
Mary and Madeleine Collinson star as the titular twins, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn. They travel to the small, misty ‘Central European’ Karstein village to stay with their aunt (Kathleen Byron) and witch-hunting uncle (Peter Cushing). Although the twins’ characters appear to have grown up together, Frieda speaks in foreign accented English, whereas Maria’s accent is closer to Received Pronunciation (both actresses were dubbed). This was probably done to help viewers to tell them apart. Interestingly, foreign accented Frieda is the more adventurous of the two. She soon gets drawn into the mysterious goings-on in the castle above the village.
The other two main characters are Weil (the aforementioned witch hunter) and Count Karstein (Damien Thomas).
Weil is determined to rid the village of satanic elements. Cushing, as usual, takes the role very seriously and portrays a multifaceted character torn between his obligations to God and the Brotherhood and his growing realisation that burning young women at the stake might not be the most effective way to eradicate evil. Cushing steals each scene that he is in- his increasing fear for the safety of his twin nieces is palpable.
Count Karstein lives in the opposing castle above the village. He drives away his boredom by researching devil worship and abducting peasant girls. Although viewed by some as a Christopher Lee stand-in, Damien Thomas holds his own in the role. David Warbeck, on the other hand, is rather forgettable as the village hero. This is due more to his cookie-cutter character than his acting ability.
True gothic ‘Hammer Horror’ atmosphere:
Twins of Evil is full of Hammer’s characteristic visual style- down to the plunging necklines of velvet corseted dresses, imposing architecture and decadent supernatural atmosphere. Little time is spent introducing the setting as it doesn’t need one- mist-filled forests, simple villages and grandiose castles are staple tropes of this kind of Hammer Horror film. This is one area where the film excels- it is nicely shot throughout. Good use is made of the gothic locations and the architecture is often used to frame scenes. The print quality and lighting are also gorgeous.
As well as the aforementioned Peter Cushing, many Hammer Horror regulars appear in cameo performances, including Harvey Hall and Shelagh Wilcocks (The Vampire Lovers), as well as Isobel Black (The Kiss of the Vampire) and a rather unwell Dennis Price (The Horror of Frankenstein, and many more European horror movies of the period).
However, the film lacks the foreboding tension present in other such horror films like Hammer’s earlier Dracula (1958). We see the consequences of Weil’s witch finder duties in the dramatic burning at the stake in the pre-title sequence. Also, the tension as to the precise nature of Count Karstein’s preoccupations is not given time to build. His interests are swiftly revealed in a slightly gory scene twenty minutes into the film. This is forgivable as many who have seen Hammer’s other vampire films or read Carmilla will recognise the Karstein name. Twins of Evil is a film that relies more on visual shock than tension building.
Despite the lack of creepy tension and a storyline that becomes predictable after the halfway mark, Twins of Evil is still an entertaining film for fans of Hammer Horror. The atmosphere is fantastic with some good performances from Hammer regulars who do what they can to lift the plot’s weak points.
Which Twins are evil? – An analysis of the characters of Weil and Karstein (SPOILERS).
The title ‘Twins of Evil’ refers not only to the twins Frieda and Maria but also to Weil and Karstein. The two men are ‘twins’ of evil on extreme ends of the spectrum- one seeking God, the other seeking Satan. As in Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers adaption of the original story of the lesbian vampire Carmilla, there is a fear of female sexuality and agency which is slightly explored in the film.
This is most strongly evident in the actions and words of the puritanical Weil. Angered by his nieces’ wearing fancy and revealing dresses instead of staid black, Weil immediately leaves for the Brotherhood Meeting place with the aim of burning another witch. Is a reaction to his inability to punish the twins fully? A suppressed attraction to his pretty nieces? Or a mixture of the two? It isn’t quite clear. He certainly relies more on village gossip and paranoia than proof. Weil is eager to burn any woman whom Brotherhood members say is rumoured to be wanton. (“A young girl lives there alone, refuses to take a husband. They say she has many husbands. She’s a creature of the Devil.”)
In contrast to Weil, Karstein appears to be the lesser of the two evils at first. Early in the film, Weil catches him in bed with a peasant girl. Karstein confronts the witch hunter about his practice of burning women at the stake. (“Weil and his friends find their pleasure through burning innocent girls.”). He then offers the girl to Weil, suggesting that Weil’s self-imposed sexual repression is the cause of his obsession with burning ‘witches’. (“Have Gerta if you want…You’ll feel better then. You won’t go around burning pretty girls.”)
Whereas Weil uses his religious beliefs to control the villagers with the aim of leading their souls to God, Karstein uses his protected status and clout to subjugate peasants and use them as his playthings. This is demonstrated in the satanic ritual featuring another peasant girl tied to a stone coffin. Impatient with his lackeys’ attempt to summon the devil, Karstein brutally stabs her through the heart himself. The bright red blood drips down inside the coffin to reanimate the shrouded corpse of the vampire Carmilla Karstein. She promptly seduces her descendant, turning him into a vampire. Thus Karstein is under the control of his powerful dead female relative and clashes with Weil over the freshest blood in the village… the newly arrived twins.
The subsequent seduction of Frieda by Karstein causes Weil to realise that he can’t burn one of his own relatives. This prompts Weil to examine his activities as a witch hunter so far. He concludes that it is not the women who are to blame but Karstein. In the film’s dramatic finale, Weil sacrifices himself in the attempt destroy the untouchable aristocrat and end his abuse of the peasantry.
It is never revealed whether the destroying of one side of the film’s evil (Karstein/Carmilla) is enough to redeem the soul of the other (Weil).