With a filmography that prominently features horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, it’s no surprise that Britain’s famed Hammer Film Productions has an expansive back catalog that showcases everything from vampires to zombies to witchcraft. Throughout the 50s and 60s, Hammer produced seminal films like Brides of Dracula (1960), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and The Devil Rides Out (1968).
But unlike the UK’s other famous horror master, Alfred Hitchcock, the Hammer brand of thrills, chills, and kills has not aged particularly well. While I recognize the influence that The Curse of Frankenstein had on gore and violence in cinema, the production is stodgy, stiff, and too melodramatic for most modern audiences. The same can be said about the majority of their Dracula and Frankenstein movies from the same era as well.
In the late 60s, consequently, Hammer audiences were beginning to shy away from the company’s brand of upper-class gothic horror. Realizing they needed a new gimmick to get butts back in seats, they turned to a tried-and-true method of capturing an audience’s attention.
That’s right, they decided to ramp up the blood and nudity (specifically, in the boobs department). And guess what? Surprise, surprise. It worked.
Twins of Evil (1971) is the film where the new and old brand of Hammer meet in perfect harmony. The story is based on the vampire tale Carmilla (1872) by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. It’s one of the earliest works of vampire fiction and predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) by twenty-five years. It’s also one of the first examples of the prototypical lesbian vampire. It’s a story steeped in pedigree and has been adapted in notable movies like Vampyr (1932) and The Blood-Spattered Bride (1972).
Originally, Twins of Evil was set to be titled the Vampire Virgins, but after producer Harry Fine saw a Playboy spread featuring real-life twins Mary and Madeleine Collinson, he decided to change the direction of the story and make it about them. Worth noting, they were the first twin identical Playmates; one can only imagine the type of stir this would have made in 1971.
In other words, it’s fair to say that the Collinson sisters were not cast for their acting abilities. The title, Twins of Evil, is an obvious, tongue-in-cheek reference to their ample bosoms. Nevertheless, they more than hold their own on-screen delivering honest and believable performances.
In the film, the recently orphaned twins, Maria and Freida, are sent to live with their puritanical uncle, Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing). Weil is the leader of a fanatical brotherhood that hunts and burns supposed witches at the stake. Not wanting to live under her uncle’s iron fist, Freida becomes obsessed with the local Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas)—who just happens to dabble in Satanism and black magic—and he eventually transforms them both into vampires. After a case or two of mistaken identity, the film comes to a bloody and satisfactory end.
For those already familiar with Hammer’s canon, it’s no surprise that the legendary Cushing is good at playing horror movie baddies, but he’s phenomenal as Weil. Cushing delivers just the right amount of chewing the scenery coupled with an intense emotional base to his actions. If you’ve only seen Cushing in Star Wars (1977), this is a great introduction to the actor’s dynamic range and incredible acting abilities that you may have never seen before.
Damien Thomas, as the vampiric count, looks remarkably like The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, and he delivers an honorable performance as Karstein. Throughout the entirety of Twins of Evil, you just love to hate him.
The movie is directed by John Hough, who is also known for directing The Legend of Hell House (1973). In both films, he uses swift camera movements and tight close-ups to give you a feeling of unease and dread because you can’t see what’s lurking just outside the frame. I love his directing style and it fits the story like a glove.
Music was composed by Harry Robertson, who worked on other Hammer films like The Vampire Lovers (1971) and Countess Dracula (1971). Twins of Evil features a stirring string section as well as punctuated brass instruments in a sweeping, eerie, and bombastic score. It’s the perfect balance of camp and drama.
If you’ve never seen a Hammer horror film, Twins of Evil is a terrific jumping-off point. The plot moves swiftly, the acting and directing are terrific, and the blood and cleavage are on full display. I can easily say that it’s one of my favorite horror films of all time. Give it a shot!
If you’re a Shudder subscriber, it’s currently available to stream for free. This should be considered a “must watch” for any true horror fan.