What a difference three years makes! When the similarly constructed, Vincent Price-led Witchfinder General came out in 1968, audiences were aghast. The violence, sexual assault, torture, and good ol’ fashioned witch burnings were too much for people to handle. Maybe it was not the violence, but the enjoyment of such actions. The film was heavily cut, including the removal of an infamous scene where a suspected witch is slowly lowered into a fire. It has since been restored, and now that we can see the full version, realize it would have earned a hard PG-13 rating if it came out today. Back then, people fainted. Fast-forward three years to 1971 and the release of Twins of Evil. The story is similar, as is the brutality. There is no torture, but killings a’plenty, one burning after another, and loads of implied sexual debauchery. However, there was no outrage. No bannings or cuttings. The film was released to the usual fanfare fitting of a Hammer production. It’s amazing how much the general public can evolve in just a short time.
Twins of Evil very nearly became one in a long line of 70’s horror movies that tried to do too much and suffered from a chaotic identity crisis. Witches are not enough, there are vampires too. Well, actually, vampire-witches. The film starts off like Witchfinder General and ends like Dracula. However, the story is well-constructed, and with decent writing, sincere acting, and atmospheric sets, this film not only works, but works entertainingly well.
Peter Cushing, perhaps, plays one of the darkest characters of his career. In a rare move for a Hammer Production of this length, he is well-developed. Rather than just a ruthless, sordid murderer out for selfish reasons (like Mathew Hopkins), he has religious fervor to thank for his extremism. He is the member of a secret ecclesiastical society known as the “Brotherhood”. Though in the 1800’s, they are stuck in an earlier time. They roam the German countryside hunting witches. Cushing firmly believes in what he does, until seeds of doubt are gradually planted and we begin to see another side to him. Still, he shuts it out and manages to be just as sadistic as Hopkins. But there’s a little more complexity to him as he churns in one of his finest performances.
It’s just another job for him until the vampirism affects one of his two visiting nieces (twins, played by real-life twins Madeleine and Mary Collinson). They have come to live with he and his wife after their parents died suddenly in Italy. The two do not get along with their new guardians. They are not religious and are extremely sexually charged. Damien Thomas plays a local Satan-worshiping count who becomes a vampire himself and casts one of the nieces under his spell. The second half of Twins of Evil becomes a hunt for him, and an attempt at his ultimate destruction. The climax is bloody, graphic, and violent, even by today’s standards.
This is a film that ages well. I’m surprised I had never heard of it sooner. This is one of those movies that manages to not have garnered a cult following or fan base over the years. I guess with so many excellent Hammer films and Cushing performances, a real gem was bound to slip through the cracks. I found myself thoroughly enjoying this from start to finish, and would definitely watch it again. Also starring Dennis Price. Directed by John Hough. 8 out of 10 stars.