Hammer Films were made for high-definition: the lavish sets, ornate costumes and lush photography create a pop-gothic atmosphere that lends itself to the added visual boost this home video format can offer. That said, it takes good remastering to make that kind of visual nirvana possible – and Synapse’s work with their Hammer titles shows they know how to make it happen. Their Vampire Circus release quickly became a fan favorite and their latest entry in this arena, an all-stops-out blu-ray/DVD set for Twins Of Evil, finds them taking their HD Hammer magnificence to a new plateau.
The set begins in appropriately regal style with an excellent new transfer: with the exception of a brief bit of element damage in the opening minutes, this is a knock-out stunner of a transfer from start to finish. The image quality is sharp as a tack, with a rich, velvety color scheme that suits the gorgeous cinematography. The end result retains that old-school look that Hammer fans love but brings the resolution up to modern home theater standards. The original mono soundtrack is retained and sounds quite good, particularly the aggressive musical score by Harry Robinson. There is also a new music and effects track created for this release that allows Hammer fans to experience all the blood and thunder in its purest form as well as English subtitles.
To further sweeten the deal, Synapse has put together an impressive set of extras. Starting with the smaller end of the scale, there is a full set of trailers for the film: a theatrical trailer, a double-feature trailer that pairs it with Hands Of The Ripper and series of brief t.v. spots. They have the playful camp-gothic style you’d expect from this era of horror film advertising and are all fun to watch (Hands Of The Ripper will be released by Synapse at a later date so what you see here will whet your appetite for that release). There is also a motion gallery of stills and promotional art set to the film’s musical score that is quite impressive, particularly the eye-popping “sexploitation” section of this gallery. Let’s just say it’s overflowing with pulchritude.
However, the selling point for Hammer fanatics in the extras area will be a featurette and long-form documentary produced by Daniel Griffith. The shorter of the two pieces is called “The Props That Hammer Built” and highlights the collection of archivist/writer Wayne Kinsey. Said collection covers everything from Horror Of Dracula through the company’s early ’70s productions and offers a variety of one-of-a-kind curios. Kinsey has a story to tell for each item, usually related to the production of the film in question. It’s the kind of featurette designed to appeal to your inner horror nerd and it fully delivers on that level.
The remaining extra is the crown jewel of this set, a feature-length documentary about Twins Of Evil entitled The Flesh And The Fury. If you have any worries that 84 minutes might be too long for this subject, this sharp, fast-paced documentary will put them to rest. It hits the ground running by giving the viewer context on where fits into Hammer’s history, revealing that it was made at a time when they were figuring out how to retool their type of film for a new, hipper audience. Whether you’re a novice or a veteran fan, the complex history of this Hammer era is laid out with style and gets the horror fan involved.
From there, The Flesh And The Fury follows into a history of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s “Carmilla,” the ur-text of the “lesbian vampire” subgenre of horror. Horror experts like David J. Skal discuss the author and the history of his influential story and Griffith even manages to weave in a few recreations of moments from the text, all shot in a vividly colored style that will appeal to fans of Euro-cult fare. The documentary then breaks down how this story influenced Hammer’s cycle of female of vampire films, specifically The Vampire Lovers and Lust For A Vampire, and how Twins Of Evil found an interesting, The Witchfinder General-styled variation on it.
The remainder of the film devotes itself to a history of the production of Twins Of Evil and the feature-documentary length allows it to go into all the key details. Director John Hough is on hand to discuss his approach to the film as well as its issues with the censors and actor Damien Smith discusses his short-lived career as a horror actor with good cheer. There are also compelling tales about how personal tragedy in Peter Cushing’s life informed his performance in the film, how the sexy Collinson Twins ended up in the film (and why they were dubbed), the film’s troubled history with both British and American censors and much more.
The end result is a smashing good time for Hammer fans, richly textured with all manner of historical trivia yet laid out in a pace-conscious manner that blends it all into an engrossing narrative. There are plenty of notable genre figures on hand to flesh out the discussion – Joe Dante, Tim Lucas and Kim Newman, to name just three – and Griffith keeps the visual element of the documentary fresh by incorporating footage from various Hammer films, tons of great stills, archival interviews and stylish graphics. If you like Hammer Films at all, you need to see this.
In short, Synapse’s new Twins Of Evil set is another catalogue title winner for this label and a grand addition to the young trend of high-definition Hammer discs. Bloody fangs and heaving bosoms have never looked this good on your home theater screen.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Twins Of Evil, click here.