The 1970’s was prob­a­bly the most excit­ing time in the his­to­ry of film­mak­ing, at least as far as artis­tic free­dom is con­cerned.  The social advances that were fought for dur­ing this time were reflect­ed in film­mak­ing all over the world, with film­mak­ers embrac­ing their new free­dom to pur­sue more adult con­tent and push the envelope in all man­ner of inter­est­ing direc­tions.

The “New Hollywood” move­ment of the 1970’s is the most pop­u­lar exam­ple of this cin­e­mat­ic free­dom in action but the shock waves could be felt every­where, includ­ing the world of gen­re films.  Even a com­mer­cial enter­prise like Hammer Films had to move with the times.  The ear­ly 1970’s found them bring­ing in new tal­ent, both pro­duc­ers and direc­tors, to bring a fresh, chal­leng­ing dimen­sion to their by now famil­iar goth­ic themes.  Twins Of Evil is one of the best exam­ples of this trend at Hammer: it has all the heav­ing bosoms and bloody the­atrics you might expect but there’s also a sub­ver­sive qual­i­ty to the sto­ry that reflects the tur­bu­lent era it was pro­duced in.

Twins Of Evil begins with Gustav (Peter Cushing), a dour and pious reli­gious man, lead­ing his broth­er­hood of fol­low­ers in burn­ing a peas­ant wom­an at the stake for sus­pi­cion of witch­craft and involve­ment in a series of blood-drain­ing mur­ders in the area.  It’s obvi­ous she’s inno­cent but Gustav and his men kill her while pray­ing for her soul.  However, the strange mur­ders con­tin­ue, even as Gustav and his men bring more peas­ant wom­en they find “sus­pi­cious” to fiery sal­va­tion.  The only per­son he can’t pun­ish in the area is Count Karnstein (Damien Smith), a debauched noble­man who flaunts his irrev­er­ence and his pro­tec­tion by the roy­als at every chance.

In short, this lit­tle vil­lage is a pres­sure cook­er of repres­sion and temp­ta­tion — and it’s about to blow wide open for two rea­sons.  The first is the arrival of Gustav’s sexy twin nieces, Frieda and Maria (Playboy Playmates Madelaine and Mary Collinson).  They provide new­found temp­ta­tion to Count Karnstein and Frieda is dev­il­ish enough in tem­pera­ment to take him up on his innu­en­do.  To make mat­ters worse, Karnstein has been try­ing to make a con­nec­tion with the dark side and suc­ceeds in becom­ing a vam­pire for his trou­bles.  The only hope for the rest of the town lies with Anton (David Warbeck), a teacher well-versed in the lore of the dark arts — but will he be able to over­come Karnstein and the brim­stone-fueled vio­lence of Gustav’s broth­er­hood?

The end result is as over­stuffed as it sounds, but glo­ri­ous­ly so: Twins Of Evil is the kind of goth­ic hor­ror pot­boil­er where all the ele­ments fall into place beau­ti­ful­ly and deliv­er a string of shock-pulp delights.  The script was penned by Tudor Gates, who penned the oth­er Hammer erotic bloodsuck­er items The Vampire Lovers and Lust for A Vampire, and he brings a sim­i­lar mix­ture of goth­ic thrills and cheese­cake to the table here.  It’s got a camp edge to it — for exam­ple, there’s some hilar­i­ous­ly unsub­tle phal­lic imagery dur­ing a seduc­tion sequence and a scene with a mute ser­vant mim­ing a series of dan­gers to Karnstein that is like a gag from Young Frankenstein — but it also weaves a vari­ety of sub­plots with great skill.  It’s also worth not­ing that for a film with such an ensem­ble of char­ac­ters, the script man­ages to give each of the major play­ers a dis­tinct, com­pelling iden­ti­ty.

However, the most strik­ing ele­ment of Twins Of Evil from a sto­ry stand­point is its moral ambiva­lence.  Count Karnstein is as immoral as you might expect but Gustav, who should be the hero, is just as bad because he tar­gets the wrong “sin­ners” due to his dog­ma-induced blind­ness to what evil actu­al­ly is.  As a result, he racks up as big a body count of inno­cents as the Count does!  Thus it falls to Anton to be hero, main­ly because he’s the only who can be sen­si­ble (telling­ly, he is a pro­po­nent of edu­ca­tion over dog­ma or wealthy deca­dence).  Most every­one else in the sto­ry ends up a vic­tim because they live in a soci­ety where you can’t ques­tion author­i­ty.  Those who do have author­i­ty are either cor­rupt or mis­guid­ed.  These themes are pret­ty heady stuff for what is sup­posed to be a Hammer pro­gram­mer — and its ques­tion­ing of reli­gion puts in a sim­i­lar camp with anoth­er 1971 release, Ken Russell’s The Devils.

Twins Of Evil gets away with this blend of pulp and sub­ver­sive themes because it is direct­ed with daz­zling style and pace by John Hough.  He is an under­rat­ed direc­tor whose c.v. includes a diverse array of ‘70s gems (Legend Of Hell House, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Escape To Witch Mountain) and he brings a kinet­ic, visu­als-dri­ven approach to the mate­ri­al here.  Whether he’s deal­ing with a witch burn­ing, a vam­pire attack or just a heat­ed dia­logue exchange, Hough brings a tremen­dous sense of coiled ener­gy to the film that pro­vides the fuel for its engine.  His dynam­ic style is aid­ed nice­ly by excel­lent cin­e­matog­ra­phy from Dick Bush, who gives the visu­als an over­ripe, vel­vety look, and a clas­sic “blood and thun­der” musi­cal score from Harry Robinson that prods the film along with mar­tial drum­beats and blar­ing horn fan­fares.

The final piece of the puz­zle is the cast, which is packed with mem­o­rable turns.  Cushing gives one of his all-time best per­for­mances as Gustav, bring­ing his famous cool inten­si­ty to the fore to cre­ate an anti-hero who is ter­ri­fy­ing and tor­ment­ed by turns.  Smith makes a believ­ably debauched count and Warbeck, sev­er­al years before his star­dom in Italian gen­re flicks, deliv­ers a like­ably ground­ed turn as the film’s audi­ence iden­ti­fi­ca­tion fig­ure.  By com­par­ison, the Collinson Twins are main­ly used for visu­al­ly sym­bol­ic pur­pos­es: despite being notice­ably dubbed, their basic but solid work fits their pur­pose in the film — and Madelaine Collinson brings some real ener­gy to her work as the “bad girl” of the duo.  Horror buffs should also keep their eyes peeled for a brief but fun char­ac­ter turn from Euro-cult icon Dennis Price as the Count’s pro­cur­er of wench­es.

Simply put, Twins Of Evil retains its pow­er today because it offers the right mix­ture of extrav­a­gant Hammer Films style com­bined with dar­ing ideas under the sur­face that retain their poten­cy.  It’s the kind of movie that gives goth­ic cheap thrills a good name.