Monday, January 4, 2010

Twins of Evil (1971)

Directed by John Hough
Starring Mary Collinson, Madeleine Collinson, Peter Cushing
Rated R
UK

"The devil has sent me twins...of evil!"

Mary and Madeleine Collinson were two button-nosed identical twins from Malta (apparently it's a tiny country in Southern Europe) who initially made a splash when they arrived in late 60's Britain and shot a few racy 8mm loops with Satan-bearded nudie-cutie pioneer Harrison Marks. They quickly graduated to full-length softcore scuzz (Groupie Girl, 1970; She'll Follow You Anywhere, 1971) before landing this plum gig at the then red hot House of Hammer.

Although largely forgotten by everyone except for hardcore horror/sleaze scholars at this point, the Collinson sisters were two of the most remarkable actresses of the sleazy 70's. The sheer sexual potency of these exotic ingénues cannot be overstated. They were gorgeous, voluptuous, ethereal creatures, literally stunning to look at, and genuinely bewitching. A man could forget his name and worse in their company. Given these hypnotic powers over my weak-willed gender, it is entirely appropriate that their finest cinematic hour would be here, in a film about two irresistible twin sisters leading hapless Puritans to their Satanic undoing. That shit probably happened everyday back in Malta.

The scene? Like all Hammer scenes, really. Foggy and Victorian. Peter Cushing - already ancient at the dawn of the 70's - stars as Gustav Wiel, a maniacal witch burner specializing in young, pretty harlots. As our story opens, he's yanking one such forest-dwelling cleavage queen out of her hovel and setting her alight with nary a whiff of evidence of any devil-doing. He's got a gang of black-cloaked goons with him as well, and surely, they'd burn down the whole fuckin' village where it not for fear of incurring the unseen emperor's wrath. Said emperor has a best pal in town, Count Karstein (Egyptian actor Damien Thomas), a flouncing Satanic dandy fond of ravishing the local nubiles, usually moments before that asshole Gustav shows up to barbeque them.

Aside from his close ties to the big man around town, the Count is also a vampire (aren't all Counts?), which may explain the piles of bloodless corpses littering the nearby woods. This is all quite vexing, as you would imagine, for Man-of-God Gustav.

Into this Draconian nightmare enters Gustav's nieces, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn (Mary and Madeleine, respectively). Identical twins from liberal Venice, the matching head-turners have been dumped into Uncle Gus's bony lap after their parents suffered an unfortunate and unexplained fatal accident. Gorgeous, flirty, and fashionably attired, the girls cause an immediate sensation in the village. At first, the colorful sisters attempt to fit in with their drab neighbors, even joining a choir class taught by local stud Anton Hoffer (David Warbeck, RIP). This half-hearted attempt at assimilation is abandoned almost immediately by Frieda - clearly the evil twin - who starts rebelling against her tyrannical uncle and the evangelical villagers. She sneaks out nightly to God-knows-where, leaving her innocent, virginal sister to endure nightly thrashings from Gustav for her absent sister's insolence.

Inevitably, Frieda crosses paths with the lecherous Count, and he smooth-talks her back to his castle on the hill for a little drinky-drink. Once she's in his grips, he reveals his true nature to her, and pitches the wicked sister on joining him, pushing the immortality angle. Of course, she could still be staked or beheaded, or fatally wounded by a crucifix, and sunlight is no help either. So, there's a lot of stipulations to this particular brand of eternal life. Still, she's pretty evil already, so she goes for it.

Lacking the Count's sense of decorum, the be-vamped Freida goes on a murder spree, and quickly finds herself being hunted by her own dear uncle. The undead can be pretty crafty, however, so she manages to pull the ol' switcheroo with her long-suffering sibling. Will Gustav and his henchmen figure out which one's the virgin and which one's the vampire, before an innocent girl is staked and baked?

I will leave that for you to find out, but I will say that the grand finale is full-on Gonzo, with startling lashes of gore, a gruesome decapitation, and a gooey vamp meltdown. I guess the latter detail is a bit of a spoiler, but honestly, how do these things usually end? Dracula always dies at the end of a Hammer film, even Hammer films that aren't even about vampires.

One of the bloodiest, hammiest, and horniest of Hammer's horrors, Twins of Evil is a minor masterpiece of campy 70's horror, and one of the best evil twin movies ever. Not counting evil twin porn, of course. That stuff rules.

Sadly, this was the Collinson sisters' last film. After a minor US media blitz - including an October, 1970 Playboy layout and a memorable spot on Johnny Carson, the twins withdrew from the spotlight and went on to marry rich dudes who live in castles, not unlike Count Karstein. Mary lives in Malta, and Madeleine in Venice. No word on whether Maddy's still the evil twin, but she probably is.



- Ken McIntyre

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