Could there possibly be a more pathetic cinematic vampire than the TWILIGHT series’ sparkly Edward? I would have thought the idea impossible until Film Society’s Scary Movies 7 series dropped the most entertainingly bad vampire movie right in my movie-watching lap. I was very excited when I first saw that John Hough’s Hammer Films’ classic TWINS OF EVIL was part of this year’s Scary Movies schedule. I love me the Hammer Films but this one had managed to escape my clutches up to now and here FSLC’s Scary Films co-curators Gavin Smith and Laura Kern had delivered it on a silver platter.
The film’s cache stems from the fact that it’s one of Hammer Films’ notable lesbian vampire movies from its Karnstein Trilogy. Oh, and it also happened to star real-life twins and former Playboy Playmates, Mary and Madeline Collinson. So, there’s the promise of lesbian vampires, AND some Playboy-certified nudity. What’s not to like there, right?
WARNING!!! From here on out, this column will be all spoilers all the time, because no one is watching this film remotely not knowing how the s**t will basically go down. So, let’s break it down…
The story is pretty basic: Recently orphaned Maria and Freida go to live with their stern, Puritan hard a*s Uncle Gustav. Gustav, along with his fanatical he-man witch hunting boy’s club, The Brotherhood, is rabidly pre-occupied with sniffing out every single woman around the village, accusing them of being witches and harbingers of evil and then burning them at the stake. (Because, you know… they have breasts and if those breasts aren’t strapped down, covered up AND under the watchful eye of a husband they are pretty much bound to start dabbling in the dark arts. Let’s face it, push-up bras certainly weren’t a Christian invention.)
But eluding Gustav’s wrath, and taunting him because of it, is the village’s resident rich playboy, Count Karnstein. Looking like David Copperfield’s smarmy Eurotrash brother, Karnstein is a favorite of the Emperor so he’s got diplomatic immunity, if you will, from Gustav and the Brotherhood. When he isn’t thumbing his silver spoon at the Bible toting Brotherhood, Karnstein practices Satanism and Black Magic because he is totally EVIL.
Of course, what we quickly figure out is that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s really doing. We can also basically assume that when the Count was younger, he had to stay home with the babysitter while the older Karnsteins were out actually getting their evil on. To be clear, Count Karnstein is the grown up whiny baby brother of evil.
So, while Freida looks longingly at the Count’s castle from afar because she’s infatuated with his wickedness, the Count blunders himself into getting turned into a vampire in the lamest way possible. After dismissing some fake-Satanists pretending to stage a human sacrifice ritual for his viewing pleasure, the Count throws the not-ready for Prime Time Black Arts Players out of his castle, pathetically begs Satan to answer his calls or return an email and actually stabs the girl playing the part of the sacrificial victim, killing her.
Of course, this being a standard issue Hammer films castle, the blood from the victim finds its way from the altar she was “sacrificed” on through the cracks in the floor to drip onto a corpse conveniently placed in a tomb beneath them. And as we all know, nothing perks up a vampire corpse quicker than some blood you’ve carelessly let get all on it to revive the evil. In this case, the evil that has been revived is the Countess Mircalla. Mircalla soon sneaks up on the Count and informs him that he has just won his version of the Publisher’s Clearing House. That’s right, he gets to be a vampire for life! So, after some making out and devilish hanky panky by the fire (including the Countess giving a suggestive handy to a nearby candlestick because you know, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, she finally delivers the tried and true bite to the neck to seal the deal.
It’s also important to note the “rules and regulations” of the vampires in TWINS OF EVIL. Going out in daylight? No problem. Fangs? Sometimes. You know, when you’re feeling it, I guess. But the reflection thing? That’s a HUGE deal in this movie. Everyone is obsessed about being able to see their reflection in a mirror. There is apparently nothing worse than not being able to see your own reflection. It’s like a period piece costume drama cast with people from the Studio City 24 Hour Fitness I used to work out at.
Anyway, Freida sneaks out from Uncle Gustav’s house arrest and makes her way over to Count Karnstein’s castle for some castle snacks and sexy time and he convinces her that the vampire thing is all that and puts the bite on her. And to be fair, she’s being played by someone that WAS in Playboy so if you’re going to switch things up then, by all means, bite THAT neck next to THOSE boobies.
“Okay, okay.. You made your point – it doesn’t have to be on the neck!”
So, Freida is now in the vampire club. But it’s not like she has to actually be cadaverous and sleep in a coffin at night and be uncomfortable and stuff. No, she still can go back and hang out with her pure of heart sister, Maria, and debate about how awesome Count Karnstein is and what a meanie that Uncle Gustav is. For her part, when she isn’t lying and pretending to be Freida to keep her out of trouble with their Uncle, Maria is falling in love with Anton, the totally dreamy music teacher who makes the girls swoon when he rocks his harpsichord. Anton also is the only guy in town that has actually read a book or two about vampire pest control.
Here is another important note when considering the many levels of “wrongness” of TWINS OF EVIL: Gustav is played by legendary horror film icon Peter Cushing. I think we can all agree that Peter Cushing set the bar for what we immediately think of when we hear the words “Van Helsing.” Just like Bela Lugosi is Dracula, Peter Cushing IS Van Helsing. In fact, I’m almost sure that you have to get permission from the Cushing estate in order to play that role on stage or in film. And here, he instead is cast as a fanatical Puritan with a burn-all-the-hot-single-chicks-in-town fetish. And because of that, his character has to be schooled in vampire killing by a British Bobby Sherman wannabe. Wiki that s**t, he was the late ’60s Bieber, trust me.
So, after the Brotherhood captures Freida, Count Karnstein doesn’t just free her with his awesome evil powers – since apparently, he doesn’t really have any, he has to pull a twins-style switcheroo with good sister Maria. So Maria will get killed instead. Of course, technically, Freida is undead, but…let’s not confuse things when we can just use a plot point that “The Patty Duke Show,” THE PARENT TRAP and countless others pulled off to more realistic effect. Anyway, after she has been freed by the Count, Frieda decides it’s a good time to give Anton some of that sweet Twin lovin’ that he was never going to get anyway from her virginal sister. That is until that damn having no reflection thing reveals her evil self by uhmmmm…not… revealing… her evil self.
Now an awesome vampire fighting team, Gustav and Anton set off after Count Karnstein and Freida, likely to prevent him from doing evil stuff like sending prank carrier pigeon messages or posting anonymous bad reviews of Anton’s latest harpsichord solo on some parchment somewhere and preventing Freida from participating in some wet bodice contest at the local Inn. Gustav cuts Freida’s head off in an action sequence that is the equivalent of someone accidentally doing something because they were scared by a mouse. Maria, naturally goes as quickly toward the danger as she can just in case Count Karnstein needs someone to take hostage.
Remarkably, that is exactly what happens. Count Karnstein is poised to drop Maria off a balcony on top of all the angry villagers shaking their fists at him like he trespassed on their lawn while Anton, apparently remembers suddenly that he threw the javelin back in music school but he can’t get a clean opening to throw a handy spear at the Count. That’s when Gustav arrives on the balcony, axe in hand saying this is the moment he’d been waiting for. Count Karnstein agrees. It’s also the moment he’d been waiting for. And just as we’re gearing up to get ready for this awesome moment we all should be waiting for, Gustav lamely misses with the axe and Gustav throws it back at him, nailing the good uncle in the bag.
Well, that was quick and unsatisfying. The Count throws Gustav on top of the fist shaking villagers and that’s that. Awkward moment for The Brotherhood. But wait, Anton is still below with the spear and Maria’s cleavage is still upstairs distracting the Count, so guess who catches a spear in the chest? Considering everything that has transpired for the past 85 minutes, it’s the Count. Anton quickly rushes upstairs so he and Maria can watch the Count’s face go all melty and quick-dried decaying in front of them and they presumably can move on to a rockin’ harpsichord tour and another Playboy photo spread.
It’s almost enough to make you wistful for a little sullen vampire sparkle-time, huh?