Twins of Evil (1971)
Directed by John Hough

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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In Austria some time in Seventeenth Century, after the deaths of their parents, nubile blonde twins Maria and Frieda (Mary and Madeleine Collinson) go to live with their puritanical uncle, Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), who leads a group of local witch hunters. His efforts to root out the servants of the devil are, however, opposed by a local nobleman, Count Karnstein, whose dissolute life and fascination with black magic greatly irritate Weil. Soon after the girls' arrival, the Count, having been transformed into a vampire by the the spirit of one of his ancestors, which he had conjured from hell, meets and seduces Frieda, who is herself reborn as a vampire.

John Hough's Twins of Evil, while hardly a great film, is, nevertheless, both exciting and fairly complex. Moreover, by combining eerie portrayals of the supernatural with bursts of violence and terror, and even with moments of eroticism, the director is always able to keep the viewer's attention.

Rather than telling a simple tale of good men fighting against the wicked, Hough focuses on the struggle between two essentially unpleasant persons, Weil and Count Karnstein. The former is not depicted as heroic and the latter as merely demonic. Weil is, instead, exposed as an ignorant man who is, almost certainly, more hurtful to others than is his foe, and the Count, while shown as indulgent, selfish, and cruel, is not the narrow bigot Weil is. Because the two are thus realized with a certain sophistication, they are able to engage the viewer in their lives.

Having brought out the Count's brutal sexuality, his cynicism, and the pleasure he takes in victimizing others, as well as Weil's religious fanaticism and his capacity to realize that he has made mistakes, Hough goes on to demonstrate some subtlety in his delineation of most of his other protagonists. He thus allows the viewer to experience Weil's wife's decency and her concern for her nieces, Frieda's youthful, amoral lust, and Maria's helpless innocence. The twins, in fact, are especially nicely realized. The director skillfully contrasts Maria and Frieda as pure and corrupt, so that they are imbued with a potent folkloric quality which lends the movie a distinct timelessness.

The story that revolves around these individuals, although it is hardly memorable, is also generally well crafted. The scenes depicting the Count's quick seduction of Frieda are permeated with a vibrant salacity and make clear both that girl's readiness to give in to temptation and her lack of any moral scruples. The local schoolmaster's attraction to this sensual, vaguely wild young woman is also nicely developed and enables the viewer to understand what it is that the man finds appealing about her. Several other strands of the narrative, such as Maria's impotent passivity, Frieda's bullying of her sister, and her rebellion against Weil's authority, are similarly effectively done.

Sadly, the film's final act does include a number of formulaic elements which do detract from its appeal. Frieda's impersonation of her twin, for example, which nearly leads to the innocent girl being burnt at the stake, is somewhat contrived, as is the concluding battle between Weil and the Count. Such weaknesses, while present, are, fortunately, never so severe that they ruin the film's enjoyableness.

While there is little in the movie that is likely to awe the viewer, Twins of Evil is entertaining.

Review by Keith Allen

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