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Friday, 23 August 2013

Twins of Evil

The other day, I got involved in a discussion on an internet forum about unusual, exciting or unexpected stuff that people had seen on television. Some of the contributors recounted surprising tales of nudity, profanity or sexual activity; others mentioned examples that were inspiring, terrifying or sometimes downright bizarre. The conversation brought to mind an incident from my youth.

When I was about 15, I was allowed to stay up late one night to watch an old Hammer horror film called 'Twins of Evil'. Set somewhere in middle Europe in the 19th century, it starred Peter Cushing as the uptight leader of a vigilante group called The Brotherhood, whose self-appointed role seemed to be to root out witches, vampires and other unsavoury types. The legal process must have been a lot speedier in those days, because it looked like The Brotherhood didn’t have to produce much in the way of evidence to get a conviction; I suspect that, if you owned a cat or looked a bit foreign you’d have been more or less bang to rights as far as those blokes were concerned. Once they had snared these undesirables, they’d hang them, burn them, drive a stake through their hearts or do pretty much whatever took their fancy, as long as it involved extreme pain and the grisly demise of the ‘convicted’ sinner.

As I recall, the early part of the film looked to illustrate the relish that the Peter Cushing character brought to his day job of finding, accusing, torturing and then killing weird folk. As the story unfolds, however, his cosy gig with The Brotherhood starts to get somewhat compromised when him and his missus adopt their 19-year old orphaned twin nieces (played by Mary and Madelaine Collinson). You may not be surprised, dear reader, when I tell you that by no stretch of the imagination could anyone have claimed that these girls had been beaten with the ugly stick. As a chap with a sense of familial duty that could almost be described as medieval (to say nothing of his general disposition as an all-round misery guts), Mr Cushing is naturally very keen to keep the twins out of trouble. In addition to protecting them from the ever-present threat of vampires, witches and evil spirits, he is also at pains to make sure that none of the local lads (uneducated scruff, to a man) get so much as a sniff at his buxom charges.

The director of ‘Twins of Evil’ clearly thought it was important for the development of the story to have these charming young ladies lounge around in nightdresses that were all but see-through. In fact, so revealing were these garments that, from time to time, it was obvious that the girls had been instructed to strategically 'bunch up' the material a little so that the censor would not mistake this high-concept art movie for a piece of gratuitous titillation. You may not be surprised to learn that, at various points in the film -in a certain light and viewed from certain angles- the nightdresses managed to reveal rather more flesh than would have been considered appropriate for family viewing.

Much to the chagrin of uncle Peter, one of the nieces gets into a close encounter with the decadent aristocrat Count Karnstein, a thoroughly bad egg who also happens to be a vampire. What with some of his vampire chums having previously been cruelly dispatched by The Brotherhood, it is no surprise that the evil count just can’t resist taking a bite at some forbidden fruit the first opportunity he gets. Hence, Mary (or is it Madelaine?) becomes the 'evil' twin.

So … let’s check the key elements of this story: Shapely identical twins cavorting around in revealing nightdresses. One of them is 'good' and pure, the other one is 'bad' and clearly gagging for it, with vampire teeth and everything.

And that’s about it. It sounds rather flimsy, doesn’t it?

But ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that it is impossible to exaggerate the impact that a film like this would have on the imagination of a 15-year old boy.

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