16th Sep2014

‘Twins of Evil’ & ‘Countess Dracula’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Hammer have had something of a renaissance on Blu-ray recently, with StudioCanal releasing a number of classic titles in new hi-def editions. And now, released as part of Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, comes two of Hammer’s “sexier” films of the 70s: the infamous Twins of Evil, starring Playboy Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson; and Countess Dracula, which features a career-defining performance from Ingrid Pitt in the titular role.

Despite being made during Hammer early-70s fallow period, where the studio was running out of stories, out of budget and were being left behind by more “extreme” horror films and exploitation movies emanating from the US (after all this was just after the release of Night of the Living Dead which ultimately changed the face of the genre forever), both Twins of Evil and Countess Dracula are beloved by fans of the studio, and with good reason.

Twins of Evil

TOE-Blu

Stars: Peter Cushing, Dennis Price, Mary Collinson, Madeleine Collinson, Isobel Black, Damien Thomas, David Warbeck, Katya Wyeth, Judy Matheson, Kathleen Byron | Written by Tudor Gates | Directed by John Hough

The third film in Hammer’s loosely connected, lesbian-themed Karnstein Trilogy (following The Vampire Lovers and Lust For a Vampire), Twins of Evil is directed by legendary filmmaker John Hough (The Legend Of Hell House, The Watcher In The Woods) and starring horror legend Peter Cushing and Playboy Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson as the titular twins.

Twins of Evil, like it’s Karnstein Trilogy stablemates, marked a turn in Hammer’s output from more straightforward good vs. evil tales, to a sexier, schlockier and bawdier stories that mixed sex and horror and blurred the lines between good and evil. The film sees glamorous identical orphaned twins Maria and Frieda move from Vienna to the village of Karnstein to take up a new life with their submissive aunt and grim uncle – a fanatical Puritan and leader of a witch-hunting religious sect who is determined to kill his nemesis, Count Karnstein: a devil-worshipping libertine who has been turned into a vampire.

Primarily known for the appearance of Playboy Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson, Twins of Evil is also notable for a rare villainous role for Peter Cushing, as witch hunter Gustav Weil – a sign of Hammer’s aforementioned move into “greyer” areas of the genre. Instead of the usual heroic good guy role Cushing typically played in Hammer’s movies, Gustav Weil is, whilst ultimately sacrificing himself to save his nieces, almost as “evil” as his nemesis Count Karnstein, indiscriminately burning innocent victims at the stake to satiate his need for power, control and the need to clean-up his village…

Countess Dracula

CD-Blu

Stars: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Elès, Maurice Denham, Patience Collier, Peter Jeffrey, Lesley-Anne Down, Leon Lissek, Jessie Evans, Andrea Lawrence, Susan Brodrick, Nike Arrighi, John Moore | Written by Jeremy Paul, Peter Sasdy, Alexander Paal | Directed by Peter Sasdy

Directed by genre, and Hammer, stalwart Peter Sasdy (Hands of the Ripper), from a script by award-winning writer Jeremy Paul, Countess Dracula stars Ingrid Pitt (The Wicker Man) in an iconic, career-defining role as the aged countess (based on the legend of Countess Bathory) who must regularly bathe in virgins’ blood to regain her fading youth… In medieval Hungary, Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy, an embittered, ageing widow, discovers by accident that virgin’s blood causes her skin become youthful and smooth. Determined to retain her new youth at all costs, the Countess coerces her lover to abduct a string of young virgins to keep her supplied with the blood she now craves to stay beautiful.

Shot at Pinewood in London on sets originally designed for 1969′s Anne of the Thousand Days, Countess Dracula really plays up the gothic aspects of the story whilst, surprisingly for a Hammer film, playing down the horror. Yet on reflection it’s easy to see why Hammer fans took Countess Dracula to heart and made Ingrid Pitt’s career. Her dual-identity role as the old withered and cantankerous Countess Nádasdy who, after bathing in the blood of virgins (something we never actually see on screen – to the films detriment), becomes Ilona, the young and beautiful “daughter” of the Countess, is an absolute pleasure to watch. Ablely supported by Nigel Green (Zulu), as Captain Dobi, Sandor Eles (The Evil of Frankenstein), as Toth, Maurice Denham (Animal Farm) as Master Fabio, Patience Collier (Perfect Friday) as Julie, and Lesley-Anne Down (The Great Train Robbery) as the Countess’s real daughter Ilona, Pitt relishes both roles – really revelling in her sexuality as the younger Countess and playing up the grotesquery of her older self.

Credit must also got to special effects designer Bert Luxford, who works wonders on Pitt for the transformation scenes. For a film that is over 30 years old and was made on a budget, the ever-increasing grotesquery of Luxford’s make-up is a joy to behold, even if the new HD transfer doesn’t show the make-up in the best light (a folly of high definition and old[er] movies).
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Both Twins of Evil and Countess Dracula look amazing on Blu-ray. There’s clearly been a lot of work put into the restoration for high definition - though the new prints are not without issue but that’s to be expected given the age of the films and the original low-budget nature of the productions. For starters  there’s an over-abundance of film grain present in a number of scenes in Twins of Evil (though I’d rather grain than overly DNR’d footage) and there’s obvious print damage and heavy scratching to the opening titles of Countess Dracula. However all told these are welcome HD restorations of films that I’d only previously seen in terrible TV prints and it’s not hyperbole to say this is the best this pair of films have ever looked, truly giving them a new lease of life on Blu-ray.

Twins of Evil and Countess Dracula are both available on Blu-ray now from Network Releasing.

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