Two young and beautiful identical twins (Mary and Madeline Collinson) are orphaned when their parents die, and are sent to live with their uncle Gustav (Peter Cushing), who is not only a puritanical, religious fanatic, but he leads a group of such men who hunt down defenseless women whom they deem to be less than godly, and burn them as witches. The girls however, even though they play it respectful in their uncle’s house, aren’t filled with the same religious fanaticism that he is.
Up on the hill is the castle of Count Karnstein, Bane of Gustav and his fanatical puritans, his boredom with the banality of life leads him to hold Satanic rituals, purely for entertainment. However, when his latest Satanic display is obviously a fraud and just a show, he throws out those performing it, and sacrifices the girl himself, calling out to Satan to form a pact with him. Initially, nothing happens, but later that night, a very beautiful relative of his from centuries past appears in his room, sent by Satan himself to complete the pact. The two have a night of passionate sex, and she, a vampire, bites him and gives him the power of the vampire.
Although the twins, Frieda and Maria look alike, they couldn’t be more different. Maria is calm and quiet, even meek, while Frieda stares at the castle on the hill and dreams of getting out from under her uncle’s thumb to experience the pleasures of the Count’s castle. When her desire for passion and adventure lead to her becoming a vampire, her sister may end up paying the price, and her uncle is torn between trying to "save her soul" and sparing her out of a sense of family.
Ok, enough description. I have to tell you something about this film. Peter Cushing is a total bastard! Obviously I haven’t seen every film he’s ever been in, but of the ones I have seen, I have to say, I’ve never seen him play such a rotten bastard. Blinded by religious fervor and fanaticism, anyone they even suspect of being a witch is burned alive, and he’s the one leading the charge. Even the slightest hint of anything that’s a slight against his view of God and religion sends him into a furious tizzy. No loveable old scientist here, as was the character he played in At the Earth’s Core. This character made me think about Peter Cushing in a whole new way, and very much shows the wonderful versatility he had as an actor.
Now to the twins. They’re incredibly beautiful, as evidenced by the fact that they were featured as Playmates of the Month together in Playboy. It was really bothering me who they looked like though, and then I finally realized who it was. To me they look like a cross between a teenage Haley Mills and a teenage Linda Blair. As pretty as they are however, they are, they’re not very good actresses, though I say that with a caveat. They’re not bad actresses really. I think the problem was that the voices in this film were all re-recorded and dubbed in post. The problem with doing that is that unless you’re a great actor, you’re going to have a hard time getting the same performance out of a voice dub as you would a live recording, which tends to make their performances very flat. Someone like Peter Cushing can pull it off without a problem, but for lesser actors and actresses, it can be quite a difficult thing. Still, they’re very nice to look at, so I think most people will probably not mind so much.
Damien Thomas plays Count Karnstein, and I know that some fans of the Hammer films will probably be wishing that Christopher Lee was there rather than Damien Thomas, but really he didn’t do a bad job. The only problem I really had with him was that he just didn’t seem right for the character physically. He looked like he’d be more at home in a 70’s roller disco than he would as a bloodsucking vampire. He’s also not very imposing, even when he’s vamped out. Physically he’s a thin guy and there’s really nothing all that threatening about him. Still, he plays the part well. It’s funny because he’s the "bad guy", and yet you’re basically cheering him when he’s going out of his way to anger and frustrate Gustav, because Gustav and his crew are even worse.
The film itself is really beautiful. It takes place in a small village in a heavily wooded area with the count’s castle up on the hill, which makes it feel very dark and horrible, which contrasts nicely with the more normal scenes in the girl’s school and such. The costumes and set design really drop you into the period and everything has just the right feel to it for the story.
The story itself is rather entertaining, and at times, even shocking. More than once, things happen in a way you wouldn’t expect, and the ending didn’t turn out how I expected it to at all. Unfortunately I can’t tell you how it ended, because that would ruin it. You’ll have to see it for yourself.
The video transfer on this Synapse blu-ray release is excellent, with a look to the color that will be very familiar to those who have seen films from this period, and most especially, British films from this era. I know that sounds a bit odd, but when you see it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. There’s a special look to the color that’s just familiar with these films. The visual quality is great though, as is the sound.
This release contains numerous special features including:
The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil – An 84 minute documentary about the Karnstein trilogy.
The Props that Hammer Built (blu-ray exclusive)
Motion Still Gallery – (blu-ray exclusive)
Deleted Scenes (blu-ray exclusive)
Isolated Music & Effects Track (blu-ray exclusive)
Television Spots (blu-ray exclusive)
As you can see, the blu-ray contains a lot of special features that the DVD doesn’t. fortunately, even if you don’t have blu-ray yet, you can still buy the blu-ray + DVD combo pack, so you’ll have the DVD now and the blu-ray ready to go whenever you get around to upgrading.
This is a great film, and I can’t recommend it enough, if for no other reason than to see Peter Cushing playing a role that will make you absolutely despise him. The girls are beautiful, the story is well written and the whole of the setting, set and costume design really come together to create an immersive environment for the story to play out in. Do yourself a favor and add this one to your collection. Whether you’re a long time fan of Hammer films, or totally new to them, this is one you’ll want to have.
If you want to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Synapse Films website here, and you can pick yourself up a copy of the blu-ray + DVD combo pack from Amazon or any of the other usual outlets.