Monday, October 31, 2016


The village of Karnstein is dominated physically by Karnstein Castle and in most other ways by the decadent Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who regularly engages in orgies and such, and who has now, in his continual search for excitement, decided to hold a human sacrifice to see if he can raise the devil. Karnstein's nemesis is Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), head of the local witch-hunting group known as the Brotherhood. Weil and his men go hunting down women whom they suspect of witchcraft—all young, attractive, and single—and burn them at the stake. (Karnstein and Weil seem to be cut from similar psychosexual cloth, though Weil does seem convinced that he is doing God's work.) Into this smoldering tinderbox come Weil's lovely twin nieces—the demure Maria and the sultry Frieda—to stay after the death of their parents. Weil is certain that the twins will soon be up to no good, and in fact Frieda does seem to be chomping at the bit to do a little bit of living it up. Meanwhile, Karnstein's sacrifice doesn't conjure up a demon, but blood from the dead woman drips down into the crypt of his dead ancestor Mircalla and she materializes, putting the bite on Karnstein, transforming him into a vampire. When naughty Frieda wanders up to the castle, the stage is set for vampiric antics galore.

This Hammer movie is the third in a loose trilogy inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu's vampire story "Carmilla," the other two being THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. Despite its silly sexploitation title, it's one of the best of the 60s/70s horror films: well-acted with good sets, rich color, sexy vibes, and one the best decapitations I've seen in a horror flick. Despite the title, the twins aren't both evil, just Frieda, and they aren't really the focus of the film. That would be Peter Cushing, who is excellent as the somber witch hunter—based on this performance, I think he might have been better than Vincent Price in the cult classic of a few years earlier, WITCHFINDER GENERAL. In fact, much of this film plays out like a variation on that film. Thomas gives a full-blooded performance as the decadent vampire, and the Collinson twins (Mary as Maria, Madelaine as Frieda), best known as twin Playboy bunnies, are actually quite good in the leads. David Warbeck is fine as the handsome hero, though he doesn't have as much screen time as the average horror hero. Kathleen Byron, best known as the nun who goes insane in BLACK NARCISSUS, is wasted as Cushing's wife, but she delivers a strong performance anyway. Fine direction by John Hough. The previous Carmilla films are good, but if you're only going to see one of the three, make it this one. [DVD]

No comments: