The month has almost passed already, and I still haven’t gotten to posting April’s Hammer Glamour representatives, according to the lovely Hammer Glamour 2012 wall calendar I got for Christmas this past year. And since I’ve been looking forward to the month of April almost as much for this post as for the TCM Classic Film Festival and the start of the baseball season, I guess I should devote a few minutes and words to Mary and Madeleine Collinson, one-off Hammer scream queens who will need no introduction to those familiar with the studio’s vampire lineage, being as they are the titular Twins of Evil themselves.
Prior to their involvement in this relative late-period Hammer classic, which took full advantage of loosening of standards and practices in filmmaking all over the world in the early ‘70s, the Collinsons made their way to London in 1969 and apparently had little trouble attracting attention. Very shortly after arriving there they were starring in soft-core porn titles for the Super 8 market, like Harrison Marks’ Halfway Inn. (There’s surely a pun intended in there somewhere, perhaps more effectively disguised than the one I shamelessly used in the previous paragraph.) From there things moved ever more swiftly, including even more magazine appearances, and by October 1970 the Collinsons found themselves in a rather unique historical position, having been crowned the very first twin Playmates of the Month and landing their black-clad curves on the cover of the magazine. They also made a brief appearance in The Love Machine (1970), the none-too-revered film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s best-seller which was directed by Jack Haley Jr.
But not long after their Hefner-sponsored coronation, they would begin production on the movie that would serve as their calling card for the next 40 years, and no doubt will even beyond that. Twins of Evil was the third film in Hammer’s “Karnstein trilogy,” following The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire in a series loosely based on Sheridan le Fanu’s “Carmilla.” These pictures were produced quickly—the trilogy’s original UK release dates range only from October 1970 (The Vampire Lovers) to October 1971 (Twins of Evil)—and they were lurid even by Hammer standards, bloody and relatively steamy, with an emphasis on heaving bosoms and vampire-enhanced girl-on-girl sexuality. And with the Collinsons Hammer had not only an impressive well of erotically charged talent from which to draw, they also had an excellent marketing hook, which they delighted in exploiting. (And let’s not kid ourselves-- we in the prime Hammer demographic at the time were in turn delighted as well.)
Despite its hurried production Twins of Evil remains one of Hammer’s best signature movies, and not just because of all the flesh on display—the sets and production design seem even more lushly realized than usual, and Peter Cushing, who was still heavily mourning the loss of his wife during shooting, channels his anguish and anger into one of his most emotionally complex performances. But it forever will be for the Twins that this terrific picture will be best remembered, and that’s probably as it should be. The Collinsons (neither of whom ever made a picture, or did much else professionally, unless her twin sister was involved) dabbled in a couple more B-movies before taking their leave of the business altogether after the release of something called Passion Potion (a.k.a. She’ll Follow You Anywhere) in 1973. According to what little reportage there has been, Mary now resides in Milan, and Madeleine eventually married a British R.A.F. officer and raised three children. They eventually took up residence in Malta, where she worked with the British Council as an education information officer, and in 1998 she moved back to the U.K., where she now resides in Bournemouth. They may have retreated away from the spotlight into what one hopes have been and continue to be fulfilling lives, but for horror fans of both genders they will always be Frieda and Maria Gellhorn, twins of evil who made those of us who have thrilled to their tale for 40 years suspect that if one could keep their company, being a vampire might not be such a hellish fate after all.
Click here to read a 1998 interview with Madeleine Collinson conducted by Michael Reed.)
And much more biographical info on both twins, as well as surfeit of pulchritude, is available here at this post on the Collinsons filed at Venus Observations.)