“They believe that twin girls are the work of the devil.”-Gerald Wakefield
Every XXX movie is hermetically sealed. Teenage Twins, Carter Stevens' 1976 classic, is total submergence. Cthulhu is felt in every frame, lick and thrust, not simply because Lovecraft’s Necronomicon is the center of the film, desired by the main characters and used in the climactic ceremonial orgy. Squint, and the massive tentacles of the Great Old One are there onscreen, barely beyond sight.
The characters are more than pleasure dolls. They are as buried in the lifestyle of free love, casual, shameless incest and the cultivation of the borders keeping the rest of the world at bay as Lovecraft’s most red-eyed secret societies are immersed in their own cultic ends. The sets, a few three-walled interiors, are places we have already been if we’ve seen our share of vintage erotica. Sex, bodies, the wry dispassion of Eric Edwards-these are great comforts, my friends, and we track the nude ghosts with pride. Twins, however, is lathered in ritual click, and a world expands under and above it.
Stevens’ images have the inviting hue and static professionalism of Dragnet or Herschell Gordon Lewis. Unlike the immolating, Catholic style of Shaun Costello, Stevens directs with omnivorous termite austerity. Nothing is wasted, no air bubbles remain. As Hope and Prudence, identical twins who share a telepathic sexual linkup, Brooke and Taylor Young are ideal muses, once-in-a-lifetime industry coups, like the single amputee Jeanne Silver. Both Silver and the Young sisters transcend carnival novelty with their blushing, petite, girlish idiosyncrasy. These are small-breasted, strong-willed, endearing women with sense enough to navigate through Porno with a boxer’s grace and their wits intact.
They have sex with each other. Unlike the magisterial, Feuillade-worthy Taboo saga by another Stevens (Kirdy), Twins has the documentarian’s genuine raw. The Young sisters, who look like Olive Oyl cloned, go about it with an amused distance, as if the act others would see as a final frontier is just more sisterly pillow talk and curious exploration. I bet, wherever they are now, Brooke and Taylor reminisce fondly of the time they bunched naked together for Stevens’ camera. A sequel, beautifully titled Double Your Pleasure, is out there somewhere, and our correspondent is already tracking it down.
Dread roils all over this beast, but Teenage Twins has that rare movie dread that is only felt by the spectator and not by the players on the stage. What is it, exactly?-Lovecraft? The stab of the real? The deranged new sight of Prudence masturbating herself with The Good Book? The poofy-haired, un-photogenic Larry Lovemore? The convincingly erudite performance of Eric Edwards, giving Professor Petrie the unique, intellectual-who-wandered-on-set vibe he brought to Taboo 2’s daughter-tempted patriarch of the McBride family?
The first shot has a woman preparing meat on a stove in a kitchen. We’re then introduced to the aptly named Prudence Wakefield, her mother Claire (Tia Von Davis) and her stepfather George (Lovemore), joining them around the dinner table as they launch into blunt, expository dialogue that could very well be the coherent under-language of David Lynch’s Rabbits. George still doesn’t know which twin he’s speaking to. He refers ominously to an important book he has just received for his work, something he thought was unobtainable. When George asks “which one of your mother’s twins are you?” Prudence snaps back, “which one of my mother’s lovers are you?” Later, the free-spirited Hope returns from a tryst with a trucker (as overheard by Prudence in their psychic link as she uses Scripture to come). The girl’s room is nothing more than a blandly furnished bed, blue walls, and a poster of Mick Jagger. Their room is just as skeletal, unburdened, and iceberg as a Hemingway sentence. Hope and Prudence argue about Hope’s promiscuity, where the fact of their psychic bond is explained in a throwaway line. Hope angrily forces her sister’s face between her legs. They make love beneath Mick.
This is only the first 10 minutes of the film, and it throbs with mystery and audacious bliss. It transforms domesticity into the surface of Mars. The fracture of the Wakefiled family-the apathetic, facetious stepfather, steamrolled mother and inharmonious twin sisters-is even more alienating when engulfed by thriftiness. This family is a blurred watercolor in one arid environment. Claire’s preparation of the meat for supper is the final visual bid for normalcy we’re going to encounter. The illicit pleasure Hope and Prudence share is the only token of familial warmth. The presence of the “Great Old Ones,” whom Lovecraft describes as having “came to the young world out of the sky,” are watching over the Wakefield clan, directing the radio waves of ESP, pointing Claire’s libido towards her husband’s colleague, Petrie, who tells her “the Necronomicon isn’t a book about magic, dear. It is magic.”
How does a work this singular emerge from such a title-which could be imagined on the marquee of Elmer Fishpaw’s adult theater in Baltimore-and the potentially carnival hoochie-coo promise of real life sisters having sex? Why do we feel vision, as apparent and palpable as Cthuhlu slumbering in the depths of the ocean, seconds from awakening?
Because of the twins themselves. They are magic. The Young twins are so affectless, so strange and indelibly real, that something may have been coaxed out of the film’s creative minds, unknown particles even they could never have anticipated. Brooke and Taylor aren’t actresses, yet they’re considerably more than props. Despite a mutual weakness for flubbed lines and stilted delivery, they trap the camera. Prudence is the only voice of monogamy and traditional values, but Young’s body perfectly transfers it's own surrender to the Cult Of Hedonism. Hope is so liberated that our eyes handle her weightlessly. Together, they must have caused a rupture in typical XXX production, matching the Overlord aura of The Great Old Ones: “They had shape…but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, they could not live…at that time some force from outside must serve to liberate Their bodies.” The film is that force, liberating Them as They liberate the film in turn.
Stevens is naturally expert at shooting and editing screw (he’s the Anthony Mann to Kirdy’s Raoul Walsh) and doesn’t impose this awe; he allows it to accumulate and blossom on its own. His camera further inhales the camaraderie that develops between the bodies and personalities of people who are confined together to produce recorded sex. This is what separates Great Porn from porn, the likes of Stevens, Costello, Larry Revene and Radley Metzger from the thousands of merchants so fly-by-night they never land on the ground. This gasping, humane electricity surges through a late scene where George, Hope, and Petrie sit naked post-threesome, reading over Alhazred’s tome and planning a ceremony that will ensure them complete immortality. Bare, smiling, plotting, the three are the characters, but also themselves, having shared the intensity of what they’ve been through together. What John Cameron Mitchell and Michael Winterbottom attempted decades later Carter Stevens had achieved in ‘76, with greater success.
It ends in a great spilling over. Incest, the occult, group sex, these are the film’s talismanic definitions. The world outside is unwelcome. The devils dance. The six individuals required for the ceremony are also the only six actors in the movie (the additional body belongs to Jason, Prudence’s on/off boyfriend). Prudence, the “virgin Harlot” essential to the attainment of eternal life, is held naked on a pentagram constructed hastily with scotch tape. Her mother and sister kiss and lick her body as George intones the names of the Great Old Ones and they all chant, a few of the adult film actors unable to hide the worry in their eyes, the brainwaves of how did I get here? What is this? What are we broaching with this alliance of ours?
The tableau and all its dark wonders are the closest film has ever come to replicating the onslaught of Lovecraftian prose and visions. We don’t see anything; we imagine everything. Petrie has made a mistake in the translation, and instead of eternal life, the six are “cursed” with “Eternal Potency.” Somewhere in this world, they are fucking still. Stevens and his crew just stopped filming it.