The Crimson Cult (1968)

  • Year: 1968
  • Released: 15 Apr 1970
  • Country: United Kingdom
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: English
  • MPA Rating: R
  • Genre: Horror
  • Runtime: 87 min
  • Writer: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln, Jerry Sohl
  • Director: Vernon Sewell
  • Cast: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Mark Eden
  • Keywords: witch, virgin, sacrifice, police, england, cemetery,

The Crimson Cult Storyline

When his brother disappears, Robert Manning pays a visit to the remote country house he was last heard from. While his host is outwardly welcoming, and his niece more demonstrably so, Manning detects a feeling of menace in the air with the legend of Lavinia Morley, Black Witch of Greymarsh, hanging over everything.—Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

The Crimson Cult Photos

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The Crimson Cult Movie Reviews

Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee AND Barbara Steele – Can One Ask For More?

Three of all-time’s greatest Horror icons in one movie – which true horror fan would not love a film like that? Vernon Sewell’s “Curse Of The Crimson Altar” of 1968 may not be a particularly memorable example for British Gothic Horror from the late sixties. More precisely, it is often extremely cheesy, and far from being a masterpiece, but the brilliant casting of Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and the wonderful Barbara Steele makes this a must-see for every lover of Gothic Horror.The story is apparently loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House”. The film bears little resemblance to the short story by Lovecraft, however. It does, however, resemble several other Horror films from the 1960s in many aspects, especially the brilliant “City Of The Dead” of 1960s, which also starred Christopher Lee (even though it comes nowhere near its brilliance, of course).

After his brother has gone missing, Antiques dealer Robert Manning (Mark Eden), travels to the village of Greymarsh, where his brother was last seen in a huge mansion. Manning is kindly welcomed by the mansion’s owner Mr. Morley (Christopher Lee), a descendant of Lavinia Morley (Barbara Steele), a 17th century witch, who, before being burned at the stake, put a curse on the people of Greymarsh. Manning, who has no clue of where his brother is yet, gets along very well with his guest-keeper’s beautiful niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell). Somehow, however, the area still seems to be under the menacing spell of Lavina…

The film is, of course, particularly worth watching for its three stars. Christopher Lee is, as always, great and the incomparable Boris Karloff shines in one of his last roles as an eccentric old witchcraft expert who collects ‘instruments of torture’. The greatest treat is the wonderful Barbara Steele (one of my favorite actresses and the greatest female Horror-icon ever) in the role of the green-faced witch Lavina wearing a bizarre horned crown. The supporting cast includes two other memorable British actors, Michael Gough (“Horror Of Dracula”), who plays a butler, and Rupert Davies (“Witchfinder General”). Beautiful Viriginia Wetherell fits well in her role as Eve, and also grants a peak at her lovely backside. The film is practically blood-less, but it is partly quite atmospheric, and occasionally quite weird, as several scenes seem quite bizarre and feature weird S&M style costumes. All things considered, the film is great fun to watch. It is certainly not highly memorable in any aspect except for the cast, but what a cast that is! No true lover of Horror can afford to miss a film starring Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele. Steele alone makes this a must for Horror fans in her green make-up! Recommended.

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (Vernon Sewell, 1968) **

This routine horror film has something of a maligned reputation (Christopher Lee himself refers to it as being “dreadful” in the accompanying interview), but the remarkable credits involved – stars Boris Karloff, Lee, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough and Rupert Davies, director Sewell and cameraman John Coquillon – and the familiar plot elements involving witchcraft make the concoction quite irresistible.

The stars are generally well cast: Karloff is given a great entrance and his character is amusingly acerbic, particularly with regards to bland leading man Mark Eden; Lee basically repeats his role – though here is given greater screen-time – from the superior black-and-white classic THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960); Steele (in another of her long line of witches!) only appears in various characters’ hallucinations – but this, and the fact that she’s painted green all over and saddled with a silly horned head-dress, in no way undermines her peculiar beauty and commanding presence; Gough, however, is wasted as a vaguely sinister yet dim-witted manservant; Davies, too, is underused in an all-too-typical vicar role (though his belated involvement does bring about Lee’s come-uppance); Virginia Wetherell isn’t bad as Lee’s niece, who’s unaware of his secret lifestyle (despite herself having a predilection for throwing wild parties in their mansion, giving rise to some hilariously dated grooviness!), endangers her own life by falling for Eden practically at first sight (thus incurring Lee’s wrath) and even appears briefly in the nude (this was her film debut!). There’s nothing remotely memorable about the film (except, maybe, some of its imagery in the scenes where Steele shows up or, rather, is manifested) and can only be seen as a major disappointment given the enormous talent on hand – though the main culprit has to be its lazy scripting, since all the stars have treaded this path too many times before!

Lee’s interview about Karloff is one of his most interesting and affectionate: I was surprised to learn that he considered SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) the best of Karloff’s three stabs at the role of The Creature (though I adore the film myself), but he also erroneously mentioned that Karloff and Bela Lugosi had made a film called “Pit And The Pendulum” (which the interviewer – who I assume to be Marcus Hearn – didn’t correct…but, then, nor could he help Lee when the latter asked whether the Karloff vehicle in which the actor played twins was called THE BLACK ROOM [1935]!; in this regard, I have to say that I’m irked no end every time an interviewer shows up without having done any preparation about his subject!!). It’s also disappointing, to us genre fans, that the great horror stars never discussed their work amongst themselves (at least, according to Lee), as it would have been awesome to know just what they felt about it – and themselves for doing such films!

The DVD quality is on a par with the two recent DD Video releases I watched – ISLAND OF TERROR (1966) and NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT (1967) – and, like the former, has been trimmed slightly for this edition! Having watched all of them now, I’m almost sorry that I didn’t pick up DD Video’s THE BLOOD-BEAST TERROR (1967) and THE DEVIL’S MEN (1975) as well…and even more that I didn’t order their SE of THE CREEPING FLESH (1972) earlier, since I’ve never watched it and is now practically impossible to find in this guise – having unceremoniously gone out-of-print!!

Muddled Script, but what a Cast!

This movie was one of the very last accomplishments of the legendary Boris Karloff (not quite sure if those Mexican junk movies were shot before this one but they definitely remained shelved until after his death) and reportedly he got really ill shortly after – or even during – the shooting of “Curse of the Crimson Altar”. If this is a true fact, it definitely gives the film some sort of sour aftertaste. With a career like his, Boris Karloff should have enjoyed a well-deserved retirement instead of catching pneumonia on draughty film sets at the age of 82. On the other hand, of course, “Curse of the Crimson Altar” wouldn’t have been half as good if it weren’t for him. It already isn’t much of a highlight in the genre, but Karloff’s presence (along with three others horror veterans) provides an extra dimension of horror greatness.

This is one of the Tigon Production Company’s more mediocre efforts – completely incomparable to “The Witchfinder General” and “Blood on Satan’s Claw” – but still a remotely entertaining Brit-horror flick containing all the traditional ingredients, such as witchery, torture devices, old mansions with secret passageways, ritual sacrifices and psychedelic hallucination sequences. The plot revolves on an antique dealer (and ladies’ man!) who heads out to the countryside in search for his mysteriously vanished brother. He arrives in a remote little town during the annual memorial of the legendary witch Lavinia Morley’s burning. Mr. Manning is exaggeratedly welcomed at first, but he gradually senses something strange and sinister has happened to his brother in the mansion he’s staying. When he then begins to suffer from vivid nightmares involving Lavinia herself, he realizes his name is historically linked to the witch and that he’s been put under a sardonic curse.

Apart from the cast, “Curse of the Crimson Altar” benefices the most from its occasionally very moody atmosphere, the eerie scenery and the impressively staged witchery sequences. Even though these scenes might appear a little silly overall (what with the bodybuilders wearing leather S&M outfits), but they’re still definitely a joy to watch when you’re a fan of old-fashioned Gothic horror. Barbara Steele is underused and extremely typecast as the malignant Lavinia, but what the heck, even with her face painted green and ridiculously over-sized goat horns on her head, she still remains a luscious beauty. Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee (in their second teaming after “Corridors of Blood”) are wonderful together, but the still heavily underrated Michael Gough shines as the weird and mentally unstable Elder. Unfortunately, however, the shoddy script contains too many holes and improbabilities, and director Vernon Sewell lacks the talent and horror knowledge to cover these up.

One last and perhaps interesting little trivia detail; although entirely devoid of humor otherwise, “Curse of the Crimson Altar” features one intentionally wit and unsubtle inside joke. Whilst talking about the old and secluded mansion, the main character mentions something in the lines of “I expect Boris Karloff to walk in at any moment” and – in fact – he does only a couple of minutes later. He rolls in, to be exact, since he plays a wheelchair bound character.