Yesterday I watched a horror film directed by Vernon Sewell (“The Blood Beast Terror”, “Ghost Ship”). Originally released way back in 1968, “Curse Of The Crimson Altar” was also known as “The Crimson Cult” in the US.
The film opens with the words “…and drugs of this group can produce the most complex hallucinations, and under their influence it is possible by hypnosis to induce the subject to perform actions he would not normally commit” displayed across the screen – words it claims an extract from the “Medical Journal”.
The opening scene of the actual film finds a variety of characters in a room, some bathed in green light and others in full technicolour. There is a hooded man holding a goat, a half-naked woman whipping a similarly disrobed blonde woman strapped down to an altar, a man with antlers on his head, a priest, a man in a suit and a woman with interesting makeup and an ornate headdress who we learn is Lavinia, the Black Witch (Barbara Steele – “The Mask Of Satan”, “Piranha”).
The suited man, Peter Manning (Denys Peek – “Object Z”, “The Limbo Line”), is instructed to sign his name in a book proffered by Lavinia in order to join her world of darkness, after which he is instructed to stab the blonde woman to death.
We are then introduced to Robert Manning (Mark Eden – “Coronation Street”, “The Detective”), Peter’s antique dealer brother, who has received a package from Peter containing a silver candlestick from the 1600s and a spring-loaded bodkin dagger, along with a note indicating that he is ill and staying at the Craxted Lodge home of a Mr. Morley in Greymarsh. When Robert telephones Mr. Morley, however, he is told that no Peter Manning has ever visited.
Concerned, Robert decides to travel to Craxted Lodge to speak to Morley in person. Stopping for petrol en route he learns that there is a celebration taking place in Greymarsh for Witches Night.
Sure enough, when he arrives there is a party in full swing – hosted by Morley’s niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell – “A Clockwork Orange”, “Dracula”).
Swing being the operative word as there is plenty of female flesh on display – some being painted, some having champagne poured all over it, and some simply gyrating – very “swinging sixties” I imagine!
Upstairs Robert finds Morley (Christopher Lee – “The Wicker Man”, “Taste The Blood Of Dracula”) who reaffirms that he hasn’t seen or heard from a Peter Manning – despite Peter’s note having been written on Morley’s headed notepaper. Determined to investigate further Robert enquires about local hotels, only to be offered a room in the Lodge by Morley.
Having accepted Robert is shown around by Eve. As they talk they remark that the house looks like something from a horror film, and Robert jokes that Boris Karloff will pop up next.
And so he does. Morley is visited by local Professor Marsh (Boris Karloff – “The Mummy”, “The Bride Of Frankenstein”) and the three men share a bottle of brandy together – Robert’s lack of proper appreciation for which leads to Marsh’s intense disapproval – and Marsh, said to be one of the world’s leading experts on witchcraft, explains to Robert about the history behind Witches Night, when Lavinia (an ancestor of Morley’s) was accused of witchcraft and burned to death, during which she put a curse on all the descendants of her accusers.
During the nights Robert experiences strange and nightmarish dreams in which he sees his brother, together with the other characters seen in the opening sequence, plus a masked jury, and is himself instructed by sign the book.
Although spooked by these dreams Robert’s investigations lead him to get closer to Eve, but the appearance in Morley’s home of a candlestick and bodkin dagger – both identical to those sent to him by Peter – and Marsh’s invitation for Robert to examine his own personal collection of instruments of torture mean that he cannot be sure who, if anyone, can be trusted…
The movie moves gradually towards a suitably dramatic and fiery conclusion when we discover that not everyone that we have suspected of being involved actually were. Luckily one of the characters present is able to verbally fill in some of the blanks that weren’t really explained during the film and make sense of that opening statement – which felt a bit clumsy and like a bit of a cop-out to be honest.
Compared to many similar films from the likes of Hammer Films etc. I thought that this one is somewhat more sexually explicit than most, with the aforementioned nudity during the party scenes and various exposed breasts, not to mention the outfit clinging to the character known as “girl in car chase” (Nova St. Claire – “Doomwatch”)!. That said, by today’s standards it really is rather tame!