“Well, we all know the subconscious can play strange, sometimes terrifying tricks.”
Robert Manning (Mark Eden) is an antiques dealer. He receives a package from his brother Peter containing a couple antiques. Also enclosed is a cryptic note. His brother’s last known location was a remote house called Craxted Lodge at Greymarsh. This happens to be the town where Manning’s family came from. He calls the owner of Craxted Lodge, Morley (Christopher Lee), asking about his brother. Morley tells him he never heard of him. Becoming suspicious Manning goes to Greymarsh to try to find his brother.
When he gets there Morley’s niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell) is having a party. There is also a festival going on. In the past a woman called Lavinia (Barbara Steele) was burned at the stake. Her burning is celebrated each year in a ceremony. Since there are no rooms available in town Manning is invited to stay at the mansion. He accepts. Morley tells his Butler, Elder (Michael Gough), to retrieve Manning’s suitcase from his car. After dinner Professor John Marsh (Boris Karloff) shows up for a visit. He is an expert on witchcraft and the history of the town. He gives Manning a run down of the history of Lavinia.
That night Manning has strange dreams about a ritual sacrifice. The next day he asks in town about his brother but no one has seen him. Manning finds Elder in his room a couple times and confronts him. Elder stutters and is a little slow mentally. On the first occasion he tells Manning to get out before it’s too late. Then another time he tells him his brother is dead. Eventually Manning remembers that his brother would often use a pseudonym when buying for the store. Morley remembers him now but says he left long ago. Again during the night Manning has the dream about the ritual sacrifice. Manning goes to see Professor Marsh. He finds out that he is the last surviving relative of Jonathan Manning. Jonathan was the one who accused Lavinia Morley of being a witch. And apparently she is trying to extract her revenge.
“The Crimson cult” AKA “Curse of the Crimson Altar” was released in 1968 and was directed by Vernon Sewell. It’s a little surprising that this is a lesser known movie since it stars Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele and Michael Gough. The movie is also loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams of the Witch House”.
There are a couple versions of the movie out there. The US version and the uncut version. The uncut version includes the S&M aspects of the sacrifice ritual as well as a couple nude shots of Wetherell. Her rear-end in one scene and her right breast in her sex scene with Eden. I would recommend the un-cut version. The US version is a little choppy. I found it to be slow paced until towards the end. Then it picked up quickly.
Although the movie wasn’t the hidden gem it should have been it still has a lot going for it. The cast is excellent. Especially Michael Gough. I thought he only did evil well, but his portrayal of the slow witted Elder was exceptional. Also kudos to Karloff. He played most of his part from a wheelchair as he was suffering from severe arthritis at the time. Even so he was as sinister and mysterious as ever. It’s one of two movies that Lee and Karloff did together. Plus it’s the only movie that Karloff, Lee and Steele did together. Add to that it was also the last film Karloff did that was released during his lifetime. With all those qualities it should have been better than it was. I’m not sure what the problem was. Perhaps the whole cult thing being done so often. Perhaps that directing wasn’t as tight as it should have been; perhaps the screenwriting wasn’t up to par. Whatever it was, “The Crimson Cult” was good, but it could have been so much more.