The Crimson Cult (1968)
aka Curse of the Crimson Altar.
At long last this must have flick has turned up on the home video market after laying dormant for far too long. In Canada at least. Must have is a strong term but for a collector like myself, it’s the opportunity to see Christopher Lee share the screen with Boris Karloff on equal terms at the fade out of “Dear Boris’ ” career. They had appeared together in the late fifties Karloff shocker Corridors of Blood and while Lee was good in this Burke and Hare tale it was Boris’ picture all the way. As an added bonus for The Crimson Cult we have Barbara Steele who should need no introduction for fans of sixties horror. This time out she plays The Black Witch of Greymarsh.
The film itself is colorful and while Boris’ role is rather small it’s still a fun tale of witchcraft that has a plot very familiar to others of the genre including one of Lee’s earlier titles City of the Dead or Hotel Horror. That Lee film really is a must see and one of his better thrillers.
Our late sixties title starts out with Miss Steele colored green and looking every inch a member of Satan’s minions. With a psychedelic look she and a kangaroo court are imploring a man to sign a book and subsequently screams and daggers flash across the screen. A very S & M fantasy to those looking for the leather and whip kind of thing with breasts bared quite openly.
Enter Mr. Mark Eden as a man trailing his brother and led to believe he has met with mischief and perhaps death. The road leads to an estate overseen by Sir Christopher. He’s all for opening his home and trying his best to be helpful to Eden in his search though he has little to actually offer. Hard not to consider this role as a precursor to his legendary Lord Summerisle. Fortunately for Eden, Lee has a niece played by Virginia Wetherell who takes a fancy to him and joins in the search for answers.
Another face connoisseurs of horror will recognize is that of Michael Gough in the role of Lee’s man about the house who is frightened to the edge of his sanity. Through his babbling he offers our hero a clue on the way to solving his brothers disappearance.
When the night falls and Eden sleeps the kinky scenes with Steele return to the screen as a portrait of what takes place in his dreams. When he awakens to discover he’s been stabbed and bleeding the dreams take on a new meaning.
Boris Karloff offers up a vast knowledge of witch craft to Eden in the role usually reserved for Peter Cushing when we find Lee up to no good. Boris was of course mainly confined to a wheel chair by this point but he soldiers on here and offers some pointers to young Eden and does his best to get in to the action at the fadeout.
Vernon Sewell is the credited director of this film that is generally regarded as the final film of Karloff’s career. Boris did however appear in some scenes that wound up in a quartet of Mexican horrors released after his death. Director Sewell also helmed the Peter Cushing flick The Blood Beast Terror the same year as this production.
For those looking for the in joke listen closely as Eden’s character comments in connection with the Lee estate, “It’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment. ”
The recent blu ray release from Kino Lorber has a couple of bonus features that I really appreciated. One is a 50 minute interview with Christopher Lee from 2012 where he recalls career highlights as only he can. The other is an audio commentary featuring Miss Steele and classic film historian David Del Valle.
I had not seen this film in many years. As a matter of fact not since I was sneaking into the TV room as a kid after Mom and Dad went to bed. This thriller would turn up on late night TV and I just had to see it. I actually recalled more about sneaking around the house compared to what terrors actually appeared on camera. As for the film it was Barbara Steele that I recollected more than anything thanks to her gaudy make up and look.
Just in case you’re wondering, I did locate an original U.S. released poster from the film’s theatrical run when I had started collecting many years ago.