The Curse of the Crimson Altar
Curse begins its garish little tale the way it means to go on - mint
green writing on a fuschia pink lit background of stone gargoyles. Nice.
We then get a lovely little made-up quote from a made-up book...
"...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" (Extract from medical
...superimposed over a kaleidoscope image. Woo, groovy, man. Apparently,
this was bunged in at the last moment to capitalise on the late 60s drugs
boom, even though the rest of the film has nothing whatsoever to do with
drugs at all, even during the "swinging" party scenes.
Cut to naked woman writhing on an altar, watched by the She-Hulk (sorry
- Barbara Steele in green make-up as the witch Lavinia), a priest(?),
some cowled servant-types, a fat bloke in leather underpants and a horned
helmet, and a completely normal bloke in a tweed jacket. The normal bloke
signs something. Steele: "Enter our world of darkness. You know what
you have to do."
Tweed jacket man stabs the girl on the altar, and then gets branded by
leather underpants man. Cut to almost naked fat bird (cries of "get
'em on!") brandishing a whip, with bits of black plastic covering
her nipples. They obviously eat well, these Satanists, even if they can't
afford decent clothes.
Then we're whisked off to a 60s antiques shop, where we get a handy explanation
of the old "spring loaded bodkin" trick (which is more boring
than it sounds - it's a knife used to "expose" witches by making
it look like they don't bleed when stabbed). The shop owner, Bob, gets
a letter from his brother Peter saying he's been staying at Craxted Lodge,
near the old family seat. But when Bob tries to phone Peter, they've NEVER
HEARD OF HIM (dan Dan dannnn...).
Bob decides to visit this Craxted Lodge in his trusty white MGB. The
unusually helpful petrol attendant seems happy to furnish our hero with
lots of local knowledge about "witches night" in the village,
but clams up when the Lodge is mentioned.
After witnessing a bizarre game of hide and seek involving a girl in a
catsuit and four cars, Bob arrives at the Lodge to find a party in full
swing. In some kind of horrific example of what happens when middle aged
men imagine what "youth" gets up to, we have artistic blokes
painting women's breasts, adults playing kids' games, people smoking enormous
cigarettes and rubbish cat fights.
Eve Morley (wearing hideous yellow cat suit) welcomes Bob with a snog,
and then directs him to her Uncle, the owner of the lodge (Christopher
Lee). Lee fobs the letter off as a practical joke (it is hilarious, after
all) and invites Bob to stay.
We are then treated to a bit of pre-post modernism post modernism, as
on the way to Bob's room, Eve remarks: "It's a bit like one of those
houses in horror films." To which Bob replies: "I know what
you mean - as if Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment."
Of course, he does about one minute later, as Professor Marsh. It could
be an incredibly clever attempt to deconstruct the idea of film, or it
could be just a crap joke. Come to think of it, it's probably the latter.
In his room, Bob remarks: "I wonder why they call it the grey room?"
(Because the walls are painted grey, you arse) and then spots a candlestick
exactly like one his brother sent him. Shock-gasp!
Enter Boris as the brandy-swilling Prof Marsh, the acknowledged expert
on this part of the world: "Past, present... and future." (eh?)
He reckons brandy is completely wasted on women, that there's "good
reason to rue the day they buried Lavinia" and that "we shall
meet again" (much eyebrow acting).
Perhaps Professor Obvious Red Herring would have been a better name for
At The Burning, the villagers display a distinct lack of knowledge of
The Firework Code, and then, acting on a tip-off from the butler Elder
(Michael Gough, also doing a nice line in eyebrow acting), visits the
graveyard for no apparent reason. By the way, Elder appears to communicate
with Lavinia through the power of the spinning standard lamp.
Bob then has a dream where we discover that the branded bloke at the beginning
of the film was his brother, and he gets to meet Lavinia, who's now added
to her entourage with a "supposed to be naked but obviously still
got her pants on" long haired woman, and several farmyard animals.
I believe there is an uncut European version of this film somewhere out
there. Could be interesting (although I doubt it).
After surviving being shot at by Prof Marsh's groovy manservant (who's
never going to hit his target with those sunglasses on), Bob discovers
that his brother DID stay at the lodge - but used his nom de plume (which
Bob has failed to mention up until now, the berk). Eve ventures the idea
that "he's gone off with some bird".
Of course, Peter won't be doing any nobbing where he's gone - he's dead.
After telling Lee that he's going to the police (always a big horror no-no)
Bob nearly ends up killing himself during another dream, by sleepwalking
into a nearby pond. Luckily, he's saved by a passing policeman, and when
he gets back to the lodge he falls into the arms of the considerably undressed
Eve (there certainly doesn't seem to be a great deal of point to her see-through
dressing gown - I hope she doesn't go down to breakfast in it, her Uncle
wouldn't know where to look). The next morning, Bob finds a secret door
in his room which leads to the room in his dreams, but gets fobbed off
when he reports the strange goings-on to his policeman friend. Probably
because he can't get his lines right: "I know there's something wrong
going up on that lodge."
Bob then finds out that he is the linear descendant of one of the people
who put Lavinia to death centuries ago, and after much unnecessary fact
finding at the nearby church (as if we hadn't sussed it all out already),
Lee tries to sacrifice Eve (why?) before setting fire to his own house
(why?) and eventually turning into Lavinia before burning to death on
Curse Of The Crimson Altar might not make much sense, but as a product
of it's time it's great. Lee as the mustachioed Morley might as well be
one of the film makers, a middle-aged square totally unaware of what the
young folk are getting up to all around him while he carries on doing
what his ancestors have been doing for years. It's crap, but I have a
sneaking feeling that it knows it's crap. And where else are you going
to find Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough and Boris Karloff
all in the same film?
Sometimes you need to take a step back from a film, perhaps download
some soundbites from this website, to appreciate how truly stupid the
dialogue can be. Enjoy some "psychedelic" stuff from Babs Steele,
the appalling self-reverential Boris Karloff line, and some choice words
from Mr Karloff himself.
I am Lavinia etc... 97k
our world of darkness... you know what you have to do... 76k
"Boris Karloff" line 30k
makes his entrance, spouting gibberish 22k
Marsh is the acknowledged expert... (more gibberish from Mr Karloff,
this time joined by Mr Lee) 22k
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
Director: Vernon Sewell Writer(s): Mervyn Haisman Gerry Levy
Cast: Boris Karloff - Prof. John Marshe, Christopher Lee - Morley, Mark
Eden - Robert Manning, Barbara Steele - Lavinia Morley, Michael Gough - Elder,
Virginia Wetherell - Eve Morley, Rosemarie Reede - Esther, Derek Tansley - Judge,
Michael Warren - Chauffeur, Ron Pember - Petrol Attendant, Denys Peek - Peter
Manning, Nicholas Head - Torture Master, Nita Lorraine - Woman with Whip, Carol
Anne - 1st Virgin, Jenny Shaw - 2nd Virgin