Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Crimson Cult aka Curse of the Crimson Altar

The Crimson Cult (1968) aka Curse of the Crimson Altar (that's the title that appears on the version I saw)
Dir. Vernon Sewell
Written by Marvyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. Supposedly adapted from an H. P. Lovecraft story (uncredited)
Starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, Mark Eden

What obscene prayer or human sacrifice can satisfy the devil-god? Hard to say, since no one ever mentions any of those things in the movie
This is pretty much of interest for camp value only, unfortunately. As such, it might be fitfully amusing, but honestly it’s mostly too dull to even be essential viewing as ironic enjoyment.

The plot revolves around Antique dealer Mark Eden arriving at Christopher Lee’s creepy castle in search of his brother or, that failing, some lukewarm British sex with Lee’s hot niece (one of these goals gets accomplished during the film's runtime, the other is pretty much forgotten about. I’ll let you guess which is which). He keeps dreaming of Barbara Steel painted green and sporting big curly horns, as we all do from time to time, except that in his dream she’s hanging around with a beefy dude in an S & M getup wearing a hat topped with two huge elk antlers*, a jury of green weirdos in animal masks, and a bunch of bearded monks, which I have to admit is a less common part of that dream and possibly cause for some concern.

Ok, Now I have your attention.
Although it has a sort of quintessential swinging 60’s cheerful datedness that sets it apart from, say, the Hammer Studio productions, there’s really only two memorable things about this mess. One is a quick moment of meta-humor when Lee’s niece quips, “It’s like a house from one of those old horror movies!” to which her companion replies, “I know, I it’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.” That Karloff does indeed show up mere minutes later is left uncommented on. The movie as a whole actually has a surprising meta awareness for being this early -- it even cutely tries to play with our expectations about the genre, liberally sprinkling some familiar cliches which turn out to be red herrings. It’s not enough to make it surprising or even interesting, but it’s kind of cute to see them try and be genre-aware way back in 1968. Guess Wes Craven didn’t invent postmodernism after all.

The second memorable thing about this is the stunning obliviousness of its main character. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie character so completely unable to take a hint. He’s the kind of guy who’s going to sit around with the openly evil Lee and Karloff and volunteer, ‘Oh, I say, your mentally ill butler accosted me earlier today and told me that I should be fearful of my life because you two were trying to kill me! I thought it rather droll myself, but I thought you ought to know, gentlemen that we are!’ Most damning is the scene where Karloff uncorks a bottle of very, very fine brandy and rhapsodizes about its beauty and character while savoring the aroma with a face as close to orgasmic as I care to see Boris Karloff get. So what does this knucklehead do while Karloff is talking? He downs his snifter in a single gulp, and announces, “It’s nice.” If they hadn’t been planning to kill him before, they sure are now. And the fucker does this in like three separate scenes! You’d think after awhile they’d just learn to stop giving him the good stuff.

Anyway, if you have seen every other horror movie on Earth except the Platinum Dunes remakes and anything by Charles Band, this one I guess is at least amiable enough that you could do worse. It has some early hints of the changing face of horror cinema, including some nods to genre expectations, some awkward endearingly innocent 60’s nudity, and some pre-giallo attempts at surreal saturated lighting schemes, so that’s sort of interesting. For a horror completists to half-watch while stoned or joking around with a crowd, it might be entertaining enough. Otherwise, you can probably skip it.

I just want to say that this multi-colored spinning lamp is a great effect and I fully expect to see it in a Tarantino film at some point.
*Actually it turns out that this apparently out-of-the-blue weirdness has an explanation: this dude is the legendary British mythological figure Herne the Hunter, first mentioned by William Shakespeare, featured prominently in Susan Cooper’s excellent Dark is Rising series, and now appearing as a non-speaking extra in CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTER/CRIMSON CULT. Dude needs to fire his agent.


BOOBIES: Yeah, there's a gratuitous sex scene, but its pretty tame.
OBSCURITY LEVEL: highish mid. Despite the good cast, it's not too well known.
MONSTERS: Green skin + horns = close enough.
SATANISTS: I think they're witch-worshipers, but close enough.
CURSES: A witch's curse supposedly started this whole thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment