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The Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Curse Of The Crimson Altar is a very garish film, and it starts as 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 journal)

...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 Barbara Steele, resplendent 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, to which Lavinia monotones: "Enter our world of darkness. You know what you have to do."

Tweed jacket man grabs a knife, 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. This scene exemplifies what happens when middle aged film makers imagine what "youth" gets up to - we are treated to artistic blokes painting women's breasts, adults playing kids' games, people smoking enormous cigarettes and rubbish cat fights.

"I know what you mean - as if Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment."

The lady of the house, Eve Morley (Virginia Wetherell wearing what can only be described as a 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, Boris Karloff does about one minute later, playing the wheelchair-bound Professor Marsh. It could be an incredibly clever attempt to deconstruct the idea of film, or it could be just a crap joke. You decide.

In the room he has been offered, Bob remarks: "I wonder why they call it the grey room?" (Because the walls are painted grey, you arse) and then spots a candlestick which matches one his brother sent him. Shock-gasp!

Enter Prof Marsh, the acknowledged expert on this part of the world: "Past, present... and future." (eh?)

Marsh sets out his stall suspiciously quickly - 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" (with much eyebrow acting).

That evening the villagers take part in a cosy little tradition called The Burning, during which they display a distinct lack of knowledge of The Firework Code. Bob looks on disinterestedly, then, acting on a tip-off from the Morley's butler Elder (Michael Gough, also doing a nice line in eyebrow acting), he visits the graveyard for no apparent reason.

Bob then has a dream where we discover that the branded bloke at the beginning of the film was his brother (just in case you hadn't worked that one out), 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 - it could well be a hoot.

After surviving being shot at by Prof Marsh's groovy manservant (who was 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 (wahey). 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 his roof.

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?

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


Last updated: February 18, 2010

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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.

Stop! I am Lavinia etc... 97k

Enter our world of darkness... you know what you have to do... 76k

The "Boris Karloff" line 30k

Boris makes his entrance, spouting gibberish 22k

Prof Marsh is the acknowledged expert... (more gibberish from Mr Karloff, this time joined by Mr Lee) 22k

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