Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) [Mini Review]

aka. The Crimson Cult
Dir. Vernon Sewell
Screenplay: Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln
Cast: Christopher Lee (as Morley); Boris Karloff (as Professor Marshe); Mark Eden (as Robert Manning); Barbara Steele (as Lavinia Morley); Michael Gough (as Elder); Virginia Wetherell (as Eve)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #7

It's disappointing to think that the last film in Boris Karloff's career - paired with a star studded cast of Christopher Lee, Michael Gough and Barbara Steele - is a really bland attempt at British occult horror so out of time with the more psychedelic and darker movies creeping in at the late sixties. About a man looking for his brother at a suspicious manor only to be plagued by dreams of an ancient witch (Steele in blue body paint), this represents the worst aspects of British horror in being really sluggish and incredibly behind in quality to what was happening in the USA, Japan and European from countries like Italy. It's baffling to think as well that the same year Tigon Studio released this film they also released Michael Reeve's Witchfinder General (1968) - nihilistic, rich with natural landscape photography and violent, the complete opposition of this which sadly.

Here you have something only catching up to LSD acid-trip dream sequences that it was already beaten to in the early sixties by Roger Corman's Poe adaptations. While it includes the physically striking Barbara Steele, the reoccurring dream sequences where the protagonist is continually pressured under duress offers such absurd sights as a woman with plate steel pasties as a torturer, a farm goat stood around meant to be menacing and Gough sweeping the floor as if the trial the hero is put under continually in the dream, to sign his soul away through a blood signature, is like a regular one rather than that of a Satanic kind. I also suspect a lot of my grievances with many British horror films from the sixties and the seventies is that their structure and extensive use of dialogue is directly lifted from the dramatic tradition of British cinema including older films from before this period such as the forties and so on. This could still work but only if the dialogue is up to a high standard like with the best of British drama, and if the films aren't willing to invest at the same time in the more phantasmagoric than it's a case that I missed the opportunity to grow up with these films as a child and not be as damning of them as I am. Even the most talented actors, and Lee and Karloff especially have to be amongst the best for the charisma they have, need a film here that should've taken a page out of the atmosphere of their continental cousins in Europe and had more teeth or flair. The more rewarding parts of the film aren't the supernatural story  we're meant to invest in but small touches such as Karloff's face when the hero gulps a rare brandy and merely says its swell, the sense that it's in the characters of the actors rather than the story itself that's going to be of any reward for viewers, unfortunately not enough to sustain as a bland movie. 


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