Occasionally a horror film comes about where the premise might be unimpressive, but the film’s cast commands attention. The Crimson Cult, originally titled “The Curse of the Crimson Altar” in the UK, is one of such films.
The film follows Robert Manning, an antique dealer who has come to the town of Graymarsh, in search of his brother – another dealer who has failed to return from an antique buying expedition. In the town he arrives in time for a festival celebrating the burning of a witch 300 years earlier, and he finds himself suffering from horrific and vivid nightmares that are more real than they seem.
The plot itself is nothing special. It allegedly takes its plot incredibly loosely from the HP Lovecraft story “The Dreams in the Witch House”, however it’s little more than a standard Satanic/Occult Horror film. What makes the film special is the film’s two co-stars – Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff. Both characters are similar. The script has Lee and Karloff both playing warm, welcoming, landed gentry, with each seeming to have sinister undertones. This, combined with Lee and Karloff’s history in horror films playing dark and sinister villains leaves the audience wondering who the villain is. Is Lee’s character, J. D. Morley who our hero is staying with, the villain. Is Karloff’s Professor Marshe, who collects torture instruments and studies the history of witchcraft the villain. Or are they in cahoots?
The rest of the cast’s performances are fair, and Manning’s nightmares of a “Witch’s Sabbath” are bizarrely surreal – with the witch wearing green body paint and wearing leather nipple covers, and attended by a large hooded man in an almost-too-tight loincloth. The series of sequences feel far too much like something out of a bad horror comic than anything else, and make the film more laughable than sinister.
Fortunately, Lee and Karloff’s genteel menace really help to carry the film, and help get across the audience’s confusion on who our hero can trust. I can definitely recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys older horror films, particularly those which focus a little less on the gore effects, and more on building a sense of dread and the supernatural.
Note: This film is not in print on DVD, so if you want to get it, you’ll have to go to eBay.