Curse Of The Crimson Altar (1968) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, Jules is at it again in March, treating us to a chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.


Starring: Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, Mark Eden
Director: Vernon Sewell

After getting it so right with Witchfinder General, Tigon Films got right back to Blood Beast Terror territory with Curse Of The Crimson Altar.

Uncredited, but loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams In The Witch House, Vernon Sewell’s fever dream of a film features some gloriously deviant imagery, two of horrors biggest stars in Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff and even a small but essential role for the great Barbara Steele. And it’s still not enough.

Antiques dealer Robert Manning (Mark Eden) is searching for his brother, who was last known to have visited the remote country house of Craxted Lodge at Greymarsh, their family’s ancestral town.

He arrived to find a decadent party in full swing, but is invited to stay by Eve (Wetherell), the niece of the owner of the house. That owner is Moreley (Christopher Lee), who assures him that his brother is not and never has been at his house.

Manning then plagued by dreams of ritual sacrifice and nightmarish hallucinations before being informed by occult expert Professor Marsh (Karloff) about a witchcraft cult led by Morley’s ancestor, Lavinia (Steele), a cult that is still very much active…

The biggest problem Curse Of The Crimson Altar has is that very little actually happens. Manning arrives at the house, chats to some people, has some bad dreams and the house burns down. That’s pretty much it.

All of the star names are either underused or given a sow’s ear to make a silk purse with too.

Christopher Lee sleepwalks through his scenes by dint of how very ordinary his dialogue is. Compare the scene where he first meets Manning and denies knowing his brother with the similar scene in The Wicker Man between Summerisle and Sergeant Howie. The latter is full of subtext and tricksy, barely hidden malevolence and contempt, as Lee toys with the Policeman like a cat with a mouse. Here, it’s like a conversation about nothing, merely flat and perfunctory.

Karloff fares better, despite the portentous dialogue he has to come out with, purely down to the immense physical presence he exuded on his later years. He feels ancient, like the living embodiment of the cadaverous Mummy he brought to the screen all those years before and that all goes some way to bolster his performance, every word given weight by the passing of time.

Sadly, Barbara Steele is merely used as an extended cameo. Covered in green body paint as the alluring witch Lavinia, she looks incredible, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but her scenes are where the film really hits a spot, being the transgressive nightmares that Manning experiences, all semi-naked people getting up to all sorts of S&M weirdness.

There’s nothing massively wrong with Curse Of The Crimson Altar, but there’s nothing all that great about it either. With that cast and that literary inspiration, there’s a good film in there somewhere, but as he proved on The Blood Beast Terror, director Vernon Sewell probably wasn’t the man who was going to find it.

Rating: 2.5/5.

JULESAV The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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