Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Curse of the Crimson Altar" (1968) d/Vernon Sewell

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Despite bearing little resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft's short story 'Dreams in the Witch House', which tonight's review is supposed to be based upon (though I find it more similar stylistically and in tone, to 1970's film version of Dunwich Horror, which combined trippy psychedelic visuals of the day with indescribable horrors in the same fashion), this seldom seen late gothic effort from Tigon Studios full of witchery and human sacrifice proves lively and entertaining enough to satsify even the most jaded genre die-hard in the end. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a cast headed by the likes of Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, and Boris Karloff in front of your lens, either, as this one can boast.

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"Isn't anyone going to paint psychedelic flowers on my belly, too?"
We meet an antiques dealer named Robert Manning (Mark Eden) as he departs for his hometown of Greymarsh, where it seems his brother Peter has vanished, though the audience sees him signing into a witchcraft circle upon the uber-repetitive hard sell of a sultry green witch named Lavinia (Steele), ritual-shanking a sacrificial chick, then getting branded by a muscle creep in a leather loincloth and matching antlers (!) before his cinematic sibling even realizes he's gone missing. On route to Craxted Lodge, Manning interrupts some young sophisticates as they hunt down a bit of strumpet in a cat suit through the woods. These groovy kids and their exotic kicks...Upon arrival, he crashes something of a high brow hallucino-orgy before finally meeting Morley (Lee) to inquire about his brother, remarking that the lodge's ambience leads him to expect Boris Karloff to pop up any minute. He's then introduced to the invalid Professor Marshe (Karloff, ha-ha.), the area's foremost authority of witchcraft and the occultish arts, who likes neither his attitude nor his limited appreciation for fine brandy. Despite the spooky vibes he's catching, Manning agrees to stay at the lodge while he scrutinizes his brother's whereabouts, and Morley's attractive young niece, Eve (Virginia Wetherell), while he's at it.

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"Konga!! Put me down, Konga! Dreadfully sorry, old chap, wrong movie..."
Thanks to the meddling of Morley's half-witted manservant, Elder (Gough), Manning begins to uncover the mystery behind Peter's disappearance, and it's connections to the town's current festival commemorating the stake-burning of the lodge owner's green-hued ancestor for witchcraft. Fancy that. He begins having vivid dreams of said ancestor goading him to sign something, then dagger-shivving him when he refuses, with his missing brother and some en-masked cultists in attendance. Before anyone can point the accusatory finger at the chatty green bird, we find out her spirit is being invoked through a zany kalaideoscopic lamp, and that Manning stands as the last descendant of those who sentenced Lavinia to death, and what's more, neither Eve nor the wheelchair-bound Marshe is aligned with the lanky mustachioed warlock looking to even the ancient score. In the end, the lodge burns to the ground with Morley inside, and as the relieved survivors look on, he transforms into the witch among the licking flames from atop the building.

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"Lord Satan has informed me that, unless we recruit more cult members, he shall be forced to downgrade us to 'The Crimson Get-together'."
Curse would stand as the last of Karloff's films that he would live to see premiere, famously contracting pneumonia on the set, before tackling roles in four low-budget Mexican horror films, with just half of one lung. Despite suffering from weak script and direction, I'd still consider it one of the better efforts from Tigon, and dare I say, a must-see for any fans of the actors involved, as they're all much better individual pieces than the film itself is, on the whole. If you want to see the same general idea executed at a much higher level, look no further than 1960's City of the Dead/Horror Hotel. On the scale, let's call this one a deuce.

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Why, yes. Yes, I would. Flames, ceremonial headdress, green skin, and all.
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