Monday, November 23, 2015

Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Notable mainly for featuring three generations of horror icons, (classic monster Boris Karloff, Hammer Dracula Christopher Lee and Euro horror favourite Barbara Steele), Curse of the Crimson Altar is a typically barmy late sixties Tigon production for which I have a real soft spot.  Not quite as deliriously insane as another Vernon Sewell directed Tigon horror, the contemporaneous Blood Beast Terror, Curse nevertheless has its moments.  Most of these involve an especially bizarre performance from Micheal Gough as the red-herring mad butler and a series of strange dream sequences experienced by hero Mark Eden.  Whilst quite eerily shot, these do come over more as some kind of S&M fetish party, (large men dressed in what appears to be bondage gear wander around with various implements of torture, with the whole thing presided over by a green painted Barabara Steele sporting a ram's horn festooned headress), rather than a supernatural experience.

Adding to the fun is Boris Karloff's occult historian, pushed around in a wheelchair by a black clad, sunglasses wearing, mute bodyguard.  With witches' curses, evil ancestors exacting revenge across the centuries, a spooky old house and strange and arcane rituals, it's fair to say that Curse of the Crimson Altar throws everything into the mix in its quest for chills.  That it never really succeeds in raising a fright in no no way lessens its entertainment value, as bizarre incident piles upon bizarre incident.  Moreover, as if aware that the film couldn't deliver in the horror department, the producers also included a dollop of swinging sixties decadence, with a wild party full of semi-clothed young people, plus some brief nudity from the leading lady.  Despite their top-billing, Lee., Karloff and Steele actually have little to do in the film, with most of narrative being carried by bland leads Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherall.  Of the three horror icons, only Karloff seems to be enjoying himself, gleefully hamming it up at every opportunity.  Ultimately, the film is stymied by its refusal to carry through with its supernatural plot - the dreams turn out to be drug induced hallucinations which, along with various murders and other strange incidents, are revealed as part of crazy Christopher Lee's plot to avenge the execution of his witch ancestress Lavinia (Barbara Steele), by killing the descendents of her accussers.  That said, it does try to have its cake and eat it in one final barmy scene as Lee, trapped atop the burning house, turns into Barbara Steele before being consumed by the flames. 

Curse of the Crimson Altar used to be a taple of the BBC's late night horror movie seasons, but in recent years it seems to have vanished from view.  Never a fan favourite and generally dismissed by critics, Curse is no classic, nor is it a strong example of Tigon's output from the period.  Neverheless, when watched under the right circumstances it has a curious charm and some sequences do create an agreeably uneasy atmosphere.  Moreover, like most of veteran director Sewell's output, the whole thing is very professionally put together. 



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