Year 1968
Studio Tigon / AIP
Producer Louis M. Heyward
Director Vernon Sewell
Writer

Jerry Sohl

Mervyn Haisman

Gerry Levy

Henry Lincoln

Music Peter Knight
Cast

Boris Karloff

Christopher Lee

Mark Eden

Barbara Steele

Michael Gough

Length 87 mins

     
The Crimson Cult

‘‘ There are horrors beyond horrors, and this was one of those nuclei of all dreamable hideousness which the cosmos saves to blast an accursed and unhappy few. ’’

The music is bad . . . the opening title sequence is very bad . . . right from the get-go The Crimson Cult does not look promising and in the fine tradition of many American International Pictures . . . it isn't.

The Crimson Cult stars Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, and Boris Karloff (billed as his last role, although he cranked out a few more quickies in Mexico before his death). It is a disappointing "adaptation" of "The Dreams in the Witch House," a story HPL wrote early in 1932 and that August Derleth sold to Weird Tales over Lovecraft's objections.

The original story tells a tale of witchcraft—or, more accurately, "non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics"—wherein the protagonist sleeps in a strangely angled attic that once was home to a witch. He starts having dreams of unnamable abysses and visions of the old crone on the twisting streets of Arkham. In these waking dreams, he is transported into alien realms and forced to partake in occult ceremonies. He eventually meets a gory death when the witch's familiar, in the form of a human-faced rat, tunnels through his body and munches on his heart.

In this loose movie adaptation, Robert Manning, played by Mark Eden, is searching for his missing brother. Through his brother's cryptic last letter, Robert tracks him to an English country manor called Greymarsh where he meets Morley, the owner, (Christopher Lee) and Morley's beautiful daughter who, as the obligatory love interest, gets naked in the middle of the film.

Robert spends the night at Greymarsh and begins dreaming of a strange ceremony where a witch called Lavinia (played by Barbara Steele in green face) tries to make him sign a big scary book. Barbara surrounds herself with half-naked servants. On her left is an overweight man in a leather speedo sporting antlers on his head, and to her right is a woman with prominent medieval pasties, servants that would look right at home in the Frederick's of Arkham Christmas catalogue. There's also a goat, a judge, a Pan-ish looking man in a cloak, and two supposedly naked blondes whose hair is just long enough to cover up all their naughty bits.

Karloff plays a local expert on the occult in general and of the witch Lavinia in particular. Poor Boris is constantly made to look like the bad guy. But in an oh-so-clever plot twist, it turns out that Morley is the baddie.

Morley is the direct descendent of Lavinia and, like Curwen in The Haunted Palace, is seeking revenge on the descendants of the townspeople who put Lavinia to the torch. He's able to accomplish his evil task with the help of a psychedelic lampshade—no, really—that hypnotizes his manservant (played by Michael Gough) and anyone else who strays near its unholy influence.

After some classic AIP walking-around-in-a-big-spooky-house filler, Morley attempts to kill the young couple and (gasp!) sets fire to the house. Everyone but Morley escapes, and Boris explains away the supernatural events as being caused by Morley's rare psychological problem of witch-envy, further pontificating that he always knew Morley's mind was slipping. But the joke is on the good Professor: the parting shot superimposes the ghostly image of Lavinia over Morley . . . laughing! Oh, ho!

The Crimson Cult does include some amusing bits, like a classic 1960s-style freak-out party, an incredibly long effigy burning of the witch Lavinia, and Boris in his wheelchair being bombarded by roman candles. There is even a bit of self-deprecation when someone comments: "It's like Boris Karloff is going to pop up any moment."

Actually, Boris should have popped down to the local pub during the filming of The Crimson Cult. A couple pints of Bitter certainly wouldn't have hurt this production and in fact may enhance its viewing.