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 witchcraftor, 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.
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
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
lampshadeno, reallythat 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.