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Film / Curse of the Crimson Altar

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Curse of the Crimson Altar (a.k.a. The Crimson Cult) is a 1968 British horror film directed by Vernon Sewell and starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele and Mark Eden.

When his brother disappears, Robert Manning pays a visit to the remote country house he was last heard from. While his host is outwardly welcoming - and his niece more demonstrably so - Manning detects a feeling of menace in the air with the legend of Lavinia Morley, Black Witch of Greymarsh, hanging over everything.

Based on The Dreams in the Witch House by H. P. Lovecraft.


Curse of the Crimson Altar contains examples of:

  • Attack of the Town Festival: All the events of the film take place around Witch's Festival: a local village festival that commemorates the burning of local witch Lavinia Grey.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Lavinia has green skin.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: At the end of the movie, Professor Walsh shoots Morley in the hand to force him to drop the poniard.
  • Blood Oath: Peter signs Lavinia's book in blood. According to Professor Walsh, this is a step there is no coming back from.
  • Bookcase Passage: One of the secret tunnels to the witch room is concealed behind a bookcase in the library.
  • Burn the Witch!: Lavinia Morley was burned for witchcraft, and this event is recreated in Greymarsh every Witch's Night, with Lavinia being burned in effigy.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Robert sits bolt upright when he wakes from a dream that ended with him being stabbed in the chest by Lavinia.
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  • Celebrity Paradox: Robert is being shown around the lodge by Eve, and remarks that it feels like something out of a horror film, and that he almost expects to run into Boris Karloff. Not long afterwards, he is introduced to Professor Walsh, who is played by Boris Karloff. Strangely, Robert makes no comment on the Professor's resemblance to the actor.
  • Climbing Climax: Morley climbs on to the roof of the Lodge as the building burns. He is last seen screaming defiance at the heavens as an image of Lavina appears above him, before the roof gives in and he plunges into the burning building.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Peter signs Lavinia's book in blood. According to Professor Walsh, this is a step there is no coming back from.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Elder is the stuttering, seemingly mentally deficient, majordomo of Craxted Lodge; shuffling around the place, and appearing unnervingly behind people.
  • Disney Villain Death: Morley perishes falling through the roof of the burning Craxted Lodge.
  • Godiva Hair: The naked Virgin Sacrifice strapped to the altar has her modesty protected by her long blonde hair covering her breasts.
  • Human Sacrifice: Peter is forced to commit human sacrifice at the end of the bizarre Initiation Ceremony that opens the movie.
  • Joker Jury: In one of his dreams, Robert finds himself put on trial by Lavinia's cult. The jury consists of Malevolent Masked Men in creepy animal masks.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: In one of his dreams, Robert finds himself being tried by a Joker Jury of cultists wearing creepy animal masks.
  • Market-Based Title: Was released in the US as The Crimson Cult.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Just before Morley perishes falling through the roof of the burning Craxted Lodge, an image of Lavinia Morley appears laughing above him. It vanishes as he falls, leaving the three characters who saw it wondering if it was real.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: The party that is raging at Craxted Lodge when Robert arrives seems to be fast devolving into an orgy. Oddly, all of the partygoers are gone the next morning, and the event is never mentioned again.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: The film centres a witchcraft cult established by Lavinia Morley, a woman executed for witchcraft in the 17th Century, which still operates in the present day. The cult practices Human Sacrifice, but it is unclear what its actual goals are.
  • Slave Brand: After Peter completes his initiation (however unwillingly) into Lavinia's cult and signs his name in blood in her book, Lavinia has him branded to mark him as now belonging to her.
  • Sleepwalking: Under the effects of hypnosis, Robert almost sleepwalks into a lake, but is saved by a passing policeman.
  • The Speechless: Basil, Professor Walsh's sinister chauffeur/manservant, is a mute. Robert discovers this when he attempts to choke answers out of him, only for Professor Walsh to inform him that Basil would not be capable of answering him even if he were not being strangled.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Basil, Professor Walsh's sinister and silent chauffeur, never removes his sunglasses (save one brief moment when they are knocked off by Robert during a struggle). This includes while driving at night.
  • The Vicar: Eve rouses the local vicar in the middle of the night to comb through parish records. The very pleasant vicar helps her do this and turns up the information she needs, breaking the mystery wide open. He later unknowingly saves the day by making a phone call to Professor Walsh.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: The women sacrificed by the cult are apparently virgins, although this is never explicitly stated in the film. However, they are identified as "Virgin sacrifice #1" and Virgin sacrifice #2" in the credits.
  • You Just Ruined the Shot: Robert arrives at Craxted Lodge and sees an almost naked woman screaming and being chased by a pair of cars. He intervenes, only to discover this is a consensual game being played by a group of partygoers from the Lodge.