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Crimson Cult, The

Kino // R // July 7, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted June 23, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Directed by Vernon Sewell for Tigon in 1968, The Crimson Cult (also known as The Curse Of The Crimson Altar, which is the title it went by for its original UK run) was distributed domestically by American International Pictures.

When the film begins we meet Robert Manning (Mark Eden), an antiques dealer who depends on his brother Peter (Denys Peek) to keep him well stocked. He receives a package from Peter with a single candle stick, a note and a few other oddities. When he reads the note and learns that his brother is sick and planning to come, he realizes that something is amiss and so he heads to the address on the letterhead used to find the man. After driving down a secluded road and interrupting a very strange game of hide and seek, he winds up at a beautiful old home called Craxted Lodge in the small town of Graymarsh. He knocks on the door and is greeted by a beautiful blonde woman named Eve (Virginia Wetherell). She lets him in and he's perplexed by the merrymaking going on.

As enchanting as Eve is, he's interested in meeting a Mr. Morley (Christopher Lee), the man in charge of the home. It turns out he's Eve's uncle and she introduces him. When he inquires as to his brother's whereabouts, however, he's not given any helpful information at all. Regardless, Morley is a polite host and invites Robert to spend the night and then head into town the next day to see if he can find anything of use. From here, things get odd. An aging man in a wheelchair named Professor Marsh (Boris Karloff), an admitted authority on witchcraft, invites Manning to visit his home to view his collection of ‘instruments of torture' while Eve and Morley inform Manning of their connection to witch put to death in the town years and years ago. Manning is then plagued by strange dreams in which he sees the witch (Barbara Steele) and his brother and he himself is being forced to sign his name in blood on the pages of her book while jurors clad in arcane animal masks look on and a man in leather wearing horns leads the proceedings. While all of this is going on and Manning tries to figure out what's happening, the butler, Elder (Michael Gough) warns him to get out while he still can…

A riveting and remarkably colorful slice of quirky gothic horror, The Crimson Cult makes great use of its all-star cast and while it is very definitely a product of the late sixties in which it was made, it remains great entertainment. The dream sequences, in which Steele is covered in green body paint sporting huge long feathers from the back of her head, are as bizarre as they are tinged in period psychedelics and the film goes over the top in its use of color during these scenes. The story also mixes in a subplot in which Eve and Manning fall for one another, allowing for a bit of nudity courtesy of Virginia Wetherall, revealing a sexual side of the story hinted at earlier in not only the hide and seek sequence but also Manning's entrance into the lodge where he passes a party that borders on an orgy. This foreshadows the debauchery we know is somehow tied to the lodge, and as the secret behind what's really going on starts to play out, more and more of what first seemed odd starts to make sense.

The cast all do fine work here. Steele is underused but she looks fantastic all dolled up as the witch. Her body paint and feathery outfit is striking and bizarre and if she isn't on camera as much as many may have hoped, she definitely makes an impression. Mark Eden is likeable enough as the male lead. We understand both why he'd feel the need to go looking for his brother and why he'd be won over by the hospitality he's shown at the lodge, particularly that shown by Eve. Virginia Wetherall and he make a nice couple. She's very pretty but also has a sincerity to her character that is endearing. Christopher Lee plays his part perfectly. We know there's something he's not acknowledging or admitting to early on in the film, that's not a spoiler, but again, he's charming enough that it's no shock Manning hangs around. Throw an aging but fantastic Boris Karloff into the mix and add an interesting and quirky supporting turn from Michael Gough and you can see how this one turns out to be pretty entertaining stuff.

A note about the music on this release: purists may take issue with the fact that the origin Peter Knight score composed for the film has been replaced with an alternate score composed by Kendall Schmidt. This is the same score that was on the US VHS release from years back and while Knight's original music definitely suits the movie better than its replacement, legal issues prevented Kino from including that score on this US release. The original score is present on the UK Blu-ray release from Odeon Entertainment.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

The Crimson Cult skipped DVD completely and arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. Fans will find little room for complaint with the picture quality here, it looks very good. Colors really pop in a lot of the more bizarre scenes involving the cult while black levels stay nice and deep but at the same time we get solid shadow detail and a crush free image. There are no obvious compression artifacts and not a trace of noise reduction or edge enhancement to note. Skin tones look nice and lifelike and there are no problems with print damage at all, just a small white speck here and there. Detail and texture are typically very strong though there are a few scenes that look a bit softer than others, likely due to how this was shot. But yeah… this is a really nice transfer.

Sound:

The only option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in English, there are no alternate language options or subtitles/closed captioning options offered here. Clarity of the audio is quite good though there are a few lines that sound a little muffled now and again. The score sounds nice and has very good range and depth to it. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion of note and the levels are properly balanced throughout.

Extras:

Extras begin with an audio commentary courtesy of film historian David Del Valle and actress Barbara Steele. This is a pretty interesting track even if it isn't always one hundred percent related to the movie at hand (given that Steele is only in a few scenes this is understandable). She talks about her appreciation for the wardrobe she got to use in the movie, what it was like shooting on location in a cold and dreary part of England and her thoughts on the different performers that appear in the movie, whether she actually had any screen time with them or not. She comes off as quite appreciative of this movie and when she doesn't have much to say about the scenes she wasn't involved with Del Valle rightfully gets her talking about other aspects of her career. As such, this is a pretty informative and interesting track, particularly if you have an affinity for Ms. Steele's filmography as a whole rather than just this one specific entry in it.

In Conversation With Christopher Lee is a forty-seven minute career overview with the late legend. Here he speaks about how he got his start in the acting business, how he wound up starring in the various Hammer films for which he remains so well remembered, his thoughts on what it takes to make characters often written off as villains interesting and even sympathetic as well as some of the films that younger audiences will remember him for (Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy and his work on the Star Wars sequels). Lee remains the consummate gentleman throughout the piece and, as is typically the case, he makes for a great interviewee. Kino have also supplied a featurette called Music Macabre which is a thirteen minute long interview with composer Kendall Schmidt. In the eighties he was working for Orion rescoring certain AIP titles that were stuck in legal limbo due to music rights issues and this was one of them, but due to personal issues he was dealing with at the time his memory isn't so sharp here. Regardless, he gives us a reasonably interesting overview of his work during this period on this and quite a few other AIP properties.

Aside from that we get a US trailer, a UK trailer, static menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

The Crimson Cult moves at a good pace and offers up a great cast doing good work and interesting, if bizarre, story to pull you in. While it wears its late sixties period clearly on its sleeve that just adds to the fun. The Blu-ray release from Kino is a good one, and if it doesn't offer up the original score it does present the film in excellent shape and with a few top notch extras as well. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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