The Summer of Lovecraft: Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)


“Terror fills the night as she stalks her prey!”

Directed by Vernon Sewell

Starring Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Mark Eden, Virginia Wetherell, Barbara Steele and Michael Gough. Blimey.

This film connects to both our Christopher Lee retrospective and the ongoing Summer of Lovecraft. Economical!

The Story

It’s our second outing for “The Dreams in the Witch House,” so I’ll be brief. Physics student believes physics and witchcraft may be related; he is right. Old house, weird room, rat monster, interdimensional travel, baby-murdering, anti-Polish prejudice, heart eaten. OK? OK.

The Film

Antique dealer Robert Manning goes back to his family’s ancestral village of Greymarshe to look for his missing brother. While there, he encounters local squire type Morley (Lee), his beautiful daughter Eve (Wetherell), nervous butler Elder (Gough) and grumpy old professor Marshe (Karloff), together with his sunglassed factotum Basil. Eve has a wild hippie party that is totally unimportant to the plot except that as soon as Manning arrives at remote Craxted Lodge we get to see some tasteful seminudity.


You wouldn’t think an 80-year-old man with crippling arthritis could run rings around everyone else in this movie, but whaddya know?


Manning’s search for his brother seems conveniently fruitless, but during his stay he has weird dreams in which he is menaced by a witch (Barbara Steele). This turns out to be Lavinia Morley, the witch of local legend — and more research reveals that it was Manning’s own great-great-whatever that led the accusers who burned her. Whoops!


Separated at birth?

It turns out there’s a secret passage in Madding’s room that leads to a witchity altar. But wait — Morley is the villain, and the whole witch thing is just him hypnotising Madding as part of a mad revenge scheme. He tries to stab Eve, but Marshe turns up and saves the day. Morley burns the lodge down, but our heroes escape, reflecting on how the whole thing was just Morley’s insanity … or was it?!

What’s wrong with it?

Well, it’s not exactly a masterpiece of tight plotting, frequently pausing for some bosoms or spinning out Manning’s investigation by having him conveniently forget to do something blindingly obvious (like mention what his brother looked like when trying to find him) or spot that something super shifty is going on.

What’s right with it?

The film looks not bad, and the performances are pretty good, Karloff especially. Lee doesn’t get much to do except make some faces at the end, but Karloff is just splendid, playing grumpy old sod and village detective with the same delicacy. Also Virginia Wetherell’s mischievous face is very good.

How bad is it really?

It’s not bad. It’s a piece of derpy, sensationalistic entertainment, with pretty girls and fireworks and people creeping around old houses and kind of a Scooby-Doo plot twist. It is very, very loosely connected to “The Dreams in the Witch House.” There is definitely a witch house, and a dude definitely has some dreams there, but other than that it’s a stock Gothic of the kind they were making all the time in the 60s. Better than some, worse than others.


Best bit (if such there is)?

Marshe tells Manning he has a little collection of his own. Manning: “what do you collect?” Marshe (brightly): “Instruments of torture!”

What’s up with…? 

  • Morley’s hypno-lamp? Couldn’t they have come up with something a bit more menacing than an Italian flag?
  • The goat puppet? It would be scarier if it didn’t look so much like a My Little Pony. That may be intentional, though.
  • Eve’s swinging friends? How many swingers are there in the village of Greymarshe? Or are they all from out of town? I hope they’re not driving in that state.
  •  Basil? I get an old man having someone to help him out. A black-uniformed, gun-toting guy who can’t speak is just for style, I imagine.
  • Lavinia’s outfit? When I think 17th-century witchcraft, I’m not sure that’s where I go right off the bat.
  • The sexual morality of the 1960s? I think we’re meant to think that Manning is a cool swinger, but he comes off as a pushy, desperate creep.


Production values Not bad: good sets, varied locations, rudimentary effects but then that’s 1968 for you. 5.
Dialogue and performances The worst are competent, and the best are pretty good! 4.
Plot and execution Pretty thin stuff. 14.
Randomness The core story makes sense, but there are a lot of random embellishments. 13.
Waste of potential Another Lovecraft story turned into another by-the-numbers Gothic. Ho hum. 14.

Overall 50%


One thought on “The Summer of Lovecraft: Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.