Countdown: The Crimson Cult

The first five minutes or so of The Crimson Cult (aka, Curse of the Crimson Altar) feature a justly famous image of a blue-painted Barbara Steele in a crazy headdress presiding over a weird S&M witch’s sabbath where a naked woman chained to an altar is whipped and then sacrificed. While I don’t know if “good” is exactly the right word to ascribe to this scene, it is certainly striking. Someone needs to have told the makers of The Crimson Cult not to put the best five minutes right at the beginning.

Supposedly based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House,” I really don’t exactly see how. There are dreams, and a witch, and a house. That’s about where the similarities stop. (Barbara Steele’s witch is named Lavinia, presumably after a character from a different Lovecraft story.) The plot, though, is a pretty standard cult/Satanism plot of the time period.

The Crimson Cult boasts a cast that should’ve been able to make up for any storyline deficiencies. Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Michael Gough, and the aforementioned blue-painted Barbara Steele. Unfortunately, aside from Steele who gets to wear that rad hat, all of them are given pretty thankless roles, and even when melodramatics are appropriate, all their performances stay pretty low-key. After the first five minutes, an early swingin’ party/orgy, and a few later variants on that same opening tableau, there’s really not much to recommend The Crimson Cult, which quickly devolves into people walking around in dark houses, having circuitous, go-nowhere conversations, and sleeping.

The trailer shows you most of the good bits, and there’s a much more in-depth overview here, complete with screen grabs that’ll give a good taste of the trippy sabbath scenes. It really doesn’t get any better than that, for whatever that’s worth.

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