Curse of the Crimson Altar

Curse of the Crimson Altar is a 1968 British horror film directed by Vernon Sewell and starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele and Mark Eden. The film was produced by Louis M. Heyward for Tigon British Film Productions. The film was edited and released as The Crimson Cult in the United States. The screenplay, by Doctor Who writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln,[1] was based (uncredited) on the short story "The Dreams in the Witch House" by H. P. Lovecraft. This film also featured one of the final film appearances of horror heavyweight Karloff.[2][3]

Curse of the Crimson Altar
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVernon Sewell
Produced byLouis M. Heyward
Tony Tenser
Written byMervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln (screenplay)
StarringChristopher Lee
Boris Karloff
Mark Eden
Music byPeter Knight
CinematographyJohn Coquillon
Edited byHoward Lanning
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
  • December 1968 (1968-12) (UK)
  • 15 April 1970 (1970-04-15) (USA)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Plot synopsis

Antiques dealer Robert Manning (Eden) searches for his brother, who was last known to have visited the remote house of Craxted Lodge at Greymarsh, their family's ancestral town. Arriving at night, he finds a party is in progress, and he is invited to stay by Eve (Wetherell), the niece of the owner of the house. His sleep is restless and strange dreams of ritual sacrifice disturb him. Enquiring about his brother, he is assured by the house owner, Morley (Lee), that the man is not there. Manning’s suspicions are aroused by nightmarish hallucinations. Occult expert Professor Marsh (Karloff) informs Manning about a witchcraft cult led by Morley's ancestor, Lavinia (Steele). The cult is discovered to still be active. Craxted Lodge is burned to the ground, and the head of the cult is consumed in the flames.



The house used for Craxted Lodge is Grim's Dyke, the allegedly haunted former home of William S. Gilbert, located in Redding, Harrow Weald, Middlesex, London. The building, which is now a hotel, was used for both exterior and interior shots.

Critical reception

Roger Greenspun of The New York Times wrote, "Karloff himself, cadaverous and almost wholly crippled, acts with a quiet lucidity of such great beauty that it is a refreshment merely to hear him speak old claptrap. Nothing else in The Crimson Cult comes close to him—though there is Barbara Steele in greenface playing Lavinia, a glamorous 300-year-old and a monumental cast that lists no fewer than seven-party girls, plus several sacrificial virgins."[4] Variety wrote that as one of Karloff's final pictures, "it would have been nice if it had been a better role. As it is, it is a totally unabashed rehash of a formula that Karloff has been identified with through the years."[5] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the film "a delight for horror fans, with Karloff in top form despite the infirmities of age."[6] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that apart from a wild party and some exposure of a woman's bosom in a bed, "this is one of the lamest and tamest horrors in a long time, with the script hobbling along like an underprivileged Agatha Christie thriller through acres of would-be sinister dialogue as the handsome hero investigates endlessly and Karloff and Christopher Lee dispense meaningful sneers."[7]


  2. Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 497-501
  3. John Hamilton, Beasts in the Cellar: The Exploitation Film Career of Tony Tenser, Fab Press, 2005 p 136-138
  4. Greenspun, Roger (12 November 1970). "Movie Review - Count Yorga Vampire - Screen:'Count Yorga, Vampire' and 'The Crimson Cult' Bow at Local Theaters". Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  5. "The Crimson Cult". Variety: 176. 29 April 1970.
  6. Thomas, Kevin (April 17, 1970). "A Double Bill of Shockers". Los Angeles Times Part IV, p. 20.
  7. "Curse of the Crimson Altar". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 36 (420): 9. January 1969.
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