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CRIMSON CULT, THE (SPIRIT OF THE DEAD)(director: Vernon Sewell; screenwriters: Mervyn Haisman/Henry Lincoln; cinematographer: John Coquillon; editor: Howard Lanning; cast: Boris Karloff (Prof. John Marshe), Christopher Lee (Morley ), Mark Eden (Robert Manning), Barbara Steele (Lavinia Morley), Michael Gough (Elder), Virginia Wetherell (Eve Morley), Rupert Davies (The Vicar), Denys Peek (Peter Manning), Roger Avon (Sgt. Tyson), Rosemarie Reede (Esther), Mike Warren (Basil); Runtime: 89; Tigon/AIP; 1968-UK)

It is a must see only for Karloff fans.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 81-year-old Boris Karloff’s last completed feature film could have and should have been better. It suffers from a weak script. It fails to be pleasing despite great performances from three prominent horror screen favorites — Boris Karloff as Professor Marshe, Christopher Lee as Morley, and Barbara Steele as Lavinia.

Robert Manning (Eden) discovers that his brother Peter is missing after going to Craxted Lodge in the village of Greymarsh to purchase antiques for their business in London, and decides to go there himself to see if he can locate him. His gracious and sophisticated host, Morley, puts him up for the night in his splendid mansion. It seems that Bob’s visit is at a very festive time when the townspeople celebrate the death of the local witch Lavinia, which took place in January of 1652.

Bob first meets the lovely Eve (Virginia) at Morley’s house, when he goes there to question him about his missing brother. She lives at her uncle’s house and is wildly partying there with friends, as the two look into the eyes of each other and have an instant physical attraction.

When Bob is stalled tracing his brother’s whereabouts he questions Professor Marshe, a visitor in the Morley house, who is an expert on witchcraft. He tells the innocent young man, whose family originally came from this town, the story about the 17th century witch Lavinia who claimed that she was innocent after being accused by the town’s establishment, which included Manning’s distant relative as the main accuser. Rumor has it that she placed a curse on the town, calling for retaliation against all her accusers. Bob scoffs at the witch story and the idea of ghosts being around, saying he knows little about such things. But the professor replies in his serious Karloff movie tone, “When the time comes, your skepticism might be only a fragile shield.”

To add further to the eerie atmosphere are scenes with foggy winter nights, a castle with ancient relics, pitch black skies of the small-town, and Morley’s mentally unbalanced servant, Elder (Gough), who mysteriously warns Bob to get out before it is too late. Elder also tells him to visit a private grave-site to get some answers for what he is looking for.

Bob’s conversations with the wheelchair-bound professor are terse, as they are delivered with proper horror film affect. When he asks the professor, “What do you collect?” He is told, “I collect instruments of torture.”

Bob will have two wonderful scenes where he has hallucinations, and both these nightmares come after drinking brandy with Morley which leads one to suspect the drinks were drugged. In these dreams he envisions being led to a courtroom and to the costumed Lavinia. Her face is painted, her lips are smeared ruby red, and she is wearing a golden ram’s horn headpiece while trying to get him to sign a book. Lavinia is surrounded by a trial judge and masked jurors, some in goat’s masks and others traditionally masked for what could be expected at such a macabre event.

In his second dream sequence, Bob will envision a ring of fire and be taken away to the same room as before, where he will be stabbed in the arm by Lavinia and will go sleepwalking down to the lake. Bob is about to drown himself when the police sergeant (Avon) comes along and takes him back to the house and to Eve.

Bob discovers a secret passage in his guest room that leads to an attic space that looks like it is the same one he had in his dreams. With the help of Eve, the vicar (Rupert) traces the records of the witchcraft trial. This encourages him to visit the professor’s house again, where he learns that in witchcraft writing a name in a book is a serious matter and can’t be taken back. He comes to realize that he and Eve are in grave danger.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Boris Karloff becomes the hero along with his faithful mute servant Basil (Warren), as they come just in time to rescue the innocent duo from a burning house.

The film’s not real frightening, but it has its entertaining moments. It is a must see only for Karloff fans.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”