Friday, March 11, 2011

Lovecraft's Corner #3: The Crimson Cult, aka The Curse of the Crimson Altar

I'd like to open this with a brief apology: this review should've been posted March 9th. However, when the movie was first obtained, it was discovered, much to my dismay, we had obtained a Spanish version. It wasn't until the 10th we found an English version available on Youtube.

With that out of the way, I just want to say, Dreams in the Witch House is one of Lovecraft's few stories that I could imagine being adapted to film with few issues. There are not indescribable monsters or anything so confusing that an audience could not understand it. This month's movie, The Crimson Cult starring Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee, is supposed to be an adaptation of that story - at least according to the Internet, since the movie itself never credits Lovecraft. It's possible the Internet is wrong; that would explain a lot about this movie.

I've only reviewed two adaptations to date, but, in those reviews, I try to keep the synopsis relatively snark-free. That being said, I had to break my rule on that - there is no way to sum up this movie without at least acknowledging the issues the summary will present.

Our movie opens onto some bizarre ceremony with a blue-skinned lady, a guy in leather, a goat, and a woman chained to a bed (and I'll leave it to you readers to come up with the dirtiest joke). After a person named Peter Manning signs a book for the blue-skinned lady, we cut to a British business. We know it's British because they talk about pounds instead of dollars. The owner, Robert Manning, receives a letter from his brother, dated ten days ago, along with a candlestick holder and a spring-loaded knife. For some reason, this prompts him to go to the lodge the items came from (since it's a sign his brother is missing...somehow). There, a wild party is going on and, honestly, even the strippers don't do anything to hold your attention. Robert then meets the owner's niece, Eve, and then the owner himself, Morley (aka Christopher Lee). Moorley claims to have never seen Peter but offers Robert a room for the night. Robert sees Eve again, who claims the house is spooky. If the house was meant to be creepy, introducing it with wild reveling was probably a bad idea.

Getting back on track (which is more than I can say for this movie), Robert introduces himself as Bob to Eve and propositions her without success. The two briefly discuss Peter, and somehow Moorley eavesdrops at that exact time. Eve then leaves, and the butler, Elder, comes in (I thought it was Elda. Any of you who watch, let me know if it's just me). He leaves a candlestick holder on the table, which is identical to the one Peter had mailed. The movie then cuts to Eve and Bob with Morley, talking about the festivities (I think) when Professor Marsh (aka Boris Karloff) comes in. Before you ask, no, he's not a geologist - he's a local historian. He tells Bob about Lavinia Morley, a woman accused of witchcraft who proclaimed innocence and then cursed her accusers.

Readers, I'm officially starting a drinking game. Every time an ancestor curses people, take a shot. Two shots if it wasn't in the original story.

Anyways, Lavinia was found guilty and burned at the stake, and the viewers then get to see the town re-enact the burning. At one point, it's compared to Guy Fawkes Day. Who knew the burning of Lavinia Morley had such powerful political ramnifications? Anyways, after the celebration, Elder brings the candlestick holders to the witch, while... something turns in the background. He also promises to retrieve ...well, honestly, I'm not certain. Elder then speaks of guilt over something never revealed. In the next scene, Bob goes back to his room to be surprised by Elder, who warns him to flee and avoid the graveyard. Bob, being the horror character he is, goes to investigate. He finds Morley and Marsh waiting for him in the cemetary, and they take him back indoors for a drink and a brief discussion about Elder. Bob then decides to turn in for the night.

While sleeping, Bob dreams of orange kalaidescope effects, his brother, and the blue-skinned lady, who is Lavinia. When he refuses to sign her book, she wakes him up by stabbing him. I guess she collects autographs. Dude, help a woman out, she's dead, might as well give her the flippin' autograph. So, after that dream, which he discusses with Eve, Bob goes out for a walk and is shot at. Bob then confronts his attacker angrily and is only stopped by Marsh. Angry Bob learns the man who shot at him is Marsh's servant, mute, and was aiming at a bird - and then Angry Bob is shot at and dies. The end.

Sorry, the writer wasn't Pastis. I'll go on.

After Angry Bob undies, he goes into town to look for his brother without success. He returns to the lodge, realizes his brother used an alias, and finds Elder in his room with a spring knife. Elder then tells him his brother is dead. This prompts Bob to talk to Morley and threaten to call the police - except, it seems, no one takes Elder seriously and Morley just tells him to sleep. Another dream brings another attempt to get Bob's autograph, which fails, prompting another stabbing. Bob, meanwhile, sleepwalks to the lake, where he is awoken by a cop who notices Bob has been mysteriously wounded. Bob goes back to the lodge, where Eve treats his wounds and then they have sex... No, really, that actually happens.

After some nice "Healed wound" sex, Bob walks around and notices some blood near the wall. This leads him to inspect the panel and find...a scret passage! He goes in to find....! Not much, really - dust, cobwebs - oh, this is supposed to be the room from his dreams. Uh-huh. He goes to report his experiences to the police who, true to form, don't believe him, even though the cop he's talking to saw his stab wound. He then decides to talk to Marsh, who identifies the spring knife as whatever it was the witch had called it, and identifies figures in his dreams as mere archetypes. It's then mentioned that signing a book traps a person (you say so, Boris), and that Bob's ancestor had been one of Lavinia's accusers (and clearly rightfully so). After this, Bob returns to the house to show Eve the room. They find the book, and Eve rips out a few pages in order to find out whose signatures they were. Bob keeps exploring, with a frog croaking somewhere despite being indoors and above ground, and finds his brother's bracelet and Elder's body. Funny how he wasn't missed before. Bob then leaves offscreen, and Morley comes in to find the room has been disturbed.

Eve, with the vicar's help, identifies the signatures as relatives of Lavinia's accusers and goes to inform Bob, only to be caught by her uncle. By the way, the turning thing earlier was a multicolored lampshade. Wondering where I can get one. So, anyways, after the police ignore Bob AGAIN, he returns and is captured by Morley. While Morley secures Bob and Eve and spreads gasoline around the room, Marsh learns that Eve knows about the witch's room. Just before Morley kills Eve for 'betraying' Lavinia, Marsh's servant shoots his hand. Morley starts the fire, but the servant frees Eve and Bob, and Eve, Bob, Marsh, and Butler McBadass escape. Marsh then reveals Morley was insane and had a split personality who thought it was Lavinia, a powerful witch. As the house burns and firefighters try to put out the fire, a figure is visible on the roof. It's Morley, who turns into Lavinia and laughs maniacally over the credits.

This story was confusing; there wasn't so much a plot as there was a string of events. Even the movie didn't seem to know what it wanted - it starts with psychidelia, tries horror, and ends with a mindscrew that comes out of nowhere. Keep in mind, I read the original story - it's not half as confusing, but it is far scarier. I can barely talk about this as an adaptation thanks to all the changes to the story that feel completely unnecessary. Two major characters get cut, the reason for the protagonist's arrival feels flimsy, the dreams are hardly frightening, and Eve contributes NOTHING to the story. Seriously, people might say Inception's confusing - I can say this movie is more confusing than a first-time viewing of Inception, and with nothing to make it memorable. Not even Karloff and Lee. Sorry guys, but you didn't.

Lovecraft fan or not, this movie's best viewed under the influence of marijuana or LSD. It'll probably be more coherent that way.

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