Monday, November 26, 2012

Saturday Matinee: The Crimson Cult (UPDATED)



Although The Wicker Man is the best-known- and the best overall, I'd argue- it was only one example of an entire genre of British occult thrillers, many of which starred the estimable Christopher Lee. Many of these films also featured thinly-veiled Aleister Crowley analogs, the best of these being 1957s Night of the Demon (based on the M.R. James short story, 'Casting the Runes'), which featured a brilliant performance by Niall MacGinnis as the malevolent manchild of a sorcerer, "Julian Carswell."

The genre wasn't limited to Britain- one of my favorite films of all time is Quinn Martin's (of Invaders fame) adaption of Fred Mustard Stewart's The Mephisto Waltz, which is not only an absolutely brilliant piece of writing on its own, but has the added bonus of a young and impossibly gorgeous Jacqueline Bisset in the lead role.

But more often than not, Hollywood lapses into stripmall Satanism of the Anton LaVey variety, rather than more nuanced and resonant black magic of the Crowley stripe (maybe Tinseltown execs are required to pay more explicit tribute to their Lord and Master, and have a quota to fill). The wretched abortion that resulted when they consumed the Hellblazer franchise and then shat out Constantine is just one painful example of this dumbing-down tendency.

After seeing Neil LaBute kick The Wicker Man to death and piss on its corpse, I shudder to think what they'd do with Crimson Cult aka Curse of the Crimson Altar. This sparkler of a Swinging Sixties scarefest not only features Christopher Lee warming up for his Lord Summerisle role, but throws in Boris Karloff to sweeten the deal. Of course, there's also plenty of nubile British flesh dancing around to the kind of corny, movie soundtrack pseudo-rock that no Mod or hippie of the time would be caught dead in earshot of.

The story is as muddled and confusing as any Hammer horror. Mark Eden (looking eerily like a refugee from an early period Guy Ritchie film) plays an antique dealer who goes looking for his brother, who was last heard from in some provincial backwater. Eden then discovers all kinds of Dionysian debauchery and carrying on and makes the classic old horror movie mistake- he accepts the lodging invitation of the creepy lord of the manor (Lee). Things go predictably awry from there.


But what fascinates me about this film (aside from the obvious) is the incongruous parallels to UFOlogy. I'm sure they'd go over the heads of nearly everyone who sees the film, but in several points in the film characters are transported into a netherworld which bears not only a startling similarity to the more compelling "abduction" narratives I've read (and more specifically, my interpretation thereof), but also to their ancient forerunners in the Mysteries. Drugs seem to be the common denominator, but as we see in the final shot nothing is as it seems.


There are also the strange incongruities of Livinia having green skin (more appropriate to an alien than a Druidess) and her throne looking as if it's made of three-stage Saturn rocket models. Just to make things even more tantalizing, one of the characters is menaced by a classic MIB type (pale skin, black clothes/dark glasses, mute) following one of his abduction experiences. I won't give it away but underneath all the drama is a classic Walk-in subplot as well.

Heady stuff, though I'm sure it all went under the radar of anyone who isn't as obsessed with this stuff as myself.

But perhaps the screenwriter here will give us a few clues- it's none other than Henry Lincoln. Yes, that Henry Lincoln of Holy Blood, Holy Grail fame. What a lot of people don't realize is that aside from being one of the authors of the most lucrative occult conspiracy theory in publishing history (albeit when hijacked by Dan Brown), Lincoln was also a very successful actor and screenwriter.

Lincoln's CV includes a stint for the Doctor Who franchise (Lincoln created the Lethbridge-Stewart character) , and he's credited with three Troughton-era serials (17 episodes in all), two of which were Bigfoot/Yeti-themed and one of which was an alien-invasion potboiler.

It should be pointed out that the original Doctor Who pilot episode was essentially an abduction narrative as well.

 
You can watch The Crimson Cult in its entirety right here on The Satellite (or on Netflix if you prefer). There are a lot worse ways to spend a chilly November Saturday. Please share any notes or clues I missed.

POSTSCRIPT: This writer (and others) argues that the film is a loose adaptation of Lovecraft's 'Dreams in the Witch House'. It's so loose I didn't see it myself (there's no Brown Jenkin in sight) but it certainly adds another log to our bonfire...

UPDATE: Mike Clelland spent time with the film and offers up these scintillating bullet points. It seems there's enough to make a fair assessment that there are two stories being told here- one for the rubes and another for those in the know. Remember that this was made in 1968, when abduction reports were still being classified and the Betty and Barney Hill story was still a novelty.

~ Our protagonist, Richard Manning, said: "I had the strangest dream... It was so real, like it was really happening... It was like no other dream I've ever had..." This is exactly how almost every UFO abductee will describe their own experiences.

~ Lying naked on a table and unable to move is well established.

~ Waking up in an unknown place, with no idea how you got there.

~ Finding scars or marks on your body after waking with no idea how they got there.

~ I found it curious that the protagonist was put in the "GRAY" room.

~ Our protagonist saw a man with antlers. It very commonly reported that people will see a deer, and it will seem out of place, this turns out to be a screen memory.

~ People will often report a long needle like instrument as part of their alien medical examination. There is an antique needle like dagger is featured in the plot. A similar needle like instument was featured in The X-Files.

~ UFO reports (as well as other paranormal events) are reported along ley lines and near ancient ritual sites. The village and the ritual reenactments of the witch burning seem to fit.

~ Curiously, fear of closet doors shows up in the research. The gray aliens are noted to emerge from this door as if it were a portal. (The movie MONSTERS INC. comes to mind). Or, the aliens will simple emerge through the bedroom wall. The secret door in the home certainly seem to parallel this concept of a portal.

~ The use of hypnosis is ever present in UFO abduction research.

~ There is certainly a focus on family lineage within the abduction phenomenon.

~ There is weird sex involved in UFO abduction reports.

~ Gaelic or Celtic ancestry is noted as statistically higher in the UFO abduction lore.

7 comments:

Barbara Fisher said...

Never, ever accept an invitation from the creepy Lord of the Manor (tm, patent pending.) It always ends badly.

I've not seen this film, but well, now I'll have to. I'm working on crocheting a little goblin lady for my husband for Yule, and strangely enough, I was planning on giving her curved rams horns.....and huge green owl eyes. Skin's reddish brown, though, not green.

I think that the abduction parallel that you keep finding is really not UFOlogical in origin--it's actually part of the larger tradition of abduction of humans by otherworldly creatures that have gone by different names throughout the centuries--fairies, demons, incubi or succubi....the UFO abductions are just the latest chapter in a story revolving around human interaction with a non-human intelligence that probably goes back to the beginning.

Thanks for lining up my viewing for me!

Brizdaz (Darren) said...

Interesting points on Henry Lincoln.
I never new he was a thespian.
He does run an interesting blog as well -

http://www.henrylincoln.co.uk/blog.php?id=36&e=226

Mike Clelland! said...

C-Knowles posted at 12:34

Mike Clelland! said...

There is a long list of issues that connect to the UFO abduction lore.
______________________________________________________

~ Our protagonist, Richard Manning, said: "I had the strangest dream... It was so real, like it was really happening... It was like no other dream I've ever had..." This is exactly how almost every UFO abductee will describe their own experiences.

~ Lying naked on a table and unable to move is well established.

~ Waking up in an unknown place, with no idea how you got there.

~ Finding scars or marks on your body after waking with no idea how they got there.

~ I found it curious that the protagonist was put in the "GRAY" room.

~ Our protagonist saw a man with antlers. It very commonly reported that people will see a deer, and it will seem out of place, this turns out to be a screen memory.

~ People will often report a long needle like instrument as part of their alien medical examination. There is an antique needle like dagger is featured in the plot. A similar needle like instumnent was featured in THe X-Files.

~ UFO reports (as well as other paranormal events) are reported along ley lines and near ancient ritual sites. The village and the ritual reenactments of the witch burning seem to fit.

~ Curiously, fear of closet doors shows up in the research. The gray aliens are noted to emerge from this door as if it were a portal. (The movie MONSTERS INC. comes to mind). Or, the aliens will simple emerge through the bedroom wall. The secret door in the home certainly seem to parallel this concept of a portal.

~ The use of hypnosis is ever present in UFO abduction research.

~ There is certainly a focus on family lineage within the abduction phenomenon.

~ There is weird sex involved in UFO abduction reports.

~ Gaelic or Celtic ancestry is noted as statistically higher in the UFO abduction lore.


A few more tid-bits:
_______________

~ The actress who played Eve was previously in Dr. Who (1964) as the reoccurring character *Dyoni* (Dionysos?)

~ This was the final role of Boris Karloff.

~ This film premiered in 1968, a resonant year for alien abduction films (like 2001).

Nick Redfern said...

Without doubt, the referenced "Night of the Demon" is my all-time favorite movie. It too has a number of UFO/Fortean overtones.

At one point, Dana Andrews' character, John Holden, discusses Flying Saucers, from the perspective of people seeing them as a result of mass-hysteria.

There's a scene where Holden is pursued through woodland by something akin to a classic ghost-light.

And he encounters a shape-shifting cat (house cat to large kind). Within Fortean/cryptozoological fields, Britain has, for years, been the site of so-called ABCs: "Alien Big Cats" that some perceive as having paranormal origins.

A great book to read on the ABC/paranormal angle is Merrily Harpur's "Mystery Big Cats."



John M. said...

The blue chick looks like she should be dancing in Jabba's palace.

Raj said...

Hey Chris,

These old occult British thrillers are fascinating to me too, from a kind of meta-perspective. I like to think of them as 'Tales From the Off'. As in everything is a little bit 'off', and sometimes a lot. For some reason the Brits seem to be very good at using cheesiness and a certain archness to strangely terrifying effect.

I’ve been trying to intuit the finer details of this camp-horror-gothic atmosphere – why it seems to work so well in making us feel off-balance. The way we can laugh at the cheesiness of it, but are still actually quite disturbed by it.

Your comment about the possible origin of clowns feels deeply resonant here. The Wicker Man had this vibe in spades, IMHO. The Mock or Mocked Man. I think the British version of this kind of atmosphere plays a lot on social and class anxieties: the perverse, occult rich, the pagan antecedents of rural Britian, etc, with maybe a little existential angst thrown in for good measure.

But basically these are all mutated class, social, economic and historical anxieties fused with high-weirdness and imagery from our fever-dreams, things from the Netherworld.

I see something like this in the work of Stanley Kubrick, and Stephen King to a lesser extent; a kind of modern American folklore equivalent of the old camp occult British thrillers. The Shining immediately comes to mind. A kind of cursive visionary expression where we’re asked to sort text from subtext, intuit context and figure out where the role of the Experiencer fits into all that.

Great stuff, bro.

Peace