Severin Films // 1971 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // October 22nd, 2010
A mind so evil it could lock its terrible secret inside a beautiful body.
Jack (James Bolam, O Lucky Man!) and Michael (Ronald Lacey, the Nazi heavy of Raiders of the Lost Ark) have just opened an uber-hip art gallery in London, but are running low on greenbacks. When one piece in particular -- a bronze statue of a naked lady -- becomes a massive hit, they decide to enlist the artist, Victor (Mike Raven, Lust For A Vampire), to sell them more work. One problem: Victor is Michael's father, and their relationship is one of intense hatred. Nonetheless, the duo travel to the English countryside, wives in tow, only for Jack and his virginal wife, Millie (Mary Maude, Terror) to stumble into a dysfunctional family riddled with dark secrets, weird sex, and cold-blooded murder.
Crucible of Terror feels like five different horror films jammed into one. The box likens it to something like House of Wax but, aside from an opening whereupon we see a nude Japanese girl who "contributes" her form to making of the bronze statue (in the most macabre way possible), the film swipes more from both Psycho and Mario Bava, while also taking into consideration the rural horror families populating movies like Spider Baby, the art scene satire of Roger Corman (A Bucket of Blood), and a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? dosage of domestic drama.
The mixture is very strange and never quite gels, despite a multitude of shocking twists and unpredictable characters, but that's okay. It's hokey, filled to the brim with "WTF?" moments, and can never quite live up to the promise of its opening set piece. Despite its flaws, Crucible of Terror never fails to entertain or overstay its welcome.
The cast is strong, especially radio DJ/occult personality cum horror star Mike Raven as Vincent. He does his best Christopher Lee (who he would later star with in I, Monster) impression, distinguishing Vincent as a creepy, horn-dog of an artist with a sense of menace beneath the pretension. Ronald Lacey blows him out of the water, however, as his frustrated, hateful son, dominating every scene he is in, carefully reacting to Raven's complex performance and convincingly pulling off the idea that Michael is more his father's son than he knows. Mary Maude does the uptight virgin-with-a-secret thing really well, while James Bolam walks the fine line between likeable and schmucky effortlessly. Betty Alberge (Coronation Street) gives a surprising turn as Raven's mentally disturbed wife, while Judy Matheson (Lust For A Vampire) effectively fills the opposite side of that spectrum as Jane, Vincent's epically sensual mistress.
Of course, they all bite it really well, too. The deaths in this film are surprisingly gruesome (if sometimes cheesy) for a film released in 1971, with enough bludgeoning, burning, slit wrists, and stabbings to keep body count fiends glued to their seats. Keep in mind, it ain't Friday the 13th by a long shot, but it'll keep your cinematic bloodlust at bay for 90 minutes.
The film is stylishly directed by Ted Hooker, who shoots for Hammer style but lands somewhere between Bava and Herschell Gordon Lewis in terms of meticulous art direction and stiff point-and-shoot dialogue scenes. Thankfully, the actors keep the uninspired direction of the non-horror stuff watchable, which can be attributed to the director's instincts in assembling the cast. It's a shame Hooker's career ended with Crucible of Terror, as he shows incredible promise in this memorable debut.
Severin presents the disc with regal technical specs, offering up an impressive, very sharp and surprisingly clean (most of the time) anamorphic transfer and mono soundtrack. The back of the box makes much hullabaloo about the transfer coming from the only 35mm print of Crucible of Terror known in existence, "loaned to Severin by a Bodmin Moor Coven!"
I only wish the coven would've loaned us some extras. As is, we've got nada, zip, zilch, nothing. I'd tell you to hold out for a reissue, but I kind of doubt a movie as obscure as Crucible of Terror will get a two disc Blu-ray anytime in our lifetime. We can take this as the definitive edition for all time, and the remastered transfer and soundtrack are good enough to warrant a purchase in my book.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated