would appear to be a low budget attempt at a giallo-type
thriller, Crucible of Terror is simply
too talky and lethargic to ever get up a decent head of steam.
Suspense is pretty much nil, much less any appreciable sense of
"terror". It doesn't help that its star, British radio
DJ turned actor Mike Raven, is arguably the worst performer in
the cast. The twist ending is a complete load of rubbish.
struggling art dealer Jack Davies (James Bolam) faces a dilemma:
the works of artist Victor Clare (Raven) are selling very well
at London galleries, for substantial sums, but the man is a total
recluse and notoriously hard to deal with he doesn't want to
sell any of his creations. In fact, the paintings and sculptures
sold to date by Jack were all stolen from Victor, without his
knowledge, by Victor's alcoholic wastrel of a son, Michael (Ronald
Lacey, the 'coat hanger' Gestapo agent in Raiders
of the Lost Ark). John hopes against the odds to somehow
persuade Victor to sell more of his works, which will require
a face-to-face meeting. Michael agrees to facilitate, arranging
for Jack to join him on a weekend stay at the family residence,
an isolated country house by the sea. Along for the trip are Jack's
wife Millie (Mary Maude, The House That
Screamed) as well as Michael's spouse, Jane (Beth Morris).
at Victor's, Jack and Millie are quickly made aware of
just what a twisted, dysfunctional household they've walked into.
Victor is a tyrant with a hair-trigger temper; he hates his drunken
son the feeling is mutual and treats his mentally ill wife
(Betty Alberge) with unconcealed disdain. (Possessing an infantile
mind, the middle-aged Mrs. Clare dresses like a little girl and
always carries around a doll or stuffed animal.) Also living in
the house are Victor's bisexual model/lover Marcia (Judy Matheson,
The Flesh and Blood Show) and longtime friend and assistant
Bill (John Arnatt), who seems the most normal of the bunch...
apart from his fascination for ancient Asian weapons and armor.
makes it clear that he'd like to use Millie and Jane as
models for his work which really means he wants to sleep with
them. Millie is creeped out by his attentions but Jack desperately
needs to make a deal with the eccentric artist... Can she at least
try to humor him a little? Jane has an argument with her husband
(who's drinking even more heavily) and in a fit of pique agrees
to pose for her father-in-law. Victor almost immediately tries
to put the moves on her but she balks and Victor storms out of
the studio in an angry huff. ("You can't turn me on and
off like a switch! You make me sick!") Moments later
an unseen killer stabs Jane in the back as she's getting dressed,
then carries away the corpse. With everyone believing that Jane
has left for London, the household routine continues as normal
(if you can call it that). Then Michael is brutally bludgeoned
to death on the beach, again by an unseen assailant. More people
will die before the weekend is out...
the list of potential suspects would seem awfully short.
We already know that Victor is a murderer... In a pre-title
sequence, we see him kill a female model (Me Me Lai) by pouring
molten bronze all over her body as she lies encased in plaster.
But is he the murderer? Or is someone else bumping off
the people around him? And if so, why?
and balding, Raven (Hammer's Lust
for a Vampire) just doesn't have the screen presence,
charisma or acting chops to be effective as the sinister artistic
genius, irrespective of the unintentionally amusing dialog he's
sometimes saddled with. ("A doll, Dorothy... A doll! A
cheap, ugly, rotten plastic doll!") The film intermittently
comes to life as a 'shock' thriller during the murder scenes but
these prove few and far between; a twist ending coming completely
out of left field in which the story takes a sudden, radical
lurch into the supernatural plays like a lame attempt to compensate
for the somnambulistic narrative we've been snoozing through.
(The murders are sometimes bloody but not quite gory enough to
earn EC's "Blood 'n' Guts" icon.) Picturesque seaside
locations aren't really taken advantage of to the degree they
could have been because much of the running time is consumed by
a series of dull conversations held in cramped, dingy rooms. Ted
Hooker's direction is flat and uninspired, while the cinematography
of Peter Newbrook (formerly a camera operator for David Lean)
lends nothing of substance to the film, which merely looks cheap.
the movie is boring and rather dreary to look at. Add to this
a seemingly important plot point that is inexplicably forgotten
the man who is killed in the art gallery after becoming bizarrely
obsessed with the statue of the murdered woman from the pre-title
sequence and you've got a so-called horror/thriller that's something
of a chore to get through.
scenario is quirky enough to be interesting, I suppose... What
the film notably lacks is a sense of style, an air of menace
and, it must be said, a healthy dose of kink and/or sleaze. A
big element of the story concerns pretty young women being cajoled
into posing for a lecherous, insane artist... and yet none
of 'em get naked? (Crucible's
only nudity, brief as it is, comes before the opening credits
courtesy of Me Me Lai.) No exploitation director worth
his salt should let such an opportunity go to waste.
Severin's edition of Crucible of Terror
is the best-looking version of the film ever released on DVD.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is uncut, exhibits little in the
way of age-related damage and boasts decent colors. Audio is your
basic mono; while there's a smidgen of background hiss here and
there, it's not especially noticeable. There are no bonus features