Curious oddity grows with repeated viewing -- get the DVD
Thomas M. Sipos | Santa Monica, CA | 07/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Victor Clare (former BBC DJ, Mike Raven) is an artist. He "worships" beauty. He wants to "preserve" and "possess" beauty. That's why he never sells his work. It's not his job, it's his devotion. Fortunately, his workload is manageable because his taste in beauty is narrow. No trees or sunsets or daffodils. No landscapes, or still lives, or abstracts. He only paints women. Young women. Young nekkid women. And nothing but.
Hey, he's an artist.
Actually, Victor doesn't just paint. He also sculpts. If you've seen House of Wax (1953), you've got a rough idea of his technique. It's one reason the film is called Crucible of Terror. A crucible is "a vessel used for melting or calcining materials at high temperatures." It's also "the bottom of an ore furnace in which the molten metal collects." Victor owns one of each.
A crucible is also "a severe test or trial." People trapped in a tense, suffocating social setting are said to be in a crucible. That pretty much describes Victor's dinner parties. Millie (Mary Maude) endured one of those. In fact, she suffered through an entire weekend with Victor and family. One can't blame her if she ends up dumping Jack (James Bolam).
Here's how it all began ...
Jack, the owner of a London art gallery, is in a financial pickle. He could escape debt if only he had more works by that mysterious reclusive artist, whose bronze sculpture of a nekkid woman sold for a good price. But Victor (who else?) refuses to sell his works. Luckily for Jack, Victor's no-good drunken son, Michael (Ronald Lacey), has been stealing dad's works, to sell to Jack. But Michael can't sell too many, lest Victor notice.
Michael agrees to arrange a meeting between Jack and Victor at the family cottage, out in the country. Fresh air, craggy headland seashore, abandoned tin mine said to be haunted... Anyway, they all drive up for the weekend: Jack and Millie (his fiancée), Michael and wife Joanna (Melissa Stribling).
At the cottage they meet Victor, his wife Dorothy (Betty Alberge), his artist's model (i.e., lover) Marcia (Judy Matheson), and Bill (John Arnatt), the milquetoast "family friend." Bill's a cardigan-wearing wimp (despite his extensive samurai sword collection) who's been pining after Dorothy for thirty years. He doesn't even mind that Dorothy's richest conversations are with her dolls and stuffed animals, whom she feeds at the dinner table.
Crucible of Terror is a dark, and darkly humorous, domestic drama. Victor is a bullying sexual predator. During dinner he squeezes between Joanna and Millie, flirting with both women before their menfolk, neither of whom protest (Michael is intimidated by his dad; Jack doesn't want to ruin the deal). Victor exults in having "two beautiful women under one roof," pointedly ignoring that Marcia and Dorothy are also present. The bisexual Marcia smirks, having seen Victor's other lovers come and go. Dorothy feeds her stuffed dog. Upon seeing which, Victor explodes that he's told her not to bring "that thing" to the dinner table. Tearstruck, Dorothy frets that Victor's hurt her plush toy's feelings.
Fun party. And to think, had it not been for Jack, Millie might have spent yet another boring weekend shopping in London!
Amid all this domestic discomfort, an unseen killer is racking up a body count. However, this being a horror film, everyone is blissfully ignorant of it, simply assuming that so-and-so left after "having a row" last night.
Some horror fans complain that Crucible of Terror contains "little horror," but the body count is generous. Just not very gory. And there's much "domestic horror" and cruel humor. That can compensate for tepid gore, no?
After Joanna disappears, Victor focuses his, ehr, artistic attentions on Millie. Victor induces Jack to return to London (sans Millie) by agreeing to sell some paintings to him, provided he raises 2,000 pounds, in cash, today (Sunday). Leaving, Jack suggests to Millie (only half-jokingly) that she "be nice" to Victor, so as to help seal the deal.
So... Millie tries to enjoy an evening with the Clares, reading in their living room while Victor shouts at Dorothy, calling her "old and ugly" and expressing revulsion that he ever desired her. Millie responds by hunching closer to her magazine. We feel her relief when Bill announces that Jack is on the phone. But when Millie begs Jack to hurry back because Victor is "pestering" her, Jack retorts that she is not to "screw up this deal."
Initially, I didn't much like or understand Crucible of Terror, but my appreciation grows with each viewing. Sunny outdoor scenes dominate the early scenes. People wandering along cliffs and beaches. But a palpable claustrophobia increasingly stifles us as the story progresses. The latter scenes occur at night or underground in the mine, paralleling the increasingly unpleasant domestic situation and Victor's intensifying flirtations toward Millie. Interspersed are those periods of relief, such as the false rescue of Jack's phone call. Or when Jack is in London and we feel we've "escaped" with him (yet feel guilty about leaving Millie behind with Victor).
Crucible of Terror is often odd or confusing. At the beach, Michael taunts Marcia over her failed lesbian overtures toward Millie. So Marcia "playfully" pelts stones at Michael, still stoning him even after he's screaming and injured. (Even drunk, why doesn't he think to stone her back?) And what's with Dorothy's stuffed animals?
Rough editing adds to our confusion. Millie exits the mine though a door in Victor's house, then goes upstairs. Then she enters the furnace in the mine. The film is full of such edits, whole scenes apparently missing. Because they are, at least on the VHS version.
I've three VHS copies from different distributors, and two suffer from poor resolution, with the washed-out colors of 16mm TV station prints. This is especially true of Simitar's EP speed. This is not entirely a bad thing. In Fragments of Fear: An Illustrated History of British Horror Films, Andy Boot writes: "photographer Peter Newbrook is a skilled man, but the quality of film stock he gets looks like super-8 blown up at times. But perversely this only adds to the strange feel of a film that seems to work by default." Boot is right. The film's faded visuals (and muddy audio and rough editing) curiously enhance its surreal oddness and stifling claustrophobia. I used to wonder how much of it was intentional, or ineptitude, or censorial editing. Because it works ... sort of.
However, I now think that Boot saw a VHS version, because the DVD is a wholly different and superior experience. The DVD film is ten minutes longer, incorporating scenes that have been lost over the years. These scenes answer crucial questions left hanging in the VHS version, such as the fate of Dorothy. The DVD also corrects the "poor resolution" and "washed-out colors" of the VHS, creating a significantly different aesthetic experience. These additional scenes and sharper visuals yield a film that's clearer both visually and storywise. That "strange feel" Andy Boot refers to lessened, as the DVD no longer looks like "super-8 blown up." If you've only seen Crucible of Terror on VHS, you haven't really seen it.
Mike Raven's tall large frame and booming DJ voice make him an imposing villain. It's easy to see why Victor intimidates and/or dominates others. Mary Maude's timid Millie ironically resembles Theresa, Maude's victim in The House That Screamed.
Crucible of Terror is not to be confused with another British horror film, Crucible of Horror."
"Victor usually gets rid of his birds pretty regularly."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 04/20/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I checked this film out solely based on the title, Crucible of Terror (1972), because I thought it sounded...well, cool...Crucible of...TERROR...oooh, sounds scary, doesn't it? Well, it wasn't...not one wee bit. It was kind of interesting, but more from a curiosity standpoint. Thing is, the whole `artist who creates art by destroying the living' thing has already been done, and in much better films like House of Wax (1953) and Bucket of Blood (1959). Co-written and directed by someone named Ted Hooker (in his one and only film), Crucible of Terror stars former British radio DJ Mike Raven (Lust for a Vampire, I, Monster) and Mary Maude (Scorpio). Also appearing is James Bolam (Straight on Till Morning), Betty Alberge (Disciple of Death), John Arnatt (Hysteria), Judy Matheson (Lust for a Vampire, Twins of Evil), Beth Morris (Son of Dracula), and Ronald Lacey, whom most will recognize as Major Toht from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)...wow, he sure lost a lot of hair since this film...
As the film starts, we see scenes of a forge heating up, a nekkid, unconscious woman (enjoy it because this is it for the nekkid parts in the entire film) being covered in plaster or something, and then molten bronze poured from a crucible into the cast...then cut to a middling art show run by John (Bolam). Seems John is having a tough time of it, up to his eyeballs in debt, but pieces by one particular artist are selling well, and John sees an opportunity, but there's a catch. The artist, named Victor (Raven), is somewhat of a recluse, and John only had access to sell some of Victor's art because Victor's son Mike (Lacey) pilfered said art pieces from his father in order to support his enormous drinking habit (or so I'm guessing because the guy was constantly hammered throughout the film). Anyway, John pressures Mike for an introduction, and Mike suggests they go to the old family homestead for the weekend and bring along the wives Mille (Maude) and Jane (Morris). When they arrive at the remote home (which happens to be built on a haunted tin mine, by the way) on some English coast, we meet Victor, along with his slightly daft wife Dorothy (Alberge), a live-in friend named Bill (Arnatt), and Victor's latest model Marcia (Matheson), whom Victor seems to be tiring of, especially with the arrival of Mille and Jane. Well soon some deaths occur due to a slight case of...MURDER (funny how nobody misses these recently departed individuals, but whatever) at the hands of a mysterious killer, Victor becomes increasingly obsessed with Mille, constantly pestering her to `pose' for him while John is away trying to scrape up some dough to buy some of Victor's paintings, and we learn Victor has instructed Bill to fire up the forge...uh oh...things eventually come to a head, and all is revealed, one way or another...will Millie become the next `piece' in Victor's collection? Who is the mysterious killer prowling the grounds and the mines?
I really didn't know what to expect with this film, as I neglected to read any reviews, but having seen it, I realized I probably could have gone through the rest of my life without having seen it...it's not that this was a bad film, but it wasn't particularly good, either. Given this was the director's first film, I thought he did a decent job presenting the story despite the fact the story itself just felt weak in general. It was slow, plodding, and didn't really seem to get going until about a third of the way into the film. The opening sequence drew me in, but my interest waned as various characters were trotted across the screen, each with their own particular peccadilloes (what was the point of having Dorothy in a state of arrested mental development, showing her acting, and even dressing like a child, reminiscent of Bette Davis in the 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane)? While Victor certainly treated her poorly, I found little to support reasoning for her complete, regressive state). The acting in general was pretty unspectacular, with the exception of Raven who got quite hammy as the film wore on (not necessarily a bad thing), and his obsession with Mille becomes rather two-dimensional...'You inspire me'...'You must pose for me'...repeated ad nauseam...the characters were odd in that most of them had, or desired, multiple relationships...John, who is with Millie, is also involved with a patron who helps fund his business at times...Mike, who is married to Jane, comes on to his father's model Marcia (Mike and Jane's marriage isn't on the most solid ground)...Marcia seems to have an interest in Millie (which never went anywhere...sadly)...Bill has an interest in Victor's mentally challenged wife (to be fair, his interest went way back, before she went loopy), and Victor seems interested in any woman who isn't his wife (even his daughter-in-law Jane...ew...as far as the element of who's doing the killing (one worthwhile scene involves someone getting acid thrown in their kisser), I didn't guess the identity before it was revealed. Oh, the pieces were there, but, I think, my interest wasn't...the finale is satisfactory, but I really disliked the clunky expository sequence at the end, describing in great detail (including extensions of scenes already shown), who the killer was and why...it sort of made sitting through the rest of the film pointless, as the recapping explained everything to the audience giving the impression we had the mental capacity of children, unable to intuitively deduce the obvious or project beyond what we're shown.
As far as the DVD release from Image Entertainment, it was a let down. I'm unsure what the original aspect ratio of this film was, but it's presented here in a full screen format. The picture quality ranges from decent to poor, as a good deal of the source material used suffers from white speckling. The Dolby mono audio is very soft, and I had to crank the volume to hear the dialog. There are three choices for audio in English, Spanish, and a music and effects only track. There are really no special features available, and the film starts playing once the DVD is installed into a player. All in all, a decent effort by a first time director, but hardly worth the hefty price tag.
By the way, the description under the editorial review section of Amazon seems to have a number of things wrong with regards to the plot, unless I missed something...
Bad treatment of a classic psychotronic film.
Thomas M. Sipos | 12/10/1999
(1 out of 5 stars)
"A good bad film is a thing to treasure, as with this dark gem that shows character actor Ronald Lacey years before he stalked the screen as the Nazi interrogator in Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, this has ten minutes of the original footage edited out and it spoils the whole thing. To discuss it further is pointless. I have heard similar treatment has struck some classic Hammer films as they made their way here. I am very disappointed."