of Terror (British 1971, dir: Ted Hooker; cast: Mike Raven, James
Bolam, Mary Maude, Kenneth Keeling, Ronald Lacey, Marissa Stribling)
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.
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.
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
how it all began...
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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
Maude as Millie. Hard lighting (common in low-budget horror
films) supports an increasingly tense evening with the Clares.
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).
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?
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
VHS copy (distributed by Simitar) suffers from poor resolution, with the
washed-out colors of 16mm TV station prints. Perhaps it's due to
Simitar's EP speed. My older VHS copy at SP speed is sharper. Reportedly, the DVD version is clear, with many censored (in the US) scenes
restored. However, 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 saw a version that's since been cleaned up in the DVD. But he
is right. The film's faded visuals (and muddy audio and rough editing)
curiously enhance its surreal oddness and stifling claustrophobia. Thus, one wonders how much is intentional, or ineptitude, or censorial
editing. Because it works ... sort of.
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.
A correction. John Stanley's Creature
Features guide states: "An insane sculptor coats his victims
with wax or bronze when his body is inhabited by the spirit of a dead artist." No,
Victor is never possessed. And there's no dead artist.
sellers claim Crucible
of Terror is "out of print" or "rare." On the contrary, new VHS
copies have long been available on Amazon, and now there's also DVD. I've seen several video box covers at Ebay. This film has been released
often, and by several distributors. Copies are plentiful, name your
writing this review, I've seen Crucible
of Terror on DVD, and it's 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 film, 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.
And since writing the above, there's been yet another release on DVD, this time a "widescreen" edition -- but this widescreen edition is bogus!
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