19 September 2014

Crucible of Terror (1971)
91 min.
Directed by Ted Hooker.
With Mike Raven, James Bolam, Mary Maude, Ronald Lacey, Betty Alberge, John Arnatt, Beth Morris, Judy Matheson, Melissa Stribling, Kenneth Keeling, Me Me Lai.
Victor Clare (Raven) is a painter and sculptor. An artist of great talent. And as such, he's interested in all things beautiful. Enchanting seascapes. Idyllic sunsets. And most especially, gorgeous women.

However, Victor is one weird dude. Because when he discovers the ultimate in feminine beauty, he feels compelled to "capture" that loveliness forever...by brutally murdering his helpless female models and then bronzing their dead corpses for all posterity to enjoy. C'mon, it's art!

Meanwhile, Jack (Bolam) is a London art dealer in need of some quick cash. He hopes to convince Victor to sell some of his finished pieces. Unaware of the artist's psychotic proclivities, Jack and his fiancée Millie (Maude) travel to his seaside cottage.

Cue the circus music. There, Jack and Millie find not just Victor (in all his eccentricity), but also his deranged wife Dorothy (Alberge), his drunken slob of a son Michael (Lacey), and his bored, bisexual model-of-the-week Marcia (Matheson).

To make matters worse, it's not long before someone begins offing the motley crew one by one. And if the past is any predictor of the present, the murderous madman in their midst must be Victor. Right? right...? More importantly, will Jack and Millie escape from this nightmare with their lives?

In theme and inspiration, Crucible of Terror is certainly the UK's answer to André De Toth's House of Wax (1953), nearly twenty years on. Mike Raven's Victor Clare has the same zest for artistic beauty that Vincent Price's Henry Jarrod has - if not the latter's thirst for bloody vengeance.

But Crucible doesn't find its niche by simply aping House of Wax.

Instead, it squeezes a bit of entertainment value out of its low budget grittiness. It's really sort of a British grindhouse flick. Adding to the mood is the brooding menace that Raven brings to the role of Victor, a malevolence that's complemented quite well by the grand-guignol hysterics of Alberge as his wife.

That's not to say Crucible isn't without its flaws. While the murder sequences are executed with zest, there's far too much exposition overall, and not enough action. And believe us when we say the supernatural-tinged "revelation" at the climax stretches credibility to its breaking point.

Also known as Unholy Terror.

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