Crucible Of Terror (1971)

AUGUST 1, 2012


Despite the momentary feeling of stupidity, I actually like when I jump the gun and write something negative in my notes only to have to cross it out later when all of the information has been presented. Such was the case with Crucible Of Terror, where I was annoyed that the killer was being kept off-screen during the murder scenes, only to discover it was part of a pretty decent twist. Good on you, movie.

A shame, then, that the twist didn't elevate a better film, rather than pretty much salvage it singlehandedly. Since the kill scenes are a bit awkward as a result of this MO, they hardly make up for the film's slow pace and time wasting. Maybe as a novella it would work better, where the narrator could just say "the murderer" and not have to hide their face from the audience. Especially when it starts off with such a bang - a model being bronzed while she's still alive, which would suggest some sort of Bucket Of Blood/House Of Wax (Price, not Paris) type film.

But as it turns out it's more of a mystery thriller with gory kills, as two guys are trying to convince this eccentric artist (Mike Raven) to make some new pieces for them so they can sell them and pay off some other guys. Complications ensue, including one of them having to drum up some money to commission the paintings - we actually watch him make phone calls and pitch this to secondary characters. In terms of how exciting this is and how important it seems to be to the story, it'd be like watching the government guys in ET going down to a warehouse and filling out the forms in order to secure that big plastic tubing that the use to get in and out of Elliott's house.

Raven's another problem, as he is simply not a very good actor despite his efforts to be a Christopher Lee or Vincent Price type. In fact he often comes off like actor Larry Hankin goofing off while doing a Lee impression, and thus I couldn't help but wish I was watching that instead, because Hankin is awesome (so happy he popped up again on Breaking Bad) and Raven is just sort of ridiculous. Worse, he's forced to play the movie in some sort of limbo because we're supposed to think something about his character that turns out to be untrue. This sort of twist CAN work, but not for the entire movie - making the reveal around the halfway point or maybe the end of the second act if you're really clever would be ideal. The movie Wanted did something along those lines, and it was far more successful.

Luckily, actress Mary Maude more than makes up for Raven's deficiencies. Not only is she a better actor, but she is impossibly gorgeous to boot - how was she not one of the top Hammer Girls? I can't find much info about her, but she was a star on a UK show and this was also a UK production, so it's safe to assume she ran in some of the same circles. She's been in two other HMAD entries (Terror and The House That Screamed), both of which I liked a lot more than this, so it's odd that the weakest one is where I really noticed her (though for House I did note that many of the ladies were "fetching"). I also enjoyed the drunken son character, as he looked like an elder Weasley brother and seemed to be wandering in from a different movie entirely at times. He also has the best death scene after that opener; he is pelted with rocks for a while and then bludgeoned, holding on to his booze right to the end.

Another disappointment: this was some generic budget DVD instead of the remastered (and widescreen) version that Severin put out last year. When I first began HMAD, I used to take each issue of Fangoria and Rue Morgue that I read and add all of the titles they mentioned in their review/new-to-disc sections, and only maybe 1 in 5 titles wouldn't turn up on Blockbuster or Netflix. Now it seems to be the other way around, and worse, the ones I DO find are cheap budget versions more often than not, as outfits like Severin usually acquire films from other outlets and present superior editions to what was previously available. Thanks for killing the need for physical media, streamers!

But if you can deal with the pace or think you might enjoy what almost feels like a low-rent British version of a giallo, the movie is worth a look for Maude and the twist alone. Maybe play it on 1.5x speed so you can still hear everything but get through it in the hour or so that it should have been in the first place.

What say you?


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