As I consider myself very well-versed when it comes to British horror films, I've tried to catch up with nearly everything that fits that category. Having suffered several viewings of CRUCIBLE OF TERROR through budget VHS releases in the past, I've always considered it one of the worst of its kind. But seeing it uncut, and then after several repeated viewings, the film has sort of grown on me, and I now regard it as a Brit equivalent of a giallo, and a rather intriguing low budget effort at that.
Reclusive Victor Clare (Mike Raven) is introduced as a nutty painter/sculptor who pours molten bronze over the body of a beautiful woman to preserve her as a work of art. Struggling but eager art dealer Jack Davies (James Bolam) is fascinated with Victor’s work, acquiring some pieces from his shady, alcoholic son Michael Clare (Ronald Lacey, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) who sets up a weekend retreat at his pop’s secluded cottage in the hopes of selling more. Also staying at the cottage are Victor’s beautiful teasy model Marcia (Judy Matheson, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, TWINS OF EVIL), his stuffed animal-toting closet case of a wife (Betty Alberge), longtime chum and decorative weapons collector Bill (John Arnatt), Michael’s fed-up young wife Jane (Beth Morris) and Jack’s seemingly sweet but easily intimidated girlfriend Millie (Mary Maude, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED and later in Norman Warren's TERROR).
A number of the film’s character’s get knocked off in various bloody ways, and the payoff is a particularly macabre twist ending. Despite the comparisons often made to HOUSE OF WAX, I still think this can easily be looked upon as a giallo by way of the United Kingdom, if there is such a thing. CRUCIBLE OF TERROR may be crude on the outset, but for those who think British horror is merely the common Hammer monsters and Amicus omnibuses, think outside the box and give this a look. Speaking of Hammer, you’ll also recognize a middle-aged Melissa Stribling (Mina in HORROR OF DRACULA) in a smaller role.
Born Austin Churton Fairman, Mike Raven first came to public attention as a pirate radio disc jockey in England. With his tall, gaunt appearance (sort of a cross between Christopher Lee and The Who's John Entwistle), Raven started his brief career (four films, exclusively horror) in Hammer’s LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, but was infuriated to find his voice re-dubbed, and close-ups of his eyes substituted with shots of Lee as Dracula. Raven then got to co-star with both Lee and Cushing in Amicus’ I MONSTER, and then had two starring roles in independent chillers he helped finance: CRUCIBLE OF TERROR and the underrated bizarro vampire flick DISCIPLE OF DEATH. Raven’s two starring efforts were panned by critics and made little impact at the box office; he retired from films to raise his family as a sheep farmer and sculptor (life imitating art) in the country. CRUCIBLE OF TERROR is considered his breakthrough role, and it’s a treat watching the lisping thespian raising his eyebrows, making passes at his 20-something leggy models, and insulting and yelling at everyone else when he’s not totally going off the deep end.
CRUCIBLE OF TERROR has had a long and sorted home video release in the U.S. It had been available on a number budget video companies, as well as the more pricey Video Gems label (remember those HUGE clamshell boxes?). All of these transfers appeared to be culled from heavily edited TV prints that left the viewer saying "huh?" every time a murder was about to take place. When Image Entertainment first released the film on DVD a decade ago, it was finally uncut, but the transfer was full frame and riddled with scratches, large stained blotches and other problems. Severin Films now gives CRUCIBLE a much needed facelift with their anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer, as it looks better than ever, with bold colors, and even with the occasional grain in check, it's now presented in a clean, well-detailed image. The mono English audio shows its age with some hiss, but it still comes off well. Rest assured, it’s totally uncut, taken from a British source element with the “Certificate X” shown at the start of the film. There’s a glimpse of nudity (in the shape of the notorious Me Me Lai, who’s in the film for a matter of seconds) and all the murder scenes are notably nasty and graphic as compared to the cut TV version. There’s no extras on the disc, but thanks to Severin for preserving Brit horror on DVD, as they have some real biggies in the works! (George R. Reis)
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