The Art of Murder

There seems to be a growing nostalgia for the VHS age that I can appreciate. I grew up watching videos and I treasure the hours I spent scouring the shelves of my local video rental stores looking for unusual old films to watch. I spent most of my time in the horror aisles since horror has always been my favorite movie genre but being a horror fan during the VHS age wasn’t always easy. A lot of the horror movies that I originally watched on video were heavily edited thanks to overzealous censors or companies that were eager to make movies more television friendly. During the ’80s and early ’90s it wasn’t uncommon to come across two or three different versions of the same movie on video released under different titles so you never really knew what you were actually watching. One of the horror films that I originally saw on video for the first time was the British thriller CRUCIBLE OF TERROR (1971). The print was terrible and the film had been so badly edited that I could barley follow the plot. This lackluster viewing experience definitely colored my opinion of CRUCIBLE OF TERROR and it remained a distant memory until recently when I learned that it was being released on DVD by Severin Films. This new uncut version of CRUCIBLE OF TERROR was produced using the best print of the movie in existence and I’m happy to report that I found the movie much more enjoyable on DVD.

CRUCIBLE OF TERROR opens with an incredible sequence that might just be the highlight of the film. We watch helplessly as a faceless artist covers a sleeping woman in plaster and prepares to cast her into a beautiful sculpture. Unfortunately she wakes up just as the molten metal is being poured over her bare skin so she’s forced to witness her own painful death just as we are. When the opening credits start to roll the statute of a reclining nude woman accompanies them and it becomes immediately apparent that we’re looking at a corpse masquerading as a work of art. The rest of the film doesn’t exactly live up to the promise of that startling opening but CRUCIBLE OF TERROR still managed to hold my interest during its 90 minute running time

Troubled artists have long been a favorite subject of horror filmmakers. There seems to be something intangible that links suffering artists to monsters, demons, ghosts and other creatures of the night. Like many tragic movie monsters (Frankenstein, King Kong, the Werewolf, etc.), artists and other creative types are often misunderstood outsiders. They long for acceptance and act on pure impulse while being subject to constant scrutiny. For decades horror films and thrillers have linked the artistic temperament and creative desire to monsters in films such as Phantom of the Opera (1925), House of Wax (1953), A Bucket of Blood (1959), Mill of the Stone Women (1960), Color Me Blood Red (1965), Blind Beast (1969) and Theater of Blood (1973). CRUCIBLE OF TERROR isn’t as fun as the 3-D spectacle House of Wax or as ambitious as the experimental Japanese film Blind Beast, but it follows a similar tradition and it’s surprisingly original in its approach to murder and the supernatural.

The film introduces us to an artistic monster by the name of Victor Clare (Mike Raven). Victor lives in a secluded country house with his mentally disturbed wife Dorothy (Betty Alberge) who dresses like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and spends her days talking to dolls. They’re accompanied by a strange fellow named Bill (John Arnatt) who collects Japanese weaponry and a bi-sexual artist model called Marcia (Judy Matheson). This unusual foursome is visited by Victor and Dorothy’s only son Michael (Ronald Lacey) who enjoys stealing art from his father and selling it in London for extra money to help pay for his drinking habit. Michael brings along his unhappy wife Jane (Beth Morris), a would-be art dealer named John Davis (James Bolam) and John’s female companion Mille (Mary Maude) who immediately becomes an object of artistic obsession for Victor. While Victor chases Millie around his property begging for a chance to sketch her the corpses start to pile up along with the audience’s questions. Who is killing off members of this strange family? Is Victor’s property haunted? What happened to the Asian model that once worked for Victor? And what about that odd looking kimono?

In many ways CRUCIBLE OF TERROR resembles an Italian giallo film. The graphic murders are committed by an unseen killer that wears black gloves and the picturesque Cornwall setting, mysterious beachside caves and endless parade of red herrings had me thinking about Italian thrillers like Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970) and The Pyjama Girl Case (1977). But CRUCIBLE OF TERROR introduces occult themes involving ghosts and possession that aren’t commonly found in giallo films. Unfortunately CRUCIBLE OF TERROR also lacks the production values and abundant style that often makes those Italian thrillers so memorable. First time director Ted Hooker and Cinematographer Peter Newbrook did produce some effective POV shots in the film. And the impressive score by composer Paris Rutherford manages to propel the movie forward while creating an appropriate mood of dread and confusion. Unfortunately the movie occasionally loses its momentum due to needless conversations between characters and careless editing. And it all comes to a rather abrupt end that is summed up in a matter-of-fact manner similar to many classic British ghost stories and early horror films. But the movie does hold a few surprises for unsuspecting viewers who are willing to involve themselves in the convoluted plot.

The film features some memorable horror film regulars such as Judy Matheson (Lust for a Vampire; 1971, Twins of Evil; 1971, The Flesh and Blood Show; 1972, The House That Vanished; 1973) and Me Me Lai (Sacrifice!; 1972, Last Cannibal World; 1977, Doomed to Die; 1980) but the best performances are delivered by Mike Raven and Mary Maude as the mad artist Victor and his reluctant muse Mille. Mary Maude was asked to do a lot in CRUCIBLE OF TERROR and she only partially succeeds but there’s something very earthy and unaffected about her performance that I found endearing. Mike Raven is one of the most unusual characters in British horror history and I’ve always found him somewhat underrated. Raven was a DJ before he became an actor and his powerful presence and memorable voice are reminiscent of Christopher Lee, who he appeared with in the Amicus horror film I, Monster (1971). Mike Raven also starred in the Hammer film Lust for a Vampire (1971) and the self-produced Disciple of Death (1972), which he co-wrote. Much like his on-screen characters, Mike Raven enjoyed wearing black and studying the occult when he wasn’t performing. After the films he appeared in failed to impress critics he decided to give up acting and become a professional artist. In a strange turn of events Mike Raven ended up becoming a sculptor and living in Cornwall, much like his fictional character in CRUCIBLE OF TERROR. According to Severin Films they obtained their print of CRUCIBLE OF TERROR from a coven with connections to Raven who died in 1997. The air of mystery surrounding the film’s star definitely adds an element of intrigue to this low-budget horror movie.


Along with CRUCIBLE OF TERROR Severin Films recently released another entertaining British horror film from the ‘70s on DVD, the supernatural biker movie Psychomania. Psychomania has been shown on TCM Underground recently and it’s also worth a look if you happen to enjoy unusual British horror films. If you’d like to know more about Psychomania you can read Nathaniel Thompson’s review of the film at the TCM Underground website. You can also find a lot more information about both movies at the official Severin Film site.

12 Responses The Art of Murder
Posted By wilbur twinhorse : October 21, 2010 7:43 pm

Thanks KL for the post! It is almost Full Moon and Halloween is near. Maybe the baby boomers are contributing to the resurgence of interest in VHS horror type films? A lot of them haven’t been released on DVD as of now. I watched John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES the other eve and it was a blast. I also watched the DRACULA film by Tod Browning and enjoyed that as well, especially the performance by the actor who did Renfrew! hehehehe, cheers

Posted By wilbur twinhorse : October 21, 2010 7:43 pm

Thanks KL for the post! It is almost Full Moon and Halloween is near. Maybe the baby boomers are contributing to the resurgence of interest in VHS horror type films? A lot of them haven’t been released on DVD as of now. I watched John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES the other eve and it was a blast. I also watched the DRACULA film by Tod Browning and enjoyed that as well, especially the performance by the actor who did Renfrew! hehehehe, cheers

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : October 22, 2010 11:46 am

Funny – I just picked up the DVD over the weekend. Literally picked it up, I mean; I didn’t buy it. In this company of mad artists with skeletons in their closets and in their art, I’d suggest Santos Alocer’s El coleccionista de cadáveres, aka Cauldron of Blood, which I first saw at the drive-in as a kid under the title Blind Man’s Bluff. It’s no classic but a weird, kinky (Viveca Lindfors in quasi-Nazi fetish gear cool dancing with Jean Pierre Aumont) confection with Boris Karloff playing the artist-in-question. Don’t think it’s on DVD but it was on VHS and I’m sure some enterprising gray marketeer has it available as a download.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : October 22, 2010 11:46 am

Funny – I just picked up the DVD over the weekend. Literally picked it up, I mean; I didn’t buy it. In this company of mad artists with skeletons in their closets and in their art, I’d suggest Santos Alocer’s El coleccionista de cadáveres, aka Cauldron of Blood, which I first saw at the drive-in as a kid under the title Blind Man’s Bluff. It’s no classic but a weird, kinky (Viveca Lindfors in quasi-Nazi fetish gear cool dancing with Jean Pierre Aumont) confection with Boris Karloff playing the artist-in-question. Don’t think it’s on DVD but it was on VHS and I’m sure some enterprising gray marketeer has it available as a download.

Posted By suzidoll : October 22, 2010 12:18 pm

Still trying to figure out the tagline: “A mind so evil it could lock its terrible secret inside a beautiful body.” I wonder which body part!!

Posted By suzidoll : October 22, 2010 12:18 pm

Still trying to figure out the tagline: “A mind so evil it could lock its terrible secret inside a beautiful body.” I wonder which body part!!

Posted By JK : October 23, 2010 9:36 pm

Somehow missed this one during my Double Chiller Theatre on Friday nights as a kid. That may not be a bad thing since the films were so cut up! I remember precisely what you’re saying when it came to watching horror films on TV back in the 70s and 80s. I’ll definitely check it out now.

Ronald Lacey? The same Ronald Lacey who later played the Nazi in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?

Posted By JK : October 23, 2010 9:36 pm

Somehow missed this one during my Double Chiller Theatre on Friday nights as a kid. That may not be a bad thing since the films were so cut up! I remember precisely what you’re saying when it came to watching horror films on TV back in the 70s and 80s. I’ll definitely check it out now.

Ronald Lacey? The same Ronald Lacey who later played the Nazi in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 25, 2010 2:13 pm

Wilbur – Thanks Wilbur. Glad you enjoyed it and I hope you ahve fun watching horror movies this month. Tis the season!

Richard – I haven’t seen Cauldron of Blood (or Blind Man’s Bluff) but I’ve added it to my ever-growing “must see movie” list. Thanks for the recommendation!

Suzi – The whole darn thing!

JK – I don’t think it got much play on TV in the US but I’m glad I was finally able to see the movie uncut. And yep! It is the same Ronald Lacey whose face melts off in RAIDERS. He’s pretty good here as Raven’s creepy son. It’s probably one of his bigger film roles.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 25, 2010 2:13 pm

Wilbur – Thanks Wilbur. Glad you enjoyed it and I hope you ahve fun watching horror movies this month. Tis the season!

Richard – I haven’t seen Cauldron of Blood (or Blind Man’s Bluff) but I’ve added it to my ever-growing “must see movie” list. Thanks for the recommendation!

Suzi – The whole darn thing!

JK – I don’t think it got much play on TV in the US but I’m glad I was finally able to see the movie uncut. And yep! It is the same Ronald Lacey whose face melts off in RAIDERS. He’s pretty good here as Raven’s creepy son. It’s probably one of his bigger film roles.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : October 25, 2010 10:22 pm

Ronald Lacey was also memorable as the village halfwit in The Fearless Vampire Killers!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : October 25, 2010 10:22 pm

Ronald Lacey was also memorable as the village halfwit in The Fearless Vampire Killers!

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