Friday, January 2, 2015

Crucible of Horror (1971)

          Made in the UK and originally titled The Corpse, this slow-moving shocker boasts adequate performances and solid production values, as well as imaginative cinematography, but the piece is undercut by a muddled storyline. Ostensibly a Hitchockian thriller about domestic strife leading to patricide and then to unexpected repercussions, the picture features only four major characters. Taking place almost entirely inside the countryside home of a small family, the movie catalogs the indignities that uptight insurance executive Walter Eastwood (Michael Gough) inflicts on his wife, Edith (Yvonne Mitchell), and his teenaged daughter, Jane (Sharon Gurney). Walter physically, psychologically, and verbally torments both women, at one point beating Jane with a switch so badly she’s reduced to tears while red welts decorate most of her body. Standing by, obliviously, is Walter’s adult son, Rupert (Simon Gough), whom Walter has designated to be his professional successor. Eventually, the Eastwood ladies decide enough is enough and kill Walter, but then weird thing start happening. Amid the difficulties of trying to surreptitiously dispose of Walter’s corpse, the women perceive phenomena suggesting Walter’s demise might not be as absolute as they thought
          In principle, this sort of story should work just fine for an atmospheric thriller—witness the 1955 French-cinema classic Diabolique. In practice, however, Crucible of Horror is confusing and tedious. Despite a smattering of shock cuts and theremin solos, very little of consequence occurs in the first half-hour of the picture, and the stiff-upper-lip acting makes everything sterile. Although the filmmakers vainly try to emulate the spooky style of Hammer Films, the storytelling is far too disjointed and off-putting. Thus, when things take a gruesome turn, the wheels come off completely, leading to an ending that makes zero sense. British-horror fans might find some pleasure in the texture of this piece, and Gough (who later found U.S. fame playing Alfred Pennyworth to Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne) is a minor light in the British-horror firmament. Those seeking real thrills, however, should search elsewhere.

Crucible of Horror: FUNKY

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