A reclusive artist working in a most unusual medium provides the chills in a classic British horror movie with a terrifying twist. London art dealer Jack Davies is in dire financial straits. He could do with more work from the recluse Victor Clare, an artist whose beautiful bronze statue of a girl fetches a handsome price. When finally the artist agrees to a meeting; Jack and his fiancee Millie jump at the chance to stay at his studio. At Victor Clare's remote coastal homestead, next to a reputedly haunted disused tin mine, they meet their hosts the bullied, child-like wife; a meek family friend; a young model and the artist himself, a man obsessed with capturing and preserving the beauty of the female form. Victor Clare is clearly no ordinary artist when he chooses Millie as his latest model to be 'immortalised', the true nature and horror of his deadly creations are about to be revealed...
Spoilers follow ...
- Crucible of Terror review by NP
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This tale of gruesome murders around a supposedly haunted tin mine in Cornwall is similar to the kind of picture Tony Tenser or Pete Walker were producing at the time, although rather more ponderous – low budget, and full of well-known British actors. The real winner, as is so often the case, is the scenery. The barren Cornish beaches and windswept grassy hills make an effectively isolated stage for various deaths.
Ronald Lacey plays Michael Clare, an unhappy drunk and the son of odd, reclusive artist Victor Clare (Mike Raven). Victor has a mentally ill wife and fills his time painting and having affairs with his models. Victor is, by all accounts rather a tantrum-prone inadequate rather than the monstrous villain this film paints him to be. As the ‘mad sculptor’, he is entirely free of any sense of menace.
There is a sloppy approach to dramatic logic here, which the lack of budget cannot be blamed for. The (too) irregular murders are carried out with no pretence of cover-up, and yet no-one is ever on hand to notice any noisy disruption or trails of blood, or even to mourn very much for the victims. There’s a very vague lesbian subplot between young Millie and Marcia, but this leads nowhere.
The twist at the end is … strange, but rather effective. It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, almost as if it had been added at the last minute, but as John Arnott’s Bill ‘explains’, “it was pre-ordained.” The idea of possessed clothing influencing the will of the wearer is a nice one. If some clues to this had been filtered through the storyline, it wouldn’t feel like so unsatisfying.
This is a tension-light film, but retains a definite charm. Although he throws himself into the role of Victor, Raven’s acting is wooden throughout – indeed this and the failure of his next project, the partially self-funded ‘Disciple of Death’, spelled the end for Raven’s horror film aspirations.