The title of Crucible of Terror is somewhat misleading. To be fair, the film does feature many shots of a crucible. Unfortunately there isn't any terror to be found. While the movie is presented as a slice of old school schlock, it is nothing more than a soggy 70s British slasher with supernatural undertones.
Victor Clare (Mike Raven) has a somewhat unique artistic viewpoint. He believes that "great art demands ultimate sacrifice". This is all well and good as long as someone else is doing the sacrificing. You see, he likes to incapacitate young women, cover them with goopy plaster and then pour molten metal on them in order to form a bronze sculpture. Fortunately for young women everywhere, he has become reclusive and retired to a quieter lifestyle. Now, he simply sketches and sleeps with young models behind the back of his dim-witted wife Dorothy (Betty Alberge).
Just because Victor has withdrawn from the public eye, doesn't mean that the public is ready to let go of him. When Victor's son Michael (Ronald Lacey) borrows a few choice pieces of daddy's art and submits them to a gallery run by John (James Bolam), he is surprised by the immediate and positive reaction from the well-heeled patrons. John suggests to Michael that there is more money to be made by selling additional pieces from Victor's secret stockpile. They set off with their wives to see Victor at his isolated country home and to convince him to part with a few more samples of his work. Although they arrive with business on their minds, they quickly find themselves in a pressure cooker of sexual tension and murder. Just your typical family get together I suppose.
While the film carries its cult ambitions on its sleeve, it is simultaneously too odd and too pedestrian to amount to anything. Let's examine the oddness first since it at least provides the film with a campy edge. For starters, Mike Raven isn't exactly intimidating as Victor Clare. He looks like Christopher Lee if Lee had jumped in a time machine and shot ahead to the set of Superman in order to play General Zod instead of Terrence Stamp. Also his insistence on sketching every young woman who crosses his path takes him from sleazy fiend to desperate loser in no time flat. Then there's the small matter of Dorothy's character. For some strange reason she dresses up like a little girl (pigtails and all) and carries a doll with her at all times. It's a weird choice that never really pays off.
Once you get past the strangeness of Victor and Dorothy themselves, the rest of the film just settles into a stagnant pattern. Victor rubs his superior virility in someone's face (well, not literally) and then hits on one of the women. Victor is rebuffed by one of the women. Someone in the house dies a not-too-gory death at the hands of an unseen killer. Rinse and repeat. This is kept up right until the big finale when Victor decides to take up bronzing again and the killer's identity is revealed. While there are a few establishing scenes early in the film to support the killer's motive, it could just as easily have been any of the other characters. It just feels so arbitrary.
Although Crucible of Terror doesn't qualify as unwatchable dreck, it definitely misses its mark. The Clare family has enough dysfunction to keep Freud busy but not enough to prevent you from falling asleep. It also has more familial squabbles than shocks which is a major stumbling block for what is ostensibly a horror movie.
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The back of the DVD case claims that the film was transferred in HD from an uncut 35mm print (on loan from a Bodmin Moor coven?!!). With that in mind, the image actually looked pretty decent for a neglected British film from 1971. The colors were uneven and dark scenes often lacked shadow detail but overall the visual presentation was adequate.
The audio was presented in English Mono Dolby Digital. Compared to the visual presentation, the audio was in much worse shape. It was alternately shrill and tinny with occasional echoes and distortion. Ultimately this was the most disappointing technical aspect of the release.
There were no extras on this release.
Crucible of Terror is occasionally puzzling but never terrifying. An oddly mannered performance by Mike Raven as the lead whacko of the piece is unable to save it from being a bit of a bore. If you're after chills, look elsewhere. If you really need to see a slasher about an awkward family, go watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre again. Skip It.