Jack Davies (James Bolam) is staging an art exhibition at a London gallery in the hope that he'll make a decent profit, but the businessman who lent him the cash to get it up and running is now breathing down his neck to make sure he gets his money back. However, when the businessman takes one look at a sculpture of a nude there, he is entranced and demands that he be able to buy it, even though it has already been sold. Frustrated, he leaves, only to return that night to steal the life-size sculpture: and why is it life-sized? Because the artist, Victor Clare (Mike Raven) is insane and has used an actual female body to create it...
My, that all sounds very exciting, doesn't it? Alas, nothing could be further from the truth in Crucible of Terror, which eschews any suspense and action to go straight for the low budget standby of having the cast conduct lengthy and cliché-ridden conversations with each other, not the promising foundation of anyone's idea of a gripping horror movie. It does have a footnote in screen history as it was the first of the handful of attempts of Mike Raven to establish himself as a fright icon in the mould of Christopher Lee, an ambition that was to be wrecked on the shores of a dwindling interest in homegrown chillers and the fact that he wasn't really best suited to such things.
Raven had made his name in the British public's consciousness through his work as a Radio 1 disc jockey, specialising in rhythm and blues music, in which he was an expert. But the lure of the silver screen proved too attractive, and come the seventies he was carving a very limited niche in horrors, which he was very sincere about pursuing, but was thwarted after just four films, only two of which he managed to attain star billing in. His last, Disciple of Death, has been barely seen since its initial release, but Crucible of Terror has lapsed into public domain and turns up on late night television and cheap DVDs with some regularity.
Al the better to bore the unwary, as this really is a chore to sit through, especially in light of the extremely arbitrary twist ending which makes a mockery of anyone who has watched this with a hope of working out who the killer is. Well, the first killer is the artist in his House of Wax kind of way, we see him pouring the bronze over the victim's body after all, but he is actually a red herring as there's another murderer stalking the Cornish grounds of his remote house, near an abandoned tin mine. So this is a prototype slasher movie, but not in a Mario Bava, hey that's stylish manner, more in an I'll set the camera up in the corner and you stand in front of it reciting your lines manner.
If this was a proper slasher movie, our final girl would be Millie (Mary Maude, who had better luck with The House That Screamed a couple of years before), as she wanders about trying to work out what is really going on. The victims are all killed in isolation so that convincing (to the other characters, that is) excuses can be made about where they have disappeared to, and if nothing else director Ted Hooker makes decent use of the sweeping locations and Cornish shoreline. Alas, most of the plot takes place on dingy sets: glamorous this is not, but even a grimy sense of danger would be an improvement on the trudge through casual cruelties that is on offer here. It's almost worth enduring for that explanation at the end, which is so ridiculous it provides a chuckle of disbelief, but that might be too high a price to pay for this. Music by Paris Rutherford.