Neal Mottram (Jack Palance) is an antiques dealer with a secret: he has an African idol named Chuku in his basement, and he worships it with his coven whenever he gets the chance. But Chuku demands a sacrifice, so tonight during the full moon Mottram assembles his cohorts and a willing victim who performs a wild, topless dance whereupon he hands her a ceremonial dagger and she disembowels herself. Thus satisfied, the coven breaks up for the evening as their leader sets about disposing of the body, but one of them, Muriel (Kathleen Byron) wants more from him, leading to a tussle which sees her accidentally impaled on the statue's clawed hand. With the dead bodies mounting up, Mottram is going to attract the attention of the police...
Although producer Herman Cohen made one more film, in Italy rather than Britain, Craze was probably his last effort recognisably his, as he had a hand in penning the screenplay and it had many of the hallmarks of his style, though the violence was getting bloodier to match the loosening censorship of the times. That said, he was always a filmmaker willing to push the envelope as to what you could get away with in his movies, which was why by the time the seventies rolled around his brand of horror was looking rather old hat as many of the contemporary works vying for the box office were surpassing him, and frankly looking a lot less silly than the antics in Craze.
At least we had the chance to watch Palance chew the scenery which for many fans would be worth checking out as his scheming dealer cuts a swathe through the female cast members. Some observers had it that Cohen displayed a real problem with women, with the characters divided into interfering old dears or nubile young dolly birds who both end up victim to Chuku's bloodlust, or rather Mottram's - the film cannot make up its mind whether the sacrifices are actually working or whether the villain is truly out of his mind. Though even if they were working he's out of his mind anyway, that's plain to see, so while it's hard to take this as the truly chilling effort apparently intended, there were some laughs to be garnered from the English suburban sleaze Cohen worked up.
Freddie Francis was his director, very much in journeyman mode here as it could have been anyone at the helm, anyone with enough talent to put the camera in the right place at any rate. Francis never espoused any great preference for the horror genre, but by the time of Craze it was all he was being offered and he liked the business, though it does have you wondering what he would have been like with material he was legitimately engaged with, not something which comes across in the perfunctory set ups here. Maybe he liked directing the stars his producer had hired, taking a leaf out of Amicus' book by recruiting various names for a day or two and offering the film a more prestigious cast than it might otherwise have enjoyed: Trevor Howard is in a couple of scenes, Hugh Griffith in one, and so forth.
Getting more to do was Diana Dors, who plays the bed and breakfast landlady Mottram uses as an alibi as he creeps off under cover of darkness to frighten his aunt (Edith Evans) to death with a scary mask, all so he can secure her inheritance, and provide yet another sacrifice to Chuku into the bargain, of course. You might conclude that one makes one's own luck in this world after watching events occur which would have happened with or without the idol, though Mottram will not be told, not by his partner in crime and possible boyfriend Martin Potter (who doesn't kill anyone, but is absurdly thrown through the display window of the shop at the grand finale), and not by the increasing interest shown in him by the cops, led by a stony-faced Michael Jayston. This might be a lambasting of blind faith in beliefs which are plainly taking their adherents down corrupt paths, but that's probably giving the film too much credit since most of it was an excuse for Palance to seethe and go berserk as the likes of Julie Ege and Suzy Kendall could only look on in amazement. Music by John Scott.
[Nucleus Films have released this in a print vastly improved from the public domain hell it was previously in, with a featurette, Freddie Francis trailer gallery, and a stills gallery as extras.]
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).