Color, 1971, 91m.
Directed by Ted Hooker
Starring Mike Raven, Mary Maude, James Bolan, Ronald Lacey, Kenneth Keeling, Melissa Stribling, Me Me Lai
Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image (US R1 NTSC)

Like most artists in hororr films, eccentric Victor Clare (disc jockey / Lust for a Vampire star Raven) has a secret trick to his acclaimed creations: using dead bodies. In this case, he uses molten metal to turn naked women into statues by dumping it through their facial orifices, and the resulting works are highly prized enough to send buyers into fits. His son (Lacey, the melting Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark) takes care of distributing these statues to an art show organizer (Bolan) who decides to take his wife (The House that Screamed's Maude) and a married pair of prospective buyers (Keeling and Horror of Dracula's Stribling) to visit the artist's estat, where the body count starts again. Is the mad artist responsible for the mayhem, or is a more complicated scheme afoot?

A major casualty of censorship during the VHS era, Crucible of Terror was long derided as a weak horror effort with few redeeming qualities; however, the release of a British release print on DVD from Image back in 2000 proved to be something of a shocker as all of the murder scenes turned out to be considerably nastier, with lots of grue and even a bit of nudity (from Jungle Holocaust's Me Me Lai) to perk up the proceedings. Raven will never give Vincent Price a run for his money in the horror ham sweepstakes, but he gives it his all in a film that loads on plenty of oddball twists and bizarre red herrings along with enough mayhem to make this a respectable entry in the early '70s British horror canon. Cinematographer Peter Newbrook (a vet of UK films like The Black Torment and That Kind of Girl) does a solid job here, especially with the brutal and wildly stylish opening scene, and the grotesque imagery is strong enough that even in watered down form in TV it still stuck in the imaginations of a few susceptible viewers.

Those with a fondness for Crucible of Terror (no relation to the same year's Crucible of Horror with Michael Gough) will certainly be pleased with Severin's disc, which offers a solid anamorphic upgrade over a title that once seemed destined to be consigned to budget bin oblivion. Colors are rich and punchy throughout, and while the print isn't pristine by any means (this title had a rough distribution history, to put it mildly), it's easily the best this has ever looked on home video. No extras to speak of (not surprising given that everyone involved is either long retired or dead), but it's nice to have this modest, twisted little number back in circulation again.