31 Days of Hell: Crucible of Horror (1971) - Reviewed


The late great British actor Michael Gough is no stranger to horror, having appeared in The House in the Woods and Horror of Dracula before taking on the chilly cool of Alfred in the Batman film series.  He even acted at times in a couple of enfant terrible Ken Russell’s films including Women in Love and Savage Messiah.  What he isn’t necessarily known for, however, is playing a nasty, a role he dives into with devilish glee in the 1971 British slow burning swim through the macabre Crucible of Horror, a largely forgotten horror thriller about an abusive aristocratic patriarch whose wife and daughter conspire to try and kill him.

The one and only film by frequent television director Viktors Ritelis and co-starring Gough’s real life son Simon Gough and daughter-in-law Sharon Gurney, this all but completely forgotten little spooker recently revived by Shout Factory doesn’t quite reach the scary heights of most macabre chillers but Gough makes it mostly fun to watch.  For those used to seeing Gough as the kindly cuddly grandfatherly Alfred are in for a rude awakening, particularly in a painful scene where he discovers his daughter stole money from him and he proceeds to mercilessly beat her.
A product of it’s time of 1971, the film is undeniably dated with John Hotchkis’ oogie boogie Halloweeny score and muted reddish cinematography by John Mackey.  The film has overtones of the supernatural but mostly is a modestly sized and paced chiller less interested in overt scares or screams than it is in establishing an overarching mood of dread and doom.  One particular hallucinatory mid-picture sequence will remind viewers of the color dye inversion concluding Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey but while the use of that technique in his film was timeless, it dates Ritelis’ film. 

While the title is certainly misleading and nondescript (other titles included The Corpse) and the film itself never really elicits or provokes screams from the viewer, Crucible of Horror was a fine little number that mostly served as an open playground for the aristocratic Gough to behave like a complete monster.  Not an easy or earnest recommendation as modern moviegoers accustomed to the volume levels being cranked up in between jump scares will get bored easily but it’ll hold your attention on an October night while surfing through late night cable television.

--Andrew Kotwicki