This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (December 2018)
American theatrical poster, bearing the Crucible of Horror title
|Directed by||Viktors Ritelis|
|Screenplay by||Olaf Pooley|
|Music by||John Hotchkis|
|Edited by||Nicholas Pollock|
|Distributed by||Grand National Pictures (UK)|
The Cannon Group (US)
The Corpse (released in North America as Crucible of Horror) is a 1971 British horror film, produced by Gabrielle Beaumont and directed by Viktors Ritelis. It stars Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney, and Simon Gough. The film tells the story of an English businessman who has for years and in various ways abused his wife and daughter. Eventually, they kill him. But he inexplicably comes back to life and their day-to-day lives immediately revert to the way that they were before he died. The film was shot in 1969 but not released to theatres in the UK until 1971 under the title The Corpse. It was retitled Crucible of Horror for its US theatrical release, also in 1971.
Walter Eastwood (Michael Gough), a well-to-do Englishman, is physically and mentally abusive to his wife Edith (Mitchell) and their 16-year-old daughter Jane (Gurney). He is possibly sexually abusive to his daughter. He seems to have raised his son and employee, Rupert (Simon Gough), to be somewhat like himself.
Walter goes alone on a shooting weekend at his cottage in the country. Edith and Jane follow and after sedating him with drugged whisky Edith shoots him with a single-barrelled shotgun. The two drag his body upstairs, undress him and put him to bed, leaving on the nightstand a glass of whisky and a bottle of pills, to make it look as if Walter took his own life.
Edith and Jane return home to London, expecting at any moment that someone will report Walter missing. But only Rupert realises that he hasn't shown up for work and demands that Jane and Edith return to the cottage to see if he's there or not. At the cottage, they find the bed empty and discover a large wooden box at the back of the cottage. It contains Walter's dead body. They load the box into Edith's estate car and drive it to a worksite where they push to box down a steep embankment and into a pond. They go back home, afraid that the death will be discovered, and found to be a murder, but no one contacts them.
A short time later, someone unseen enters the Eastwood house. It's Walter. First he frightens Jane by hanging upside-down from the rafters. Then, next morning, he comes downstairs for breakfast, looking perfectly normal in his suit and tie, and everything is as it was before he was killed.
The script, written by Olaf Pooley, was originally known as The Velvet House and was based on the film Les Diaboliques (1955). The film's meagre £55,000 budget was raised from London-Cannon Films, the British subsidiary of Cannon Films. The low budget meant that expenses had to be minimal, so an actual house was used for on-location filming, with the remainder shot at Merton Park Studios in London. The Corpse was Ritelis's only movie, but he had 'a long and fruitful career as a television director'. Filming started on 17 March 1968. The film's 'on-screen credits list a 1971 copyright statement for May Films, Ltd'; but The Corpse/Crucible of Horror was never registered for copyright.
The Corpse was not submitted to the British Board of Film Classification until after the BBFC had changed 'the threshold of the X category' on 1 July 1970 when the minimum audience-member age for exhibition was raised from 16 to 18. The Corpse was given its X certification on 19 December 1971 after unspecified cuts were made.
Mitchell and Michael Gough were at the time well-known stage performers and Gough was a 'fixture' in British horror films. Rupert and Jane were played by Michael Gough's real-life son Simon and Simon's fiancée Sharon Gurney. The two married in 1970, before the film was released.
In the UK, The Corpse was on an X cert double-bill with the US import Psycho Killer (1970). Distribution was handled by Grand National Pictures. In the US, Cannon Films gave the movie its new title, Crucible of Horror, 'presumably to make it seem like a better running-mate for its co-feature, Boris Karloff's Cauldron of Blood (1969)', a film released after Karloff's death. Unlike the stricter British Certification, both films on the American double-bill carried a Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) GP rating, which meant 'Parental Guidance Suggested'. No minimum age for exhibition was specified. (The GP rating became PG in 1972). Crucible of Horror debuted in US theatres in New York City on 10 November 1971.
By the summer of 1973, Crucible of Horror was on the US drive-in theatre circuit. For example, it was shown on 1 and 2 June 1973, a Friday and Saturday, as the third film on a triple-bill at the Mt. Lebanon Drive-In Theatre in Washington, Pennsylvania. The other two films were the non-horror Fists of Fury (1972) and Prime Cut (1972). The film was later featured on the syndicated American TV programme Elvira's Movie Macabre on 27 November 1982. It was the 13th episode of the show's second season.
After its brief theatrical runs in the UK and US, the film has had sporadic official US VHS releases and several bootleg DVD releases. The very first VHS release was from Paragon Video in 1983. A later VHS release came from Goodtimes in 1987, utilizing a battered and cut down 16mm print with the US "Crucible of Horror" title. This release was unlicensed, as it was presumed the title had fallen into public domain by that time. As MGM had assumed The Cannon Group catalog after Crédit Lyonnais took full control from Pathé Communications, MGM/UA Home Video put out an officially licensed release in 1993 and reissued in 1998, utilizing a transfer made from an original film element with the US title. Despite being in a cropped 1.33:1 ratio, this release was considered the best available version to date and was the source for DVD releases put out by Trinty Home Entertainment and bootleg outfit Mr. Fat W Video.
Scream Factory announced plans to bring this title onto Blu-Ray, under licence from MGM. This release came out on April 10th 2018, utilizing a restored 2k scan of the best available film element under its Crucible of Horror title, and presented in the original 1.66:1 widescreen ratio along with the films US theatrical trailer.
As of 2019, this title has not been released on video in the UK in any form, most presumably due to rights issues.
Reviews of Crucible of Horror at the time of its premiere in the US tended to be favourable. Howard Simpson of The New York Times attended the opening night of Cauldron of Blood and Crucible of Horror and writes in his review that the former is 'painful to watch' and that 'the one to see, without running' is the latter. He states that Crucible of Horror is 'superbly directed by Viktors Ritelis and beautifully played by Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney and Michael Gough' and notes that 'for tight, merciless tension and venom, the movie is uncommonly effective and engrossing'. He adds that 'the twist of a civilized, very British fadeout ... is the most horrifying thing of all. Quite a picture. Quite'.
BoxOffice magazine also praised the film upon its release, saying that 'no one can deny that [it] isn't effectively done.' The anonymous review says that 'Director Viktor Ritelis livened the pace with fast-cut flashbacks, psychedelic dream sequences and some well-mounted horror touches at the end'. It notes the high quality of the acting and reports that 'Young Sharon Gurney gets introductory billing, celebrating the occasion by plunging in with a nude scene, hysterics and a sharp sense of defying her elders'. The magazine rates Crucible of Horror as 'good' on its poor-to-very-good scale and reports that The New York Daily News rates the film was 'fair'.
Later reviews were mixed, often mentioning subjects not noted in earlier reviews. For example, Hamilton points out that 'There is enough in the flashback sequence to suggest that incest can be added to the catalogue of Eastwood's crimes, and in case anyone did not pick up on the inference, the viewer is treated to the bizarre sight of Eastwood caressing his daughter's still warm bicycle seat'. He praises Vitelis for his 'restraint' in a scene in which Eastwood beats Jane with a cane for stealing £50 so that 'the scene stays well within the constraints of the X certificate'. He adds that 'It is a testament to his restrained approach that the BBFC snipped around the edges of the whipping scene but with the exception of the word "fucking" - which was replaced by "bloody" - the censors left the film largely as presented'.
Unlike Hamilton, academic film scholar Gary A. Smith is somewhat unhappy with the film, writing that although it is 'slow-moving and crudely made, Crucible of Horror is not without interest'. But where Simpson says that the end of the film includes 'a civilized, very British fadeout', Smith simply says that 'the ending definitely needs a greater degree of clarification' regarding Eastwood's sudden reappearance.
Film scholar Phil Hardy dislikes The Corpse. He calls the film 'primarily an actor's exercise in registering various types of fear, from nervousness to terror via anxiety and shock while the narrative abandons any pretence of verisimilitude'. He points out, however, that 'the picture could be seen as an allegory indicating that killing a patriarch doesn't eliminate patriarchy'.
Expanding on the theme of patriarchy, academic film scholar Steve Chibnall writes that Eastwood is an example of 'the monstrous patriarch' as well as a 'demon of the establishment' given his middleclass 1960s lifestyle. He notes that 'feminist critiques of the family were finding loud echoes in British horror films such as The Corpse with its vengeful women and indestructible patriarch' at the time the movie came out. Along the same lines, film historian John Kenneth Muir calls the film 'a peek at a dysfunctional family that has become so broken that murder remains the only option for improving home life'.
- John Hamilton, The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70 Hemlock Books 2013 p 203-207
- Hamilton, John (2012). X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film 1951-1970. Baltimore MD: Midnight Marquee Press. pp. 203–208. ISBN 9781936168408.
- "The Corpse aka Crucible of Horror - UK, 1969". Horrorpedia. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
- "Crucible of Horror (1971)". American Film Institute. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
- "The 1970s". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
- "The Corpse (1971)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
- "Psycho Killer/The Corpse-Original Vintage Film Poster". Original Poster. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
- "The MPAA Rating Systems". University of California at Los Angeles. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Simpson, Howard (11 November 1971). "Screen: 2 Horror Films: Twin-Bill Highlighted by 'Crucible of Horror'". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
- Channel, Justin (4 June 2018). "Mainstream hits, X-rated double features shared the screen at area drive-ins". The Observer-Reporter. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
- "Full List of Elvira's Movie Macabre Episodes". Ranker.com. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
- "Feature Reviews". BoxOffice. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
- "Review Digest". BoxOffice. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
- Smith, Gary A. (2012). Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films 1965-1976. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. Inc. pp. 53–54. ISBN 0786426616.
- Hardy, ed., Phil (1986). The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies. NY: Harper & Row Publishers. p. 204. ISBN 0060550503.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
- Chibnall, Steve; Petty, Julian,eds. (2002). "A Heritage of Evil: Peter Walker and the politics of Gothic revisionism". British Horror Cinema. NY: Routledge. pp. 156–171. ISBN 0415230047.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
- Muir, John Kenneth (2008). Horror Films of the 1970s, Vol. 1. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. Inc. pp. 101–103. ISBN 978-0-7864-3104-5.