CRUCIBLE OF HORROR. (1971) DIRECTED BY VIKTORS RITELIS. STARRING MICHAEL GOUGH, SIMON GOUGH, JANE GURNEY AND YVONNE MITCHELL.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This psychological horror-thriller, also known as THE CORPSE and THE VELVET HOUSE, is a really dark film, and the darkest starring role Hammer actor Michael Gough (DRACULA, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) probably ever had. He plays Walter Eastwood, a wealthy middle-aged financier who’s the very model of a prim and proper English businessman of the period.
He discusses stocks and shares and reads the financial news over breakfast with his son Rupert, who works alongside him in the family insurance firm. He likes listening to classical music and going hunting with his posh friends. He loves his guns. ‘Who touched my guns?’ His accent is pure cut-glass British toff and his behaviour, I am sure, is circumspect in every particular but one.
To his terrorised wife Edith, an artist, and his beautiful teenage daughter Jane, he is a monster. He controls their every move and watches them like a hawk, even going so far as to read their mail right in front of them. He controls the purse-strings too and gives Jane no pocket money whatsoever, which assures that her friends tire of her quickly as she never has any money of her own to pay her way.
Worse than this, however, he abuses Edith and Jane physically in the most savage of ways, whipping them with his riding crop when they fail to measure up to his exacting standards, which seems to be often.
Early on in the film, he whips Jane brutally for stealing the kitty from his precious golf-club, which she probably only pinched in the first place because he never gives her any money of her own to hang out with her friends, of whom he naturally disapproves anyway. What’s she meant to do?
Jane is a real looker and Walter’s whipping of her in her bedroom definitely seems to have a strong sexualised element to it. Even if he hasn’t raped her or misused her sexually before, he certainly seems obsessed with her and gets enjoyment from chastising her physically.
It will transpire later in the film that Edith, who seems so brutalised from her husband’s ill-treatment that she has become languid, vague and spaced-out (she will almost certainly be taking prescription sleeping pills and/or tranquilisers), has given the works of the Marquis de Sade to Jane to read. In order, presumably, to make Jane understand why her father behaves towards her the way he does.
Both women seem to have him pegged pretty much correctly as a sexual sadist. If I were Jane, I’d keep my bedroom door permanently locked, although it doesn’t seem like Walter Eastwood is the kind of man to permit his women-folk to lock him out in his own house. He thinks nothing of barging in when Jane is only half-dressed, either, although maybe that’s exactly the state of deshabillé he’s hoping to find her in.
No support whatsoever is forthcoming from Rupert, Edith’s son and Jane’s big brother. He seems to enjoy witnessing his father’s savage sarcasm and controlling behaviour towards Edith and Jane, and one wonders whether he will take his father’s place as the dominant male figure in the family when his father grows too old- or too dead- to do it.
The morning after the golf club money whipping, when poor Jane is barely able to walk from the severity of the injuries inflicted upon her, Mum whispers to her daughter once the men have taken leave of the breakfast table: ‘Let’s kill him.’ It’s the only way they can both be free of Walter and his psychological, financial and physical cruelty…
This bit reminds me of when Mandy and Beth Jordache in Scouser soap opera BROOKSIDE murdered Trevor Jordache in the soap in the early 1990s. Trevor, Mandy’s husband and Beth’s father, had inflicted years of brutal physical and mental abuse- and also the sexual abuse of his daughter Beth- on his little family and they were quite simply driven to the edge of despair by it.
It’s a long time ago now since this happened and even BROOKSIDE itself is now sadly defunct, but I think that Mandy and Beth decided to kill Trevor when he started sexually abusing Rachel, Beth’s younger sister. It was a bridge too far for the two women.
Either way, THE BODY UNDER THE PATIO was one of the most exciting and dramatic storylines ever attempted by a British soap opera and the part of Trevor Jordan was brilliantly played by Irish actor Bryan Murray.
I met Bryan Murray on the LUAS (our Dublin trains!) a few months ago and we had a nice chat about BROOKSIDE and he signed an autograph for me in the book I was reading at the time, which was THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, the 2008 book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Which was nice, as yer man says on THE FAST SHOW…!
Anyway, things get a bit messy and confusing in CRUCIBLE OF HORROR once the decision has been taken by Edith and Jane to put an end once and for all to their terrible sufferings by offing Walter Eastwood, the fountainhead of all their misery. I do love the ending, though, it’s so deliciously black and grim and hopeless!
Rupert Eastwood is played by Michael Gough’s real-life son Simon. What must have been even odder for them both is that Jane is played by Simon Gough’s real-life wife Sharon Gurney. Michael Gough as Walter Eastwood had to pretend to lust after and get turned on by whipping his very own daughter-in-law, in other words…!
There’s a very funny flashback scene which I’m quite certain was added gratuitously by the film-makers, in which a naked, dripping wet Jane is hauled out of a lake and slapped around the place by Walter for skinny-dipping. It’s not funny that Walter’s being violent, but they didn’t have to include a nudie skinny-dipping scene, it’s purely for sexy kicks, lol.
The film is based on an old French movie called LES DIABOLIQUES which, if I describe the plot of same to you guys now, would be a spoiler as to how CRUCIBLE OF HORROR pans out. I haven’t seen LES DIABOLIQUES myself yet but I intend to dig it out. It’s a French psychological thriller from 1955 directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot starring Simone Signoret, by the way.
There’s a feeling of dread throughout CRUCIBLE OF HORROR because of the dreadful quality of life handed down to Edith and Jane by the tyrannical Walter, whom I must say is the worst, most evil movie-father I’ve ever encountered. And that makes him the best in my book, lol.
I would have given the film a different title as I’m not sure to what the titular ‘crucible’ refers (unless it’s the bowl that Jane… No, wait, I’ve said too much!), but that’s only nit-picking. I loved this film. Try and see it if you can at all.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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