My notes on Crucible of the Vampire
This small-scale British indie horror film shows that director Iain Ross-McNamee – who co-wrote with Darren Lake and John Wolskel – has come a long way, or gained access to more resources, since his interesting-but-awkward microbudget debut feature The Singing Bird Will Come. Obviously rooted in British horror traditions of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, it opens with a black and white period prologue in which beardy warlock Ezekiel Fletcher (Brian Croucher) is hanged by John Stearne (John Stirling), sidekick of the well-remembered witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins. In the present day, and muted colour, assistant curator Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) is sent to Shropshire to examine an artifact (half a cauldron) that has been unearthed in a remote country house. The Scott-Morton household runs to gnome-like patriarch Karl (Larry Rew), his theatre designer wife Evelyn (Babette Barat) and their blonde, flighty, strange daughter Scarlet (Florence Cady) – who roots through the guest’s things in search of sniffable/wearable underwear, and seemingly sprouts fangs when her sexual interest is piqued. Also around are a gardener (Neil Morrissey) who issues ominous warnings; a barmaid in the village (Angela Carter) who gets Isabelle to open up about her suitability as a virgin sacrifice; and – perhaps in spectral form – Ezekiel’s vampire daughter Lydia (Lisa Martin). The title gives away the nature of the beast, but is also misdirection – since this is a slightly different sub-generic beast, pitching closer to the Norman J. Warren of Satan’s Slaves than the Jose Larraz of Vampyres, and more in tune with the Hammer of Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense than of The Vampire Lovers. The borrowed old house location looks impressively chilly, and Rew and Cady deliver effective studies in a posh, entitled, selfishness which shades into supernatural malice – they’re ridiculous, of course, but also convincingly ghastly people. It’s fairly restrained in its horrors – and, for all its potential seaminess, quite chaste.
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