Monday, February 11, 2019

Crucible of the Vampire – review

Director: Iain Ross-McNamee

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

The lack of fanfare for the release of this British vampire flick was somewhat disappointing, little seemed to fly around (I’d noticed it on Amazon as a pre-order, identified through an unrelated search) and that is a shame for, whilst not earth-shattering, this film (released dual format on Blu-Ray and DVD) does much right.

I have used a poster found on IMDb (rather than the Blu-ray art) to illustrate this review as I thought it particularly eye-catching and the film itself owes much to the classic British horror outputs of the 60s and 70s. It has an interesting premise, and uses character building to produce its atmosphere (there is a tad of gore late on but very little indeed).

fate of the necromancer
It begins with a moment of a woman, Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch), hiding, covering her mouth to muffle her breathing. We see the glimpse of a knife in the hand of someone climbing stairs. Things then move to Black and White and the 17th century. A man, Ezekiel (Brian Croucher), plays a flute whilst a cauldron bubbles. He hears a movement and calls out for Lydia (Lisa Martin). Rather a group of soldiers led by puritan witch hunter Stearne (John Stirling) come out of the woods. He accuses Ezekiel of witchcraft and necromancy (Lydia has been seen walking since her death) and claims that the cauldron is brewing a draft to feed his familiar. When Ezekiel refuses to eat of “his dinner” Stearne cleaves the cauldron in two and Ezekiel is taken to a tree and hung.

the cauldron
Leaving aside the lack of due process (there was a due process involved in the witch trials, albeit deliberately flawed) and the improbability of cleaving a bronze cauldron in two, its an effective opening. We then move to 2017 and see Isabelle going to work at the university she is employed by. When there, her boss (Phil Hemming) shows her a picture of a cauldron and she identifies it as the Strearne Cauldron, the university holds. She then realises it is the missing half. He is going to send her to look at the newly unearthed find to verify its authenticity.

Robert and Isabelle
Off then to the “big house” as a guest of Karl (Larry Rew) and his wife Evelyn (Babette Barat). It becomes clear that the restoration of the house is costing more than the family have (and that the sale of the cauldron is seen as being a way of raising capital). Adult, daughter Scarlet (Florence Cady), is somewhere in the house and, looking out of the window from her room, Isabelle notices gardener Robert (Neil Morrissey, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle). As the film progresses Isabelle realises all is not right with those she shares the house with, especially Scarlet. All the time she continues excavating the cauldron half.

So, the title of the film leaves little to doubt, and Scarlet seems the epitome of a seductive vampire, so it is of little surprise when she turns out to be one. Indeed she is a lesbian one (or at least bisexual) and the seduction of Isabelle that occurs in one scene is powerful in that the director decided not to be explicitly exploitative with a scene drawn out of traditional horror sexploitation (whilst a sexual act occurs, there is no flesh on show). Indeed, whilst witnessing the film reaching to that tradition, I had to contain a slight approving snort of amusement on discovering that the house had, for a while, been a girl’s boarding school.

the dark lady
The story – partly revealed through a document from the 19th century that Isabelle finds – tells of the “dark lady”. Lydia was being restored by her necromancer father but the interference of Sterne and the breaking of the cauldron interrupted the process and Lydia has haunted the area and the house since (it would appear). She is summoned by a tune (the flute played by her father in the opening), but at times it seems she is spectral at others physical. A restored cauldron would give her strength especially if fuelled by virgin blood (there is a disconnect when Isabelle suggests she is not particularly religious and yet was Catholic enough to remain a virgin, waiting for marriage). An inscription on the cauldron talks of a pre-Christian queen restored to life by the cauldron through the blood of her enemies.

Larry Rew as Karl
The vampires can be active in daytime but there is a sunlight aspect added to the lore. Beyond that, flashing eyes, fangs and a lack of reflection there is very little lore communicated. The acting works, the dialogue flows but there is an off-kilter element that is deliberately added to the characters associated with the house. The setting works well, but there is a slight pacing issue with the film and it could do with a slightly faster tempo through its middle third (the addition of ‘chapter titles’ was perhaps a tad superfluous also). The ending shifts the gears massively, however. It is a solid piece of British vampire horror, it has an interesting premise, is well photographed but doesn’t change the world. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray and DVD @ Amazon US

On Blu-ray and DVD @ Amazon UK

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