19th Feb2018

Berlinale 2018: ‘Crucible of the Vampire’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Katie Goldfinch, Florence Cady, Neil Morrissey, Charles O’Neill, Brian Croucher, Aaron Jeffcoate, Larry Rew, Babette Barat, Lisa Martin, John Stirling, Angela Carter, Phil Hemming | Written by Darren Lake, Iain Ross-McNamee, John Wolskel | Directed by Iain Ross-McNamee


“British horror”, as a genre, has never really gone away but in recent years it seems that this small corner of our cinematic shores has found itself once again. Shying away from the Carry On-esque mixture of dick and fart gags and horror that once marked out British-made fare, filmmakers have instead returned to the genres more gothic roots, taking inspiration from the likes of Hammer and Tigon – yet stil bringing modern sensibilites and concerns to the fore. It’s that mixture that has borne out some great films over the past few years: The Sleeping Room, The Forgotten, Darkness Wakes, Ghost Ship, Ghosts of Darkness… And you can now add Crucible of the Vampire to that list.

Crucible of the Vampire sees Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch), a naive university researcher, sent to a foreboding, gothic manor house in rural Shropshire to verify that an ancient crucible is that of a Sorcerer from the 17th Century who was executed for bringing the dead back to life. As Katie delves further into the crucible’s history, it soon becomes apparent that the house holds more than one dark secret…

I’ll be honest we’re in VERY familiar territority here. A naive heroine goes to a large stately manor where the creepy homeowners act weird and are hiding a secret. Nothing really new there (in fact the recent Darkness Wakes used the exact same plot device). However it’s clear that writer/director Iain Ross-McNamee wasn’t aiming for something completely original; rather he was looking to carry on the grand tradition of quality British gothic horror. And on that level Crucible of the Vampire succeeds tremendously!

If I did have any issue with Crucible of the Vampire, it’s with the flashbacks. In particular the one that opens the film. The script, at one point, references Matthew Hopkins and the Witchfinder General, a strong personality and an even stronger character in the movie of the same name. Which means the opening footage set in the 17thCentury, featuring a witchfinder punishing a so-called sorceror, should have been a bold scene-setter for what was to come (the opening credits even reads “chaos and terror stalk the land” trying to set up a frightening scene worthy of the Witchfinder General reference), but instead it, thanks to some poor performances, lacks the power and the punch needed to open the film in such a shocking manner. But it’s a small qualm and one, in the bigger picture, that doesn’t take away anything from what follows.

What follows continues the very British tradition of mixing sex and violence, in much the same way Hammer did back in the day. McNamee’s film is filled with overtly sexual, somewhat forceful characters, virginal heroes, lashings of blood and a hint of gothic romance, all of which underpin the entire film; making this feel like as much of a homage to the classics of Tigon and Hammer as any film possibly could.

But Crucible of the Vampire is not just about paying homage to films of the past, it’s also about showcasing todays talent and Iain Ross-McNamee has two fantastic talents in his two leading ladies. Florence Cady, as Scarlet Scott-Morton, exudes the same kind of dangerous female sexuality that made Linda Hayden’s performances in Blood on Satans Claw and Expose so compelling. Meanwhile Katie Goldfinch embodies that same, strong-willed heroine that you see in films like Suspiria and Rosemary’s Baby – women trying their damnedest to fight against the rising tide of evil; with a vulnerablity that provides a sense of danger, yet an inner strength that drives them forward to fight through their fears.

Cady and Goldfinch’s characters may be polar opposites but the two actresses? Well they deliver equally powerful central performances that hold the film together and are crucial to Crucible of the Vampire‘s success. And succeed this film certainly does.

****½  4.5/5

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