2/24/10

Craze (1974): The Antiques Business Can Be Murder!

Freddie Francis was one of the more prolific directors of horror schlock beginning with his 1962 film The Brain and ending with a 1996 episode of Tales from the Crypt entitled “Last Respects”. Along the way Francis made plenty of notable low budget films such as 1965’s The Skull with Peter Cushing, 1970’s Trog with Joan Crawford, and 1985’s Burke and Hare inspired film The Doctor and the Devils. How in the world I’ve gotten this far and never brought up Mr. Francis on the Lair is beyond me. So you can believe that this may be the first time he’s mentioned here, but it won’t be the last. For that first film, I checked out the campy 1974 film Craze starring Jack Palance.

Palance stars as antique dealer Neal Mottram who, in his off time, serves as a high priest of a cult that worships a statue of the African God Chuku. The deity is supposed to bring wealth and good fortune, but Mottram’s antique business is struggling. That is until an exiled cult member struggles with Mottram and gets impaled on the statue. (And that is why your idols should not have sharp edges.)The next day he finds gold in a desk he’s about to sell and becomes convinced that more sacrifices will bring him more wealth. So he starts killing off ladies and his fortunes continue to improve, but when his nervous clerk Ronnie (Martin Potter) finds out what he’s up to, it may prove to be his undoing.

Let me start off to say that the transfer of Craze contained on a four pack of films entitled “Slasher Cinema” is not the crispest looking film I’ve ever seen. The sound and video are both pretty shoddy, and it appears to be a low quality transfer from an already soft looking VHS copy. Even so, I found this film to be fairly entertaining. On IMDB, Craze is listed as a horror/comedy, and while there were comedic elements, I’m not so convinced that they were purposely inserted into the film. Most of them involve Palance going way, waaaaaay over the top, and if there’s one thing I love it’s when Jack starts chewing the scenery.

Palance goes all out in this one, and the caterpillar looking mustache that adorns his face really doesn’t help if you try and take him seriously. As far as being a “slasher”, Palance’s Mottram needs some help. His first murder is accidental, the second sloppy, and the third results in a massive amount of overkill (unless you have to put a stake into the heart of old ladies whom you’ve already scared to death). At least by his last victim, a hooker/dominatrix/masseuse played by Sally Kendall (Torso, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) he finally chooses someone who’s at lest not connected directly to him. The character is absurd, but I suppose his actions make sense in a way. After all what does a failed antique dealer know about murder? Of course the better question is how does the same antique dealer end up worshiping an African God? Naturally there’s no explanation for this at all.

I was a bit surprised to find out that Henry Seymour, the novelist who wrote the book the script was based on, bothered to actually pick an actual African god. I couldn’t find anywhere that mentioned material wealth in exchange for blood sacrifices, but rather I found that Chuku was a creator deity of the Ibo people of Nigeria. I found one interesting myth about the God, and I thought it was worth sharing with you folks. “Once he sent a dog messenger to men, advising them that, should anyone die, they should be laid on the ground and strewn with ashes, after which they would return to life. The dog, however, was tired and so delayed, so Chuku sent a sheep with the same message. It too got delayed, stopping to eat on the way, and on arriving had forgotten the wording of the message it had brought. Guessing, the sheep told men that they should bury a corpse in the earth. When the dog arrived later with the correct message, it was not believed, and so death was established on the Earth.” You just can’t trust sheep to get things right can you?

Back to the film itself, it’s a little hard to judge what the film looked like from the transfer I watched, but it seemed to be put together at least competently. Apart from Palance the other characters are pretty non-descript, and this especially goes for the stock policemen. The only other character that caught my eye at all was Dolly Newman played by Diana Dors. Ms. Dors was quite fetching and seemed a bit like a cross between a Russ Meyer girl and a R. Crumb fantasy. Craze really needed a better foil for Palance, but Martin Potter was such a wet blanket as Ronnie that he never rises to the occasion. That’s really what Craze is missing, conflict. The plot looks great on paper, but the lack of a strong character to stand in opposition to Palance makes the film feel more like the adventures of a blundering serial killer than a horrific thriller.

Freddie Francis made some better films. I won’t say much better films, but better. Craze I can only really recommend if you, like me, are a big fan of the genre work that Jack Palance did in the ‘70’s. If not, then this is a film you’re probably just as well to skip. There’s definitely a nugget of a good idea, but it would take more than a few sacrifices to a God of good fortune to make this one come out on top. I’ll have to revisit Mr. Francis soon since this was hardly an auspicious start for him on The Lair. He might be a prolific genre film maker, but this is one film that is definitely not going to start a Craze.

Bugg Rating
There doesn't seem to be a trailer out there. So instead here's a musical selection from Jack taken from his country album PALANCE...um, enjoy?

5 comments:

  1. Diana Dors is in it? In that case I must see it.

    She did some great cult movies in the early 70s. She's magnificent in Joe Sarno's Swedish Wildcats.

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  2. I'll be checking Wildcats out then. Count me under the new converts to the cult of Diana Dors.

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  3. Swedish Wildcats is not typical Sarno at all. It's almost a feel-good love story, compared to his usual much darker stories. Although it's typical Sarno in that it's sexploitation done with style.

    Diana Dors is also superb in a supporting role Nothing But the Night, a horror film which was the only movie ever made by Christopher Lee's own production company. It's quite a good movie too.

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  4. jervaise brooke hamsterFebruary 25, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    Freddie Francis did make one masterwork "THE CREEPING FLESH" (1972) thats the one you should reveiw, its one of only a few (literally) British films that are worthy of your attention, but always remember Mr. Lightning Bug 999 out of every 1000 films that were ever made in Britain are totally unwatchable garbage.

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  5. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobFebruary 25, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    Hey, "dfordoom", the only good thing about "NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT" is the title "NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT" what a magical title that is, it really does conjure up incredibly magical and haunting imagery in your mind (well it does for me anyway) but the film itself is garbage although its certainly a lot better than anything that the British film industry has produced over the last 30 years which gives you some idea of just how far it has fallen in those 3 decades.

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