When half of an archaic crucible is discovered while excavating in the basement of an old Victorian mansion, Isabelle, an assistant museum curator, is hastily dispatched to authenticate the finding and to confirm the analyst that the cauldron is, in fact, the missing second half to the one in the museum’s possession. Isabelle is greeted by the estate owner, Karl, his wife Evelyn, and their eccentric daughter Scarlet who welcome Isabelle to stay with them while she evaluates the crucible. The unnerving manor home keeps Isabelle awake at night as she frightfully witnesses silhouettes of a young woman wandering through the haunting corridors and the untended rooms. As Karl brushes Isabelle’s nightly concerns to the side, impatiently urging her to summon for the other half of the piece and finalize a match that would then focus on the crucible’s value, the young curator can’t shake the continuously dreadful sensation that danger lurks in every dark corner of the estate and that the residents are inherently grooming her for a sinister awakening of immortality and power.
Writer-director Iain Ross-McNamee has diffidently checked all the British-gothic horror boxes in his latest film, a brooding vampire macabre entitled “Crucible of the Vampire.” “The Singing Bird Will Come” director co-writes the script with Darren Lake and “I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle” screenwriter John Wolskel to reel in the once was, the gilded age of British horror that made a nick in time with the vehemently violent and boldly colorful enriched Hammer Horror. Like other genetic make-ups of horror bodies, Hammer Horror has a genome of a check list of self-defining attributes and “Crucible of a Vampire” aims to notch a few key elements including the Gothicism finesse, the sexually unchaste vampire, and, also, to deliver big horror on a small budget. Ross-McNamee places stakes not into the cold, bloodthirsty hearts, but more so into construing a film that isn’t a carbon copy of the old days, adding a contemporary digital presentation that’s laced generously with contemporary photography techniques even when the opening prelude is set in the 17-century and shot in a sepia style.
The story centers around the assistant curator, Isabelle, who has wearisome tendencies of 24/7 suspicion, being a pawn in every sense of the word. From the head curator to Karl’s family, Isabelle finds herself alone in tight spots and not many people she can count on. There are a couple of characters that are potential allies, but their feeble attempts in buffering Isabelle from the house’s evil secret are no thinker than a single sheet of college rule paper. Isabelle herself is her strongest defense and when push comes to shove, the curator turns ass kicker against a family of vampire acolytes. Katie Goldfinch handles Isabelle with reasonable composure, if not slightly timid at times, especially during fight sequences. Goldfinch sustains her lead performance of her sophomore feature film that is exposition heavy to formulate an isolating and intimidating dynamic between her and Karl’s family. Karl’s portentous cruelty is town-renowned, shaped by rumors and peppered with truisms and Larry Rew channels Karl precisely. The “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” actor has traditional methods of able to creep one out by standing still and speaking with a vigorously commanding tone, but Rew feels significantly older compared to his wife and daughter. Karl’s wife, Evelyn, stammers as a wild card in a role that seems to go nowhere and Babette Barat can only strut her hippie performance of Evelyn so far until we’re wondering what’s significance as a mother, as a wife, and as part of the crucible grand scheme. Scarlet had the opposite effect as the daughter was overly forward with defining her intentions that toward Isabelle that involved stealing, desiring, and chastising. Scarlet’s predestined for villainy and actress Florence Cady provides a fringe heavy and tantalizing seductive performance. So much so, Cady nearly becomes the female lead, but certainly overshadows the crucible’s calling, a vampire named Lydia, a non-verbal role with barely much screen time given to wild-eye, teased haired, and paled Lisa Martin. Angela Carter, Brian Coucher (1995’s “Underworld”), Phil Hemming, Aaron Jeffcoate (AMC’s “The Terror”), Charles O’Neill (“Cripsy’s Curse”), and the UK Bob of “Bob the Builder” Neil Morrissey co-star.
If “Crucible of the Vampire” is supposed to be a reawakening of British gothic horror, Ross-McNamee went without the vibrancy of color and went without much of the fervent violence that Hammer Productions was keen on. “Crucible of the Vampire” sustains a dissimilar path focally toward more exposition to forefront a narrative until an action climax that’s initiated by awkwardly edited gratuitous nudity and weak character flaws. Like being brewed inside the ironclad enclosure of a crucible, the filmmaker simmered a story that quietly bubbled to the surface until it boiled over uncontrollably and extinguished itself, splattering onto the floor below in a heap of smoke. Act three is misshapen by the prior two acts with one issue being Isabella transforming in an instant into a complete bad ass when faced with death because of her pure, virgin blood. In a blink of an eye, she literally kills five acolytes with a melee weapons that include a rustic knife, the crucible, a metal pipe, and a fired filled chalice. The kill by fire chalice and other igniting instances during the film saw shoddy outcomes of superimposed, computer generated fire which really do speak the inane quality of the visual effects. Even with the practical effects, blood doesn’t spray or gush onto a wall when a vamp victim has his throat become the main course; instead, the effect squirts on the adjacent wall like from a condiment squeezer, losing a sense of convincing value.
ScreenBound Pictures presents “Crucible of the Vampire,” a Ghost Dog Films’ production, onto an all region PAL dual format, DVD/Blu-ray home video release. The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p with a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Picture looks absolutely gorgeous with the natural color palate, but slightly stodgy with the blood red vampire vision in only a couple of brief scenes. Details are fine and textures slice through, especially in the opening segments of Isabelle walking along the river line, and in conjunction with aesthetic wide shots that monolithic structures, like an old giant tree or the Victorian home. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 LCPM uncompressed audio track is not a film that necessarily needs five channels, but does utilize them when the night churns out bumps in the darkness. The dialogue has prominence, depth, and range without breaking or interrupting the audio lineage. The staid score by Michelle Bee and Amanda Murray floundered in the lossless audio as an unfortunate miscue to reel in and hammer away the gothic vision. This release came with no bonus features in a day and age where most Blu-rays do have some sort of extra content. “Crucible of the Vampire” has earned merit in the traditional British gothic horror sub-genre that’s been flailing over the years, reinvigorating the concept of dark arts and lesbian vampires, but loses footing at crucial moments that ultimately unglues the narrative.