Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crucible of Terror Still Lacks a Definitive DVD

I've long been an advocate for Crucible of Terror (1971), an oddball, indie British horror film. To learn why, read my review.

For many years, incomplete VHS copies of Crucible of Terror were released in so many editions, I wondered if the film had fallen into the public domain. These VHS editions were badly chopped up, missing scenes, and the washed-out visuals looked to be shot on super-8. (Curiously, the poor visuals aesthetically supported the film's story and characters.)

Then Image Entertainment released a "restored" DVD edition, running at 90 minutes, 26 seconds. A marked improvement. The visuals were sharper, colors more distinct, and about 10 minutes of missing footage had been restored. Alas, Image Entertainment's DVD was fullscreen.

Now Severin has released a widescreen edition of Crucible of Terror, running at 90 minutes, 13 seconds. That's 13 fewer seconds than Image, but perhaps Image's extra 13 seconds are not of the actual film?

Is Severin's edition a marked improvement? Not really. Compare the two screen shots below.

First, a shot from the Image Entertainment edition:

Now a shot from the Severin edition:

The Image edition shows far more of the top and bottom portions. Some ceiling lights, and the bottom of the sculpture, which are visible in the Image edition are missing in the Severin edition.

The Severin edition shows more of the left side of the screen. More of the paintings are seen.

The Image edition shows more on the right side.

Sound and visuals are also better on the Image edition. In two day-for-night shots in the Severin edition, the characters walk in a jerky fashion, whereas they walk smoothly in the Image edition. I'm not sure why.


For more about my views on various old and new horror films, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.

Some of my horror film reviews can also be read at Communist Vampires.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Characters Are the Car in Horror's Rollercoaster

Characters hook an audience. Readers remember Sherlock Holmes and James Bond even if they forget the plot points or dramatic details.

What is character? Writing + acting = character.

The most memorable characters from classic films and TV shows are created by chemistry. The chemistry that occurs when the right actor meets the right part. This is why it's been said that 90% of directing is casting.

What has this to do with scripting a horror film?

When I first saw Dawn of the Dead it blew me away. I was in my teens and had never before seen such gore. But after thirty years of horror, I'm bored by gore. Actors in bad makeup eating bloody intestines put me to sleep.

I think this is why so many zombie comedies are being shot. Hardcore horror fans are jaded. At a certain point, gore alone looks silly or sordid, rather than scary or shocking. Filmmakers can try to "push the gore envelop," but I'm not sure there's anywhere left to go.

How then to engage audiences for your latest horror film? Character.

Horror films have been compared to rollercoasters. To which I'll add: characters are the car. A great character engages an audience. Audiences sympathize and empathize with the character, getting into the character's skin so they can "suspend disbelief" and enter the character's world, being shocked and frightened by whatever shocks and frightens the character.

Effective characters take audiences for a ride on the coaster. Ineffective characters leave audiences standing on the ground, outside the story and looking up at the coaster. They see it twisting and turning, but they're not on board experiencing the thrill of the ride.

How to create an effective character, one who engages an audience? Audiences should care about the character, but that is not to say the character must be likeable.


For more about creating an effective horror story, especially on film or video, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.