Jack Palance is the antiques dealer with an African god in his cellar, in this very contemporary 1974 horror from Amicus and Hammer director Freddie Francis.
Palance plays Neal Mottram, who regularly gathers a coven of witches in the basement of his shop in order to make reasonably innocuous sacrificial offerings to an idol of the deity Chuku. But when a disenfranchised former group member turns up late one night, a fatal accident precedes a discovery that solves all of Mottram’s financial problems. Mottram becomes obsessed by the connection between the death and the windfall, embarking upon a process of seducing women who won’t be missed in order to satisfy Chuku’s apparent need for blood.
It isn’t long, despite his faith in Chuku’s protection, before the police, in the form of Trevor Howard and Michael Jayston, start connecting Mottram’s name with the murders. And when Mottram undertakes to add his rich aunt to the sacrificial number in a convoluted scheme that Agatha Christie might have been proud of, he essentially seals his fate in this adaptation of the 1967 Henry Seymour novel Infernal Idol. It is, in spite of the certificate, a pretty tame affair by today’s standards, essentially devolving into a battle of wits between Palance’s taunting shopkeeper and Jayston’s uptight detective, although much pleasure can be derived from enjoying the 1970s fashions and haircuts (Jayston’s comb-across has to be seen to be disbelieved), while there are a host of small roles for some pretty legendary names; Diana Dors as a tawdry former lover and B&B owner, Edith Evans as Mottram’s aunt and Hugh Griffith as her solicitor among them.
Palance gives a wonderfully dry performance as Mottram, a cynical smile never far from his lips, and it’s his relationships with the various other characters that form the meat of the film – including Martin Potter as Ronnie, Mottram’s fretting understudy in the shop and a grounding counterpoint to Palance’s lubricious antiques dealer. Julie Ege and Suzy Kendall are terrific as two of the women Mottram picks up.
Sadly the picture quality is rather dodgy in spots, notably some of the cellar-based sequences – ironic given that Francis’ main achievements were his two Oscars for cinematography – although rather than spoiling the fun, this merely adds to the feature’s archive nature. Craze has a very post-Summer of Love feel, with globetrotting hippy chicks and typically early 1970s fish eye lens photography, and by marrying these elements with a very downmarket London milieu – a mix of cheap and chipper sex workers and bustling but lonely railway stations – Francis’ film nails itself resolutely to its period. It’s seedy and low rent and ostentatiously pulpy, but it’s also tremendously enjoyable in an entirely unpretentious manner.
Special Features: gallery / trailers / Crazy Days featurette
CRAZE (1974) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: FREDDIE FRANCIS / SCREENPLAY: HERMAN COHEN, ABEN KANDEL / STARRING: JACK PALANCE, MARTIN POTTER, DIANA DORS, TREVOR HOWARD, MICHAEL JAYSTON, JULIE EGE, SUZY KENDALL, EDITH EVANS, HUGH GRIFFITH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW