UnPalanced: CRAZE Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Nucleus. 15.

Neal Mottram (Jack Palance) is the oldest swinger in town and just about the least successful antique dealer in the world, but the antics that go on in the cellar under his shop would cause Fiona Bruce to raise her eyebrow (even higher than usual)… robed acolytes prostrate themselves before an African fetish doll representing “the all-powerful God of love, Chuku” while dusky beauties remove their shirts and gyrate energetically. All good clean fun, but when the deposed former head of Mottram’s coven turns up to claim the Chuku carving for herself, claiming that “Aleister left it to me” (geddit?) she ends up accidentally impaled on one of its claws. Mottram rolls her up in a carpet and dumps her in the river. Shortly thereafter, while fretting about his finances, he discovers a fistful of doubloons in a secret drawer on one of his pieces and comes to the conclusion that Chuku is paying him off for the blood sacrifice he accidentally made. This is the point where, to quote the art work: “Black magic explodes into murder” (doncha just hate it when that happens?) Transformed from libertine dilettante to true believer, our increasingly koo koo, Chuku-worshipping antique dealer bumps off a series of victims in honour of his idol.

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First to go is loose-living strumpet Helena (the scrumptious Julie Ege), who after a sex and drugs bender with Mottram (nice work, fella!) fails to treat Chuku with sufficient reverence and ends up having her face roasted in Mottram’s basement agar. Dominatrix Sally (Suzy Kendall, labouring under an alarming bed spring perm) is talking Mottram through her price list for specialist services when he throttles her to death (briefly quoting Hitchcock’s Frenzy in the process) and, in an overly convoluted piece of plotting, he sets up a tryst with a blowsy ex Dolly (Diana Dors) only to drug her so he can slip away and stake his rich, elderly aunty (Edith Evans, no less) through the neck on her croquet lawn and cite his alleged night of passion with Dolly as an alibi. Chuku keeps his side of the bargain, as previously overlooked Ming vases start turning up in the shop. Mottram inherits his aunt’s worldly chattels too, so I guess Chuku helps those who help themselves.

Detective Sergeant Wall (Michael Jayston), the Gene Hunt of his day (come to think of it, it was Gene Hunt’s day, too) is determined to bring the arrogant antiques dealer to book for these dastardly crimes but as his boss Superintendent Bellamy (Trevor Howard, no less) keeps telling him, they’ve got no evidence. Mottram’s crimes become less and less meticulously planned, however, under the influence of his blind faith in Chuku’s protective powers and slowly but surely, the noose begins to tighten. First Dolly clues Wall in on Mottram’s penchant for black magic, then he gets into an axe wielding tiff with long-suffering boyfriend Ronnie (Martin Potter) while their place is being staked out by Detective Wilson (David Warbeck) and it all ends, predictably, in tears.

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Just when you thought they’d gone a bit quiet recently, Nucleus return with this delirious dollop of early ’70s horror hokum. Craze (1974) is just one of the journeyman horror efforts that Freddie Francis directed, with increasing reluctance, as a sideline to his distinguished career as a cinematographer. He had already directed Palance in a very similar role (as an obsessive collector of Poe memorabilia) in Torture Garden (1967) but whatever familiarity existed between them obviously didn’t empower Francis to negotiate a scintilla of restraint in his star’s performance (though admittedly Hugh Griffiths, during his brief appearance as a solicitor, chews the scenery even more alarmingly than Palance.)

It’s been suggested that Francis, like just about everybody else who ever met Palance, was intimidated by him but Jonathan Rigby proposes, in the bonus featurette Crazy Days, an alternative theory, i.e that Francis really couldn’t be arsed by this point. Rigby, as ever, proves a value for money rentapundit, drawing from a seemingly bottomless well of information and anecdote on his subject. His dedication to duty extends to going through copies of old girlie mags to establish which one Palance was reading during his phone conversation with Kendall (I have to say, this is an area of research that I’ve always found particularly rewarding.) I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that Rigby has the Chuku figure in his own basement, for which reason I’m not prepared to say anything remotely negative about him… and anyway, who could take possibly take issue with his judgement that “with the accompaniment of a few beers, Craze remains a ridiculous but very entertaining film.”6a00d83451d04569e20192aad95d68970d-500wi.jpgThat’s largely down to the astonishing cast that veteran exploitation producer Herman Cohen assembled for this one, chock-a-block with up-and-comers, has-beens, never-weres and reliable character actors. In the posthumously rediscovered interview that I did with David Warbeck, shortly to premiere in Dark Side magazine, he talks a lot about Craze and having now watched it for the first time since pre-Cert days, I was surprised to see just how little screen time he actually gets in it.

Additional extras include a PDF of the US press book plus trailers for this and other Freddie Francis pictures along with coming attractions for other titles that Marc and Jake have already released or will soon be releasing. As presented here, Craze looks pretty good for a 42 year-old exploitation picture although to justify its billing as “first time uncut on DVD in the UK”, three brief sequences that were not in the available negative have been sourced from an obviously inferior 1″ master by these die-hard completists.

Like the man said… ridiculous but VERY entertaining.

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