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Craze (1973)

Those of you who are more familiar with Jack Palance's tough-guy persona (raddled old cowboy in City Slickers, not-breathing old cowboy in City Slickers II etc) may be surprised to find that he once had a thriving career as a slightly effete chap in British horror films, even making it to the lofty heights of the ultimate in camp as the title character in a production of Dracula. In Torture Garden he plays a pipe smoking geek, and in Craze he plays a (get this) bisexual antiques dealer. I kid you not. In a role that must have been written for Cushing or Price, he ponces through the home counties in a Cortina estate, seducing podgy has-been Diana Dors and murdering old women by jumping out of cupboards at them.

Craze begins with a topless dancer shaking her voluminous funbags at all and sundry, before having her belly sliced open in front of an ugly looking statue. "I pray the blood letting pleased you..." whispers Palance to the statue. Unlikely really, it looking more like red paint than blood...

Apparently the statue is the god Chuko, and he needs a lot of blood to keep him happy. Luckily it's not long before the old "witch of the coven" arrives, remonstrates with Palance for stealing her idol, and promptly gets impaled by the throat on one of Chuko's many spikes. "There is your sacrifice..." wheezes Palance...

"You and those crazy witches may call it sacrifice," he whines, "The police will call it murder!"

Palance is Neil Mottram, a cardigan wearing antiques dealer with a nice line in acidic wit: "Those African love rays are safer than the pill," he bitches at one point.

The police (represented by Sgt Wall - an angry Michael Jayston) are soon on the case, and Neil's live-in partner Simon doesn't waste any time in berating the old queen for praying to Chuko in the basement of the shop with the door wide open. "You and those crazy witches may call it sacrifice," he whines, "The police will call it murder!"

Following the "sacrifice", Neil finds £1,000 carelessly left in a drawer, and naturally assumes that this is a gift from his god. It's not long, therefore, before he's off cruising the bars, looking for more likely victims. Coming across Julie Ege (always a good bet) he indulges in a spot of chatting up. Ege: "Are you trying to pick me up?"

Palance: "Let's not say 'pick up', let's call it British hospitality..."

Which is a bit rich, considering he's a drawling Yank.

Ege is obviously a cardigan-loving kind of girl, cos it's not long before he's shagged her, foisted a Moroccan woodbine on her and attempted to explain the glories of Chuko, or "our love god" as he prefers to call him. Understandably perturbed at his ravings, Ege makes as if to leave but is forced to perform a dance for Chuko, before having her head shoved in the boiler.

Neil and Simon dump the body, having first removed all her clothes (but not the huge, instantly identifiable ring she's wearing, for some reason), and before you can say "ker-ching!" a pair of Chinese businessmen have bought up a couple of Ming vases.

"Let's close the shop and go to Majorca!" says a delighted, but slightly unambitious, Simon. However, Neil has other plans. And what plans they are, a convoluted attempt to give himself an alibi by parking a variety of cars across the county before slipping into old friend Diana Dors' bed, nipping out to murder his Aunt Louise by jumping out of her from a cupboard in a fright mask, and getting home in time for tea and crumpets.

After a comedy discovery of Aunt Louise's body by the milkman, Sgt Wall wings it round to Mottram's shop. "You're quit the ladykiller, aren't you?" asks the policeman. "I do my share," Mottram replies.

Things are hotting up nicely for a final bloodbath, and Mottram still wants more death - paying a call on Suzy Kendall's security-lax prostitute (£20 for Swedish massage and double voltage vibrator - it'll "make a new man of you", apparently).

The nasty final sacrifice has echoes of Peeping Tom, but Craze can in no way be compared to such a classic. What it actually is is a badly made exploitation piece with zero production values and murky camerawork, only relieved by Palance's reliably over-the-top performance and some bizarre cameos from illuminati like Dors (although as Jayston remarks at one point: "One would have to be pretty desperate to sail into that port") and even Trevor Howard(!) as Superintendant Bellamy.

Director: Freddie Francis Writer(s): Herman Cohen Aben Kandel

Cast: Jack Palance - Neal Mottram, Diana Dors - Dolly Newman, Julie Ege - Helena, Edith Evans - Aunt Louise, Hugh Griffith - Solicitor, Trevor Howard - Superintendent Bellamy, Michael Jayston - Detective Sergeant Wall, Suzy Kendall - Sally, Martin Potter - Ronnie, Percy Herbert - Detective Russet, David Warbeck - Detective Wilson, Kathleen Byron - Muriel Sharp


Last updated: February 18, 2010

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