Craze (1974 Britain)

I’d seen actor Michael Jayston in a couple of things before this and thought he was a good actor. But after seeing his ‘turn’ (as they used to say in our forefathers day) here as a police detective I just thought “what a tosser, they should have got anyone else!” His Detective Sgt Wall character is so thoroughly unlikable and ill mannered that you almost want him to fail to catch the serial killer running amok on his patch. The script for Craze had enough problems before they cast the wrong man in a role the viewer is supposed to sympathize with.

Having said that, this is quite an entertaining romp thanks to Jack Palance’s manly presence and just observing the way films used to be made in the early 1970s. The old cars, much less pedestrians on the streets, virtually no electronic gadgets or surveillance etc to impede naughty men nipping out to commit mayhem in the moonlight before nipping back home (or Diana Dors’ bed) in time for a cup of tea. And no political correctness either. Yes, this wears its male chauvinism on its sleeve. Women are slabs of meat to be used and discarded when needed by ravenous males. Det Sgt Wall: “Quite a lady killer, aren’t you?” Neal Mottram (Jack Palance–while lazily lighting up yet another cigarette): “I do my share.” And what would you expect? This is a Herman Cohen production. We’ll have no pretensions to art here. No sir.

Some films give so few f***s it’s part of their charm. Craze is one such movie that you can watch for free on YouTube for any teenyboppers who feel adventurous. So what’s this gig all about? Bisexual antiques dealer Neal Mottram is the oldest swinger in London. He is a callous, depraved fiend of a man, biting down on little brown cheroots while leering at nearly everyone in his path. He’s so slimy and oily that you’ll want to wipe down whatever screen you’ve watched this on. And what’s that in his basement? An African fetish statue named “Chuku.” Mottram hopes to make himself rich and powerful by sacrificing pretty young ladies to his African fetish statue. This he does wearing a black cape and rollneck jumper and occasionally accompanied by his queer boyfriend. But does he really believe in Chuku as a demonic deity, or is he just in it for the kicks? This is the only subtlety Craze possesses.

The cinematography doesn’t look good, but the sloppiness of the print only serves to heighten the lurid atmosphere. Similarly, it sounds cheap and grubby, but it serves the film just fine. Of course Craze is disposable, often incompetent, trash but its easy to fall for its charms too. Its one of those pop culture – exploitation – curiosities of its time. It even crowbars in distinguished talent like Trevor Howard to provide a little gravitas to proceedings. In a role that may have been written for Vincent Price, Palance tears through the home counties in a Cortina estate, seducing podgy has-been Diana Dors and murdering an old bag by jumping out of a cupboard wearing a mask. But jolly Jack’s face is even more frightening so maybe he was just being kind to the old dear. Smiling wryly through a number of convoluted plans and watertight alibis, he’s good fun, and when the script calls for something more unhinged, Palance can certainly do that too. Trivia note: director Freddie Francis said Palance tried to seduce actress Julie Ege (below) who turned him down. Seems he got lucky for a few seconds. So, plenty of seediness on and off camera. Who would have thought that went on? Shocking!

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