Where Black Magic Explodes Into Murder!
Antique dealer Neal Mottram (Jack Palance) has been practicing occultism for some time now, but for the most part he and his acolytes have merely been playing dress-up. When he discovers, completely by accident, that the one thing missing from his rituals is human sacrifice, he starts killing people off in the name of African god Chuku, and the riches come pouring in. But with the corpses being found around the city, and a couple of crack detectives like Wall and Russett (Michael Jayston and Percy Herbert) on the case, how long can it be before Neal’s sins come home to haunt him?
CRAZE has some good members among its cast, and a healthy bit of sleaze, but it’s mostly a cheap and painfully dull production that meanders slowly without ever arriving anywhere.
For some viewers, the burning question in CRAZE is whether or not Neal and his business associate Ronnie (Martin Potter from 1970’s GOODBYE GEMINI and 1976’s SATAN’S SLAVE) were covert lovers. The Village Voice in their contemporary review sure seemed to think so, and others have picked up on it as well. I admit that it never crossed my mind while watching the film, and even after hearing of the supposed subtext, I have difficulty shoehorning it in. I never got the feeling that Neal liked men. Granted, he never seemed to like women, either, though he did seem sexually attracted to them. No, Neal Mottram came off to me as a heterosexual misogynist (why do you think all of his victims were female?)—which isn’t all that unusual in a horror film.
The real burning question in my eyes is whether or not Chuku actually provided Neal with good fortune. The only really compelling instance of this was when, after the accidental death that kickstarted the chain of events, Neal found a drawer full of gold coins in his office desk. It does seem an odd delivery system for a powerful deity, but at the same time, the desk was obviously being used regularly—it’s doubtful that the gold coins had been there all this time, and Neal had simply never opened the drawer before. Doubtful, but not entirely impossible.
No matter your thoughts on the doubloon debate, the other instances of Chuku intervention are even less convincing. Neal murders another woman and he sells a couple of Ming vases to interested clients… which is, I assume, how his business had always operated. And when he kills his elderly aunt (Edith Evans)—leaping out of her closet with a rather disturbing fright mask—he inherits her estate… which would have been the result a few years down the line anyway, once she keeled over from natural causes.
One could read into the events of CRAZE some sort of commentary on prayer and religion, if they were so inclined. When you pray for something and it comes true, your faith is strengthened. When you pray for something, and it doesn’t come true, you can either lose your faith or content yourself with the fact that technically ‘no’ is a response, and thus your prayers have been answered. And when you pray for some unspecified good to happen, it’s easy to ascribe every little happy occurrence that follows to a higher power.
One could read into the events of CRAZE in that way, but that doesn’t mean you should. I don’t believe this slowly-plodding, overacted film was intended to operate on much more than a surface level. Which is a shame, because there isn’t even that much to admire on the surface.
CRAZE was written by the screenwriting team of Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel, who had also contributed to some much more interesting scripts, including I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (both 1957), HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958), HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM and THE HEADLESS GHOST (both 1959), KONGA (1961), BLACK ZOO (1963), and BERSERK (1967)—all of which Cohen also helped produce on, as well. The above constitutes the entirety of his screenwriting career, though he has a number of other producer credits not mentioned above. Kandel, on the other hand, has a number of scripts written without his associate, including BLOOD OF DRACULA (1957) and TROG (1970). CRAZE was based on the 1967 novel Infernal Idol by Henry Seymour, which has a slightly better reputation than the film does.
Director Freddie Francis also gave us THE BRAIN (1962), PARANOIAC (1963), NIGHTMARE (1964), THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964), DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), and more. He was otherwise known as a cinematographer, and worked in that capacity on almost as many films including THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980), GLORY (1989), and CAPE FEAR (1991).
Jack Palance is, of course, most associated with his roles in western films these days, but he also appeared in a number of genre films. Among them: SUDDEN FEAR (1952), MAN IN THE ATTIC (1953), TORTURE GARDEN (1967), THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1968), the Dan Curtis take on DRACULA (1974), WITHOUT WARNING (1980), ALONE IN THE DARK (1982), and GOR and its sequel (1987, 1988).
For a bit of camp value, we’ve got Julie Ege and Diana Dors in smaller roles. Ege was a Norwegian beauty pageant winner turned model and Penthouse pet. She appeared in a few films, but Hammer briefly made her a starlet with CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT in 1971. Never a great actress, which she readily admitted to, she retired from show business after her 15 minutes of fame were up, eventually taking up nursing, which she did right up until her death in 2008.
The story of Diana Dors is a fascinating one that could serve as the source material for a soap opera. Born in the U.K., she was stunningly beautiful at a very early age, and would often claim to be much older—resulting in a number of dates with GI’s during WWII, a bathing suit competition, and some cheesecake photographs when she was barely thirteen. She began acting only a short time later, landing her first movie role as a “sexy tart” in THE SHOP AT SLY CORNER (1947). Married to Dennis Hamilton at age 19, her manager-husband realized that any press is good press, and under his tutelage she willingly courted the media and controversy. Her life became a series of press stories, full of sex, violence, abortions, tax fraud, theft and divorce—some of it was even true. She became a British sex symbol, and outside of her homeland she was often compared to Marilyn Monroe—but in the U.K., Marilyn Monroe was compared to her. One of my favorite anecdotes from her life is that her movie LADY GODIVA RIDES AGAIN (aka BIKINI BABY, 1951) was temporarily banned in the U.S. because Dors had the audacity to expose her belly-button, so when MY WIFE’S LODGER (1952) was being shot, a similarly salacious scene had to be shot twice—one version in which her navel was exposed for the Brits, and one where it was covered, for the Americans.
Dors could be found in movies, on television, and certainly on magazine covers—there was even an eye-popping Dors in 3D book that would definitely be a pleasure to the senses. She wrote books, she released albums (with sometimes suggestive lyrics)…the woman was everywhere during her prime. She was beyond that prime when she appeared here—detective Walls said of her washed-up character, “One would have to be pretty desperate to sail into that port”—and many have stooped to fat jokes in their reviews of the film. She had surely gained a little weight but she was still attractive, she was the highlight of an otherwise cheapjack production, and she deserves a little more respect than that. She passed away in 1984, and anyone wanting more information should visit her official website.
Chuku demands it.