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Published:March 15th, 2009 10:51 EST
Jack Palance

Craze-Portrait Of A Dapper African-Idol-Worshipping Coven-Master!

By John G. Kays

CRAZE  * ¼


An Odd Flick Indeed!



Jack Palance As A Coven Master



Director: Freddie Francis; Producer: Herman Cohen; Screenplay: Aben Kandel and Herman Cohen


Cast: Jack Palance, Diana Dors, & Trevor Howard-also with Martin Potter, Dame Edith Evans, Michael Jayston, Hugh Griffith, Julie Ege, and Suzy Kendall


1974-Warner Brothers


Jack Palance plays a bisexual coven master, Neal Mottran, devoted to an African idol, Chuku, a daffyish, bug-eyed icon perched protrusively in his basement (see my image as a better choice for the deity of the Dark Continent). No hushing it up-This is a cookie-cutter, flim-flam, B-movie-template, a knock off, but a bucket of gobliny grins, choice for the witching season. And thus, veteran screenwriter Herman Cohen sagaciously plays the race card, mining Western fears of Africa, black magic, and/or voodoo-hocus-pocus (see movie poster). Some critics have rewarded the film with a zero rating, such as James J. Mulay, in The Horror Film (a bit dated) and British Horror Films web page, who have berated it with horsepower, but I would grant it a two & a half star rating if it were restored and issued on DVD, and perhaps a three star if it were ever re-released in theaters. One might have to grasp for straws to fend pizzazz from this balderdash in its rife, decomposed grade-a video tape yet still. But be zany and creative and play the song Halloween by the legendary Shaggs as ambience for the Craze celluloid, glimmering from your tube.


In the opening instance, after an expeditious jettisoning from the cult, the once head coven witch returns to reclaim her position, (You know very well, I`m the witch of the coven.)  but is liquidated lickety-split.  Neil Mottran (Jack Palance) owns a little antique shop in London and is flat-broke but finds some gold coins in his desk after depositing the aforementioned witch, and reckons them as a gift from the fearsome fickle figure. Congenitally throughout the film, he dispatches a jillion ladies as sacrifices to his dictatorial statuette. Without wantonly exposing the storyboard, one victim is skewered on the ignoble icon`s jagged claws, one burned to death, one unfathomably frightened- then with a brief, yet colossal image conjuration-interlude, impaled on a spike, and ultimately a chippy is throttled with Neil`s dynamic dynamite paw!


The supporting cast is commendatory, especially Diana Dors as Dolly Newman, a once flagrant flame of Neil Mottran. He uses her as an alibi in order to off his auntie for her well-heeled heirloom; ie he sleeps with her but douses her with micky fins lacing her beloved cherry brandy. Diana aptly portrays a cheeky British moll, with dumpy deportment, mellifluous, fake platinum silvery hair, loud beads, and chintzy, modish dresses that are a pick-up for the flick. During an interview with the keener detective, Dolly chimes in: Hey, I don`t want you to think that I`m the sort who flops into bed with any Tom, Dick, or Harry. Detective Sergeant Wall (Michael Jayston) comments: One would have to be pretty desperate to sail into that port, qualifying Neil`s chimerical fling with Dolly.


Other notables include Martin Potter, who portrays Ronnie, Neal`s obedient initiate and antique sales assistant, who eventually musters a semblance of ethics, and even applies an axe to the omnipotent holiness of brass and wood! Towards the end he pipes in: Jane, I`ll have a double, when knocking back several at a pub- as he can see the writing on the wall. To boot, veteran actor Trevor Howard brings in a very smooth portrayal as Superintendent Bellamy, remaining within the prudent guidelines of police investigation. At the climax of the quest he nonchalantly drops: There`s no law against witchcraft, if people think that they can fly on broomsticks, nobody can stop them. He remains cool as a cucumber for the duration of the flick!


Michael Jayston admirably executes the role of Detective Sergeant Wall, really the one who is surely privy to Neal`s sojourns into witchcraft, and he sniffs the cultist`s character: I can`t buy that sir, I`ve studied the man; he has the smell of a lone wolf. Suzy Kendall takes the part of Sally, an ify masseuse, with a cockneyed accent and a puffy, black wig teeming with curls, and she salaciously entertains the dapper villain with cardigan sweaters. Doning green-thumbed salesmanship, Sally demonstrates her massaging instruments as pleasure or pain offerings. Note what we have here: ultra-red lamp, double voltage vibrator, nerve-pump penetrator, muscle soother-you name it we have it, you need it we use it. Well? Huh " From this interview with screenwriter, Herman Cohen, we learn that many of the cast were afraid of Jack Palance, especially the director Freddie Francis, and the actresses too. This truly explains why he could play such an immaculate knave! In fact, Jack went over the top with Julie Ege, one of the many victims, injuring her breast while shooting the scene.


Nonetheless, Jack Palance is what makes this B-flick rock ferociously; he exudes wickedness and cunning, but coasts through the shooting with prerogative and forbearance. And especially with his striking physical presence- a large mustache, coal-black hairpiece, fulsome-crooked- sprawling-wide/split nose, and athletic physique, he bandies about the cheapy sets or props performing his dastardly deeds and duties with ghoulish panache. But he always remains fastidious and business-like, and guards a cool demeanor-his cover as an antique dealer wheelin`and dealin` rare statues or Indian brass work.


The key to Neil`s psychology, or the corn of his character, is his absolute devotion to the ghastly golden-calf. Neil: Do not forget one thing, Ronnie. Who made that fortune possible? Chuku! Ah yes, we can run away from the police, but never from Chuku. As long as we serve him we`re safe. He will always protect us. Ronnie: How, on whose terms? Neil: You know the answer to that. Ronnie: That means what it has always meant: sacrifice, reward, then another bloody sacrifice. When does it all end? Neil: Never! The antecedent of Neil (Jack Palance) is a highly focused tethering to and supplication for the catastrophic carved-figure, and a fondness for filthy luchre!


As the action builds up and Neal knocks off more and more gudgeons for the cockeyed Chuku, and as the police progressively smell a rat, the music acts as a befitting backdrop, and scrupulously syncs with the scenes. There are a couple of hip, discotheque episodes with energizing pop music and frenetic sixties dancing, just to break up the many a moon rampages of Neal. Some barely discernible lyrics at the discotheque seem to sing: Where is the place to be now? What are the names that I should know? Who is the ruling queen now? Everything`s a phase to warlock (?) show! The copious use of congo drums give the many iniquitous spectacles an African angle, and the use of telli-theme rifts accentuate the nadirs and peaks of infrequent plot flourishes. Too, vibraphones are sprinkled throughout the flick with crafty avail. The music was provided by veteran film music composer, John Scott, as clearly seen by his filmography, did many B horror flicks and beaucoup otro tuneish enterprises.


There is a great need for a restoration of Craze, a conversion to a digital format, then a new release on DVD-for now it is an old haggard print; in its VHS state, as a Saturn Productions, Inc. Oddly, though Director Freddie Francis is a veteran cinematographer, the camera work is mostly shoddy and the lighting off. No doubt, the producers were in a huff to bring it to market as fuel for the lustful consumption of British horror (think of the Hammer films).  It is very well suited for the Drive-In, but calamitously that is a moribund format in the market of today.


This B flick reeks of the theme of the evil of Third World culture, and more particularly Africa-a little spurt of Post Modern Neo-Colonialism, or Black Magic Voodoo spoofing!

This theme has precedent, just view the Haitian hocus-pocus of Bela Lugosi in the 1932 classic White Zombie-with such stupefying, stonish zombie eyes and prevailing puffs of smoky magic powder! As Welch Everman points out in his book: Cult Horror Films, Neal Mottran never provides the raison d` etre for such piquant devotion to the dusty, antique idol, thus underscoring the notion of craze, a very sophistic canonization of an African effigy. Eureka!-I purchased a Roget Thesaurus, thus mushrooming my palaver ten-fold; not that this low-caliber film deserves my perfumy confabulation!