By rights, any film bearing the title Crucible of the Vampire ought to detail snooker player Ray Reardon's attempts to win the Embassy World Championships in Sheffield, ideally with Christian Bale essaying the lead role beneath a latex widow's peak and with his original Haverfordwest accent. The movie landing on our screens this week is, alas, a strained low-budget throwback horror cramming over-enunciating repertory thesps into the quite nice-looking Midlands stately home writer-director Iain Ross-McNamee secured weekend access to. A monochrome period prologue sees an underling of witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins putting a vagrant to death on a spurious charge of sorcery, before cleaving the unfortunate's cauldron in two; we then flash ahead to latter-day Shropshire, where our wholesome blonde curator heroine (Katie Goldfinch) has been dispatched to investigate reports half of said cauldron has turned up on the grounds of a country house undergoing renovation. Her eccentric-to-glowering hosts are, clearly, Up to No Good, but we may wonder why the one familiar face (TV's Neil "Bluddy Hell!" Morrissey) has been relegated to playing the estate's gardener. (His predecessor, we're told, died in "a mysterious accident", suggesting some crossover between the worlds of Downton and Spinal Tap.)
The film's mysteries are set loose in a flatly functional, no-frills manner, but we're then left sitting around twiddling our thumbs for at least half an hour before any of them even start to be resolved. A terminally draggy second act is hardly enlivened by the recurrence of certain stock characters (a village idiot who proves more savant than anybody offers him credit for, the host's panty-sniffing saucepot daughter), tangential flashbacks and ghost stories, or the gobbets of exposition shared among Morrissey and co. There's a lot of undistinguished talk here, in other words, and the action that Ross-McNamee does seem excited about getting to (some light Sapphism in floral nightwear) is either plain skeezy or nowhere near skeezy enough. That half-bodied quality is finally Crucible's downfall: it's a very 15-rated vamp movie, caught between juvenile swooning and something more adult, and there will almost certainly be direct-to-DVD horror items released this month, sourced from the darkest recesses of the festival circuit, which display greater spark and originality. It's one of those poverty-row offerings that isn't incompetent - some of the beats in the last-reel chase and fight scenes land - but is terribly basic, and has no reason to haunt either our cinemas or imaginations for long: one cast, crew and investor screening would probably suffice.
Crucible of the Vampire opens in selected cinemas from Friday, ahead of its DVD release on Monday.