Victor Clare (former BBC DJ, Mike Raven) is an artist. He "worships" beauty. He wants to "preserve" and "possess" beauty. That's why he never sells his work. It's not his job, it's his devotion. Fortunately, his workload is manageable because his taste in beauty is narrow. No trees or sunsets or daffodils. No landscapes, or still lives, or abstracts. He only paints women. Young women. Young nekkid women. And nothing but.
Hey, he's an artist.
Actually, Victor doesn't just paint. He also sculpts. If you've seen House of Wax (1953), you've got a rough idea of his technique. It's one reason the film is called Crucible of Terror. A crucible is "a vessel used for melting or calcining materials at high temperatures." It's also "the bottom of an ore furnace in which the molten metal collects." Victor owns one of each.
A crucible is also "a severe test or trial." People trapped in a tense, suffocating social setting are said to be in a crucible. That pretty much describes Victor's dinner parties. Millie (Mary Maude) endured one of those. In fact, she suffered through an entire weekend with Victor and family. One can't blame her if she ends up dumping Jack (James Bolam).
Here's how it all began ...
Jack, the owner of a London art gallery, is in a financial pickle. He could escape debt if only he had more works by that mysterious reclusive artist, whose bronze sculpture of a nekkid woman sold for a good price. But Victor (who else?) refuses to sell his works. Luckily for Jack, Victor's no-good drunken son, Michael (Ronald Lacey), has been stealing dad's works, to sell to Jack. But Michael can't sell too many, lest Victor notice.
Michael agrees to arrange a meeting between Jack and Victor at the family cottage, out in the country. Fresh air, craggy headland seashore, abandoned tin mine said to be haunted... Anyway, they all drive up for the weekend: Jack and Millie (his fiancée), Michael and wife Joanna (Melissa Stribling).
At the cottage they meet Victor, his wife Dorothy (Betty Alberge), his artist's model (i.e., lover) Marcia (Judy Matheson), and Bill (John Arnatt), the milquetoast "family friend." Bill's a cardigan-wearing wimp (despite his extensive samurai sword collection) who's been pining after Dorothy for thirty years. He doesn't even mind that Dorothy's richest conversations are with her dolls and stuffed animals, whom she feeds at the dinner table.
Crucible of Terror is a dark, and darkly humorous, domestic drama. Victor is a bullying sexual predator. During dinner he squeezes between Joanna and Millie, flirting with both women before their menfolk, neither of whom protest (Michael is intimidated by his dad; Jack doesn't want to ruin the deal). Victor exults in having "two beautiful women under one roof," pointedly ignoring that Marcia and Dorothy are also present. The bisexual Marcia smirks, having seen Victor's other lovers come and go. Dorothy feeds her stuffed dog. Upon seeing which, Victor explodes that he's told her not to bring "that thing" to the dinner table. Tearstruck, Dorothy frets that Victor's hurt her plush toy's feelings.