Judy Matheson - working with Ron
Interviewed by Chelsea Moss (October 2022)
Hi Judy! Hope you're well... here are a few questions about the film you made with Ron, Crucible of Terror! That you for letting us "interview" you for the website!
First of all, when did you first get started acting? Was it what you always wanted to do?
I started acting after 3 years at drama school. I had always done a lot of drama at school; we had a very good extracurricular drama teacher who entered us for exams & took us to compete in local drama festivals. So, yes, it was more or less destined!
When did you first meet Ron? Was it for Crucible or had you met before?
I first met Ron at the read-through for Crucible. He was hysterically funny. He couldn’t take it seriously & had us in constant fits of giggles throughout. It certainly broke the ice!
You've been such a wonderful support for this project keeping Ron's memory alive. What was it about him that made you want to reach out to us?
I would say that it was you who reached out to me ! But I love what you’re doing to keep his memory alive. His was a very rare talent; extremely versatile, which made him very much in demand by directors & producers; a very ‘useful‘ actor, if you will.
Have you any fond memories of the location, because it's very scenic and attractive!
Yes, many memories. We used to meet up for wonderful farmhouse breakfasts, provided by a local farmer’s wife. All the locations were stunning to work in. And so lovely to be so near the sea.
Which brings me to one of my favourite scenes, throwing rocks at Ron until collapses in the sea! were you actually throwing rocks at him?
Haha! I was throwing stones but not actually at him! The magic of filming! I think the reverse shots were an assistant director throwing stones at Ron - my throws were far too weedy!
Do you ever hear from fans of the film, or is it mostly the Hammer films people remember?
Yes, I often hear from fans of Crucible. It has a very definite cult following, which doesn’t seem to lessen as time goes on.
From Tristan on Facebook:
"You were in quite a broad range of stuff for a while, including The Sweeney and The Professionals... it actually looks like you had quite a fun selection of genre roles, action, horror, thriller... Did you have a particular favourite? "
I can’t say I have a particular favourite. I just liked well written roles, & I liked playing roles with strong character. Some of my favourite roles were the 2 Z cars I did. They were well written & huge fun. You’re right, a lot of my work was varied & fun!
From Gavin on Twitter:
"Hi Judy & Chelsea. Judy, Crucible of Terror aside, what's your favourite performance from Ron's work?"
Well, predictably I suppose it was Toht in Raiders. He was amazing in that.
But I also loved all his comedies, Blackadder, Porridge etc. He really was a tremendous actor!
From Pete on Twitter:
"How did you and Ron prepare your scenes
Well, I don’t think there was much preparation, that I remember. We would have run the words, & then rehearsed the moves for camera, & then just gone for it.There wasn’t a lot of time, it being a small budget film. But Ron was an exciting actor to play opposite, because he could vary his performance with each take, which I loved to respond to.
From Michael on Twitter:
"Was Crucible of Terror a fun film to make, did Ron bring humour to the set?"
You have hit the nail on the head! Ron was always goofing around & making jokes, though when it came to the actual preparation & shooting he was very professional. He was huge fun to work with!
From Ian on Facebook:
Yes, I do. I think any fine actor should be able to ‘ do creepy’. Eddie Marsan, Con O’Neil, Paul Freeman, Kenneth Cranham - to name but a few. But Ron was definitely unique in his style of ‘creepyness’!
From Sally on Facebook:
"Did you ever work with Ron again after Crucible?"
Short answer, no! Sadly for me.
CRUCIBLE OF TERROR (1971)
It begins with the sight of a furnace blazing in some deep, dark place, and a sound like heavy, ragged breathing. It is the noise of the bellows driving the flames, but it also feels rather like it’s the sound of some old perv leering at a young woman and asking her to satisfy his artistic urges. Thus, the tone is set.
Crucible of Terror gives the impression that it’s going to be a brazen reworking of The Mystery of the Wax Museum; before the credits even start we are shown a man murdering a young woman with liquid bronze, turning her into statue in the process.
In fact, this allusion to the 1933 classic (or possibly just Carry on Screaming) turns out to be something of a misdirection, and the film also touches on a variety of other familiar ingredients often found in horror films. There is an old Cornish mine with a terrible history, a mysterious eastern cult, and a grotesque Japanese mask reminiscent of the one in Onibaba. Nonetheless, our expectations are centred on the statuary work of the sinister, beardy artist Victor Clare, portrayed by Mike Raven.
Raven is an interesting physical presence here, somewhere between Christopher Lee and the man who presented Fingerbobs. Victor Clare himself is less interesting; an artist of the Creepist movement, he is staggeringly unpleasant, even when conducting himself with what he appears to believe is some sort of charm. Even if we didn’t know that he was the sort to pour molten bronze all over young women, we’d still find him to be a character from whom heroines should run away at the first opportunity.
After the credits, we move to the more harmonious environs of an art gallery where Victor’s art is being exhibited. Victor is a recluse, uninterested in showing his work to the wider world – but these items have been procured by his son Michael (Ronald Lacey), on behalf of art dealer John (James Bolam).
One particular item – a bronze statue of a reclining young woman – excites particular interest from the husband of one of John’s financiers. Later the man breaks into the gallery after hours to view the bronze privately - and as he gazes, he is attacked and murdered by an unseen party.
Since the exhibition has been a success, John and Michael decide to visit Victor and ask if he’d be willing to sell any more of his work - even though this first batch was taken by Michael without his knowledge. Together with their wives, Millie (Mary Maude) and Jane (Beth Morris), they drive down to Cornwall.
Victor’s house is on top of an abandoned Tin mine, naturally. Dark tales of dead miners and restless spirits are recounted by Michael to entertain John, and mention is made of a strange spiritualist group who had been active in the area some time earlier.
Now that a small group of people are assembled in an isolated location, it is no surprise at all that soon they are being murdered, one by one. It seems all too obvious that murders taking place in the house of a man we know to be a creepy murderer must surely be the work of said creepy murderer… But… aaah. It’s not that simple.
There is a profound irony, I think, in a film centred on a man who often curses the presence of a lady’s night attire ultimately turning out to be about some Cursed Lady’s Night Attire. And to be fair, ‘the dressing gown did it’ really is the last solution to a murder mystery anybody could possibly anticipate. In that respect, Crucible of Terror is a work of genius. I shan’t explain, you have to watch it to understand.
Amidst all of this, Ronald Lacey rather shines. Many of the characters are not filled in by the script, or are simply unpleasant. John might be taken for the hero of the piece, but even he is none too charming, knowingly selling stolen art and quite willing to drive off, leaving his wife alone with Victor Clare after the old goat has expressed an interest in waving his paintbrush in her direction. It even feels a bit like he’s knowingly leaving Millie unattended as a sweetener to Clare in the hope of closing a deal with him.
By contrast, while Michael is certainly self-pitying and makes creepy advances on his father’s model, Marcia (Judy Matheson), he is also perhaps the most human character in the film. We’re told that he’s an enthusiastic drinker, but when we meet him, he’s actually rather amiable. He seems fallible rather than unpleasant, disappointed and burdened rather than weak and spiteful.
When Michael arrives at his father’s home, we see that he’s a boy who loves his poor mother and has grown up under the withering and contemptuous patronage of an overbearing father. In this light, the cliché of his heavy drinking acquires a slightly sympathetic edge; his theft now seems to express resentment of his father rather than cynical dishonesty.
Ron’s best scene in the film, I think, comes when Victor disparages Michael at length over the theft of his work. Michael’s justification of the theft is that he did it to pay his father back for the years of cruelty and bullying toward his mother. Michael got a cut of the money made from the exhibition, so we may or may not entirely believe his justification – but I think Ron’s performance makes us believe that Michael believes it. When he describes it as the only good thing he’s ever done, when he says he’s proud to have stolen from his father, it’s believable and a much deeper cut into the heart of a character than you will find anywhere else in the film.