Vault of Horror, The (1963)

The Vault of Horror (1973)

Below the Crypt lies Death’s waiting-room – The . . . Vault of Horror

An elevator in an office building takes five men down to a sub-basement level which they never knew existed. When they get out, they find themselves trapped inside a strange room. Whilst waiting for the elevator to return, they tell each other of their strange dreams. One dreams about killing his sister but then stumbles into a restaurant full of vampires. Another man dreams about his wife murdering him after he annoys her with his obsession of having things tidy. Another man is a magician and dreams that he goes on holiday to look for new tricks to use in his show and finds a new rope trick which an Indian girl won’t sell to him, so he kills her and steals it. The fourth man uses a drug to fake his death in order to claim his insurance and gets his friend to help him out. The last man is an artist living in Haiti who finds out that his paintings, whom critics said were worthless, have actually sold for a large amount of money so he uses voodoo to extract his revenge.

 

Why change a relatively successful formula? That seemed to be Amicus’ motto with yet another horror anthology featuring a wealth of talent both in front of and behind the camera. The Vault of Horror features a stellar cast with Tom Baker, Terry-Thomas, Curt Jürgens, Edward Judd and Denholm Elliot starring to name but a few. Yet again using stories from EC Comics, Amicus have crafted practically a carbon copy of the likes of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum, only with lesser results this time. In fact so much so that E.C Comics wouldn’t let the studio use their macabre comic book for a third outing (with Tales from the Crypt being the previous E.C. Comic-inspired Amicus anthology). The linking story is weak and if you’ve seen one of the earlier anthologies, you’ll easily spot what the final ‘twist’ will be. It lacks any punch simply because the audience is expecting a twist and it’s the only logical solution to why the men are all trapped downstairs.

The first story, Midnight Mess, about the vampire restaurant is pretty standard fare which is dependable enough to kick off the film. The finale is a little predictable but still fun when the vampires hang a guy upside up, stick a spigot in his jugular vein and drain him of blood.  There is also neat trick involving a mirror which plays upon the vampire mythology.

The Neat Job, the second story about the tidy husband is pretty boring simply for the fact it’s not really anything horrific – it doesn’t deal with vampires or werewolves or even voodoo or revenge, just a housewife going crazy. Thus it takes some time to build up the character we can empathize with when the wife does snap. Terry-Thomas plays it straight but gets annoying quickly and it’s a pity he doesn’t get killed earlier because his obsession is really painful to sit and listen to, especially when he starts moaning. The finale has a decent twist ending full of black humour and has the E.C. comic trademark stamped all over it.

The third story, This Trick’ll Kill You, is also as pedestrian as the other two as it lacks any real character build up and doesn’t try to do anything original as Curt Jürgens travels to India and stumbles upon a new rope trick. It’s the most racist of the stories with Indians being labelled as con artists, peasants and basic scum. Jürgens is at his ruthless best when he’s playing a villainous character and it takes a while for him to turn into a murderer. But the special effects for the rope trick are quite convincing, even if the story ends far too predictably once more.

Bargain in Death, the fourth story, is possibly the most underrated segment, simply because it partly deals with being buried alive – surely one of the most horrific thoughts anyone could have. But the logistics of the insurance scam are all over the shop and it’s hard to see how it’d work. I don’t know why Edward Judd bothers to ‘star’ here as he says about six words and the addition of the two medical students looking for a corpse wasn’t really necessary either. However, it does end on a nice note of ‘you get what you deserve’ with the grave digger getting the final say on matters.

The final story, Drawn and Quartered, is easily the best – not because it’s any good but just because it’s better than the rest of them. Tom Baker shows us some trademark solid acting (before he went on to ham it up as Doctor Who) as the bitter artist who is told by the witch doctor that he can damage his paintings however he wants and whatever happens to them will happen to the person in real life. You can see the resemblance to The Picture of Dorian Gray here. It’s an excellent plot and probably could have been stretched out a little more – it’s kind of like a pre-cursor to Final Destination. But as with the rest of the stories, it’s got a twist ending which isn’t good for the main character as he paints a self-portrait. You can only imagine where that one heads.

 

Too formulaic for it’s own good, too predictable to be interesting to watch and too hammy to be taken seriously, The Vault of Horror isn’t one of Amicus’ better anthologies. It’s flat, uninspired and a bit dull at times despite there being some good ideas and some truly awesome moments of wretched black humour.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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