Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Vault of Horror

Year: 1973
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Screenplay: Milton Subotsky, based on stories by Al Feldstein and William M. Gaines
Starring: Terry-Thomas, Curt Jurgens, Tom Baker, Dawn Addams, Denholm Elliot, Michael Craig
Running Time: 83 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural,

Summary: Five men get into an elevator in a high-rise building. However, instead of letting them off at the ground floor, they exit in a previously unknown sub-basement. Finding themselves trapped with no way out, they see that there is a table laden with drinks and five chairs. Assuming that someone will be down soon to let them out, the men decide to pass the time by each a telling a story of their recurring nightmares and deepest fears.
In the first story, "Midnight Mess", a murderous man (Daniel Massey) tracks down his sister (Anna Massey) to a strange village where the locals are terrified to be out of doors after dark.
In the second story, "The Neat Job", a confirmed bachelor (Terry-Thomas) pre-occupied with neatness gets married. However his wife finds herself unable to keep to his exacting standards.
In the third story, "This Trick'll Kill You", a failing magician (Jurgens) and his wife (Addams) travel to India to learn new and exotic magic. Going to murderous extremes to learn the secret of the Indian rope trick, they find that there is a heavy price to be paid.
In the fourth story, "Bargain in Death", a man (Craig) agrees to be buried alive as part of an insurance scam. However, he intends to double-cross his partner (Edward Judd) as soon as the scam is over, but his partner has his own trick up his sleeve.
In the fifth and final story, "Drawn and Quatered", a painter (Baker) returns to England from Haiti in the posession of powerful voodoo magic to enable him to get revenge on the art dealers and critics who cheated him out of the full price for his paintings.

Opinions: In the late 1960s and 1970s, Amicus Productions were one of the main rivals of Hammer Films in the field of British horror cinema. Amicus Productions specialised in portmanteau films which collected a number of self-contained short, connected by an overall framing story. A few of these were based on the works of horror writers such as R. Chetwynd-Hayes and Robert Bloch, but probably the best known were adapted from the American horror comics such as Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror, which were published by EC Comics in the 1940s and 1950s. These comics were hugely popular but also extremely controversial for their, at the time, graphic gore and violence. However they were extremely influential on the likes of horror author Stephen King, and directors George A. Romero and Steven Spielberg.
This was the second of the films based on the EC Comics, following Tales from the Crypt, in one scene, in fact, a character is seen reading the novelisation of Tales from the Crypt.
These portmanteau films were usually entertaining and they always had the advantage of the fact that of one story wasn't very good, there would shortly be another one along in a few minutes. With this movie there is a large cast of talented actors in fast movie and entertaining stories often with a darkly humorous twist at the end.
Interestingly enough none of the stories were actually taken from the Vault of Fear comics. Instead they were adapted from stories appearing in the Tales from the Crypt comic and Shock SuspenStories.
While the stories are tame by today's standards, there is enough to keep horror fans satisfied.

Terry-Thomas learns the dangers of DIY in The Vault of Horror

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