The Vault Of Horror (1973)

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Daniel Massey, Terry-Thomas, Curd Jurgens, Michael Craig, Tom Baker

“That’s how it is, and how it always will be. Night after night we have to retell the evil things we did when we were alive. Night after night, for all eternity.” (Sebastian, The Vault Of Horror)

For those unfamiliar with Amicus Productions, it was a British film production company based at Shepperton Studios in Surrey where it was active during the ’60s and ’70s. Amicus specialised in horror films, in particular anthology ones that offered a handful of 20-minute stories instead of one long 90-minute one. The Vault Of Horror is one such anthology, featuring five tales based on stories from the popular EC Comics horror series of the ’40s and ’50s (which included such comics as Tales From The Crypt, Vault Of Horror and Shock SuspenStories). And it’s brilliant.

"I don't know why you're upset dear, I told you I was going out to get hammered tonight"

The film opens with five businessmen going into an elevator which takes them down to a room none of them pressed for. When they enter the room, which looks like a gentlemen’s club, the lift closes behind them, at which point they realise there are no buttons to open it again. They decide to sit at the table in the room and have a chat while they wait for the lift doors to open again.

The men start to share the dreams they’ve been having recently. Coincidentally, each dream tells a story in which each man does something immoral then dies as a result of their actions.

"It wasn't me mate, it was the painting. Listen, I was Doctor Who once, don't mess with me"

Tale one involves a chap called Harold (Massey), who plans on confronting his sister about their father’s inheritance. He takes things a little too far but gets his come-uppance when he heads to a nearby restaurant after his altercation.

Then there’s the story of Gritchit (Terry-Thomas). He’s recently been married to a lovely young lady but he constantly badmouths her for putting his things in the wrong place. We’re talking proper neat freak stuff here, with individual types of screw going in different labelled containers (not counting the ones loose in his head). Eventually wifey is driven to the edge and decides to give Gritchit a taste of his own medicine.

Add your own "farting in a lift" joke here

Next up is Sebastian (Jurgens), a magician travelling the world with his wife in search of the next big trick to confound people with back home. Leaving his wife at a hotel, Sebastian wanders the streets of Egypt where he finds a women in an alleyway. As she plays her flute a long rope raises out of a vase. She then grabs the rigid rope and climbs up it, right to the top. A stunned Sebastian offers to pay her a fortune for the secret but she refuses, so he makes a plan to take it from her in a less than sociable manner. There’s more to the trick than Sebastian realises though, as his wife eventually finds out.

The fourth tale is the weak link in the anthology, with some hokey bullshit about a man (Craig) faking his death to gain insurance money and things not going quite as planned, but thankfully the final tale rounds things off nicely with the clever story of an artist (Baker) who visits a voodoo priest to get revenge on three men who wronged him. After receiving a blessing from the priest the artist realises that everything he paints happens in real life, so he sets about painting portraits of his three enemies then messing them up to kill them. Foolishly though, he fails to properly protect his own self-portrait…

"I really think it's time you cut your ponytail, Margaret"

Of the five tales (none of which, incidentally, are actually from the Vault Of Horror comic series – four are from Tales From The Crypt and the other is from Shock SuspenStories), the first and fifth are the most entertaining. The ending – explaining where the five men actually are – can be spotted a mile off, but the main story was always just a basic shell to contain the five shorter stories, which are clearly where the real entertainment value lasts.

If you can find it, it’s worth getting hold of the full uncut version of The Vault Of Horror. The American DVD releases of the film cut the endings of the first two stories, which is a shame because the final shot in the first story in particular is an incredibly effective, chilling moment and probably the best shot in the whole film. UK channel Film4 often shows a restored version of the film – this is the full uncut version and the one I recommend checking out.

The Vault Of Horror is a hidden gem, a great little British horror anthology where the five stories (while varied in quality) are all entertaining enough. Although the uncut version is really the best way to watch it you should still really see it in any form you can.

You can get the uncut UK version here from though the quality’s not the best.
If you live in the US you can either import the UK version if you can play Region 2 DVDs, or alternatively buy the cut version here in a double-bill with Tales From The Crypt.

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