Vault of Horror, The (1973)
Cast: Daniel Massey, Anna Massey, Curt Jurgens, Tom Baker, Denholm Elliot
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Nutshell: More short story horror from Amicus
“paralysingly pedestrian” Time Out
“horror fans will still enjoy it” Creature Features
“so-so material” Maltin’s
“guaranteed to keep you up at night” Blockbuster Video
“well staged” – Halliwell’s
“delivers very little in terms of chills and atmosphere” – Video Movies Guide
“television like” – 10 Years of Terror
“not as good as it’s predecessor Tales From the Crypt” – Splatter Movies
“Unfortunately aims more for laughs than chills” – Monster Movie Guide
The five stories forming these short stories were based on William Gaines horror comics. An encounter with a town of vampires, a husband obsessed with neatness, an Indian rope trick coming to life, an insurance scam and the obligatory voodoo story make up the vault of horror.
Sadly, none of the stories are in the least bit scary or even mildly spooky. They also lack any atmosphere and while the film tries to inject a smattering of black humour the end result is neither funny nor frightening. The stories are more concerned with the nasty side of human behavior.
A brother seeks to kill his sister for inheritance, an obsessed husband drives his new wife to murder, a greedy magician attempts to steal a ‘trick’ from a fellow magician, a man attempts to fake his own death for an insurance scam and a painter suffers a fate akin to Dorian Grey’s painting. The attempt at a chilling end wherein the 5 people sharing their stories find themselves face to face with their gravestones has been done previously and this time round its effect, like the rest of the film, is ‘flat’. Clearly made to cash in on the relative success of 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, this is a flatter, paler and rather insipid follow up with the accent on humour rather than on genuine scares.
The opening “vampire” tale sets the firmly tongue in cheek tone of the movie and the second is pure Vault of Horror comic brilliance that fails to pack the final punch cinematically. However, the scene of the desperate housewife trying to fix her mess just before the arrival of her inanely fastidious husband is delightfully nerve wrecking.
The tale of the jaded trickster murdering to enhance his repertoire by thieving from another magician is interesting mostly for the manner in which films of that era would still prefer to use obviously white actors using very odd accents to play the role of a “foreigner”; an Indian in this particular case. Once again, the tale is far better in comic book form than in cinematic form. There are moments from the last story, especially the bit when you know the nasty man is about to have his hands chopped by the paper chopper….that are fun but otherwise, once again these fables work far better as comics as they are hugely predictable and the final punch tends to fall a little flat cinematically. The same idea worked far better the first time around with Tales from the Crypt that had at least 3 genuinely creepy tales among the five. This time around the result is far less satisfying.
Amicus was for several years the studio that followed in Hammer’s footsteps occasionally using some of the same directors and actors and sometimes doing a good job of recreating the Hammer atmosphere as in parts of their last compendium of stories – Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. This time around however, their effort is a tedious one with nothing to raise the film above the very ordinary. Roy Ward Baker, the director of this and several Hammer films was known as a man who “got the job done” without fuss, but he wasn’t exactly known for his artistry or cinematic style and it certainly shows. However, for genre fans, this is engaging piffle.