Below the Crypt lies Death’s waiting-room – The . . . Vault of Horror
Having already mined EC Comics for 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, Milton Subotsky drew on five more tales for the following year’s Vault of Horror, Amicus’ penultimate entry in their horror anthology cycle. Asylum director Roy Ward Baker was called in after original choice Freddie Francis (who helmed the first four entries) declined to oversee a mixed bag of horror and humour, which upped the horror quota, and boasted a starry line-up that, surprisingly, didn’t include Amicus’ two big names, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but did include cameos from Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies, who were well-known in the UK as doctors Duncan Waring and Dick Stuart-Clark in London Weekend Television’s popular Doctor in the House sitcom series.
The wraparound story sees five men entering an elevator in London’s Millbank Tower (which celebrated its 10th-anniversary the year the film came out), where they descend to an underground vault designed like a gentlemen’s club. Fuelled by scotch and few gins, the men take turns in describing their recurring nightmares.… only they’re not…
Midnight Mess sees Daniel Massey trying to kill his sister (Anna Massey) for her inheritance, only to find himself in a restaurant full of vampires; The Neat Job finds Glynis Johns driven mad when she fails to meet new hubby Terry-Thomas’ exacting domestic standards; This Trick’ll Kill You has an Indian rope trick snap back when its stolen by Curt Jürgens’ nasty magician; Bargain in Death puts a humorous spin on Edgar Allan Poe’s Premature Burial short story with Michael Craig waiting to be released from his interment; and Drawn and Quartered sees Tom Baker’s artist using voodoo to get his revenge on the art dealers who have swindled him.
Vault of Horror got a mixed reception when it was released in the UK and US, and the story goes that EC Comics’ publisher Bill Gaines hated the screenplay so much he refused Amicus access to any further stories. But I regard this as a fantastic entry in Amicus’ portmanteau series, with The Neat Job being the films’ standout story, thanks to Terry-Thomas’s brilliant turn at the obsessive Arthur Critchit and Glynis Johns as the downtrodden Eleanor. Those cries of ‘Can’t you do anything neatly?’ will ring in your ear long forever. The second story, in which future Time Lord Tom Baker gives quite the method performance is also a winner, and plays like a mini Theatre of Blood as Baker’s bohemian artist literally paints out his three victims, who get acid thrown in their eyes, their hands chopped off and bullet between the eyes, before meeting his own demise courtesy of some paint thinner.
For years, film fans have had to accept home entertainment releases with freeze frames in place of the gruesome denouement of the vampire story and the well-aimed hammer attack in A Neat Job. Thankfully, Final Cut’s UK Blu-ray release uses the same uncut transfer that Shout!/Scream Factory put out as part of their 2014 double bill with Tales from the Crypt. This Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific [and really showcases the film’s 1970s production design] and while it doesn’t include any extras (you have to double dip and get the Final Cut double feature get that), it’s a worthwhile addition to your Amicus anthology collection.
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