Sunday, May 8, 2016

THE VAULT OF HORROR

Roy Ward Baker, 1973
Starring: Terry-Thomas, Curd Jurgens, Tom Baker, Michael Craig, Denholm Elliot, Dawn Addams, Anna Massey

It's safe to say that Roy Ward Baker is one of my favorite British directors of the '70s. Responsible for such Brit-horror greats as
Quatermass and the Pit (1967), The Anniversary (1968), The Vampire Lovers (1970), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974), and so on, his films have a certain panache that make them worthy of any horror fan's attention. He had a prolific television career, as well as a productive beginning in non-genre cinema. He even directed the only film about the sinking of the Titanic that I'll watch willingly — even with enthusiasm — the wonderful A Night to Remember (1958). While he primarily directed films for Hammer, his brief turn with Amicus resulted in some of their most fun later period films, including Asylum (1972) and ...And Now the Screaming Starts (1973).

The Vault of Horror aka Further Tales from the Crypt or even Tales from the Crypt, Part II is the sequel to the anthology film Tales from the Crypt. While this is generally seen as the superior film and does have a magnificent story about a murderous Santa Claus — maybe my favorite segment in any horror anthology film — I have come to enjoy the two films about equally. Both are based on the EC comics series, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, though I believe all of this film's stories are taken specifically from the Tales from the Crypt series.

Five strangers are stuck in a lounge due to a broken elevator, and they share their own stories of recurring nightmares. In the first tale, "Midnight Mass," a man (Daniel Massey of Bad Timing) tracks down his sister (Anna Massey of Peeping Tom and Frenzy, also Daniel Massey's real-life sister) to a creepy, seemingly abandoned town. He kills her to usurp the family inheritance, but when he goes to dinner afterwards, stumbles across a nest of vampires. This is absolutely one of the best tales in the film, though it's curious that, as with Tales from the Crypt, the anthology begins with perhaps its strongest entry.

In "The Neat Job," a fastidious man (the great Terry-Thomas) is newly married to a well-meaning but messy woman (Glynis Johns of Marry Poppins, who is particularly adorable here). She gets tired of his nagging and snaps, unleashing all of her fury and insanity on his head. With a hammer. While I wasn't initially all that fond of this second entry, Thomas and Johns deliver such compelling performances that it becomes sort of infectious. Plus, once you've lived with a particularly annoying roommate, family member, or significant other, I think this takes on a whole new significance.

The disappointing third tale, "This Trick'll Kill You," follows a tourist (Curd J├╝rgens) and his wife (Dawn Addams), as they attempt to steal a magic rope from an Indian girl (Jasmina Hilton). When they murder her and try to work the trick out for themselves, they get much, much more than they bargained for. More entertaining is "Bargain in Death," where a man (Michael Craig) is buried alive as part of an insurance fraud scheme, but his partner (Edward Judd) double crosses him. Coincidentally, two medical students (Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies) need to dig up a body to help with their studies. When the gravedigger discovers the body is still alive, all hell breaks loose.

Though I think "Midnight Mass" is the best of all these stories, my favorite is perhaps the final segment, "Drawn and Quartered." where a painter (Doctor Who's Tom Baker!!!!) living in Haiti seeks the aid of a voodoo priest to get revenge on three men who swindled him. When he returns to London he paints three cursed portraits, but must protect his self-portrait so he doesn't come to harm himself. After the tales are complete, the elevator doors open to a vast cemetery. It turns out that the men are doomed spirits cursed to relive their mortal sins -- to the surprise of absolutely no one who has seen a single one of these Amicus anthology films. Overall Vault of Horror is not as scary or successful as Tales from the Crypt, but it's still worth watching, namely for these creepy and entertaining segments.

It's available as a two-disc double feature with Tales from the Crypt from MGM's Midnite Movies series or as a nice double feature Blu-ray. Though Tales from the Crypt looks great, Vault of Horror is an absolute piece of shit. It would be nice if someone would restore the print, but I'm not going to hold my breath. I should also mention that it's an edited print, with a few choice moments of gore shaved by British censors back in the '70s.

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