The Vault of Horror (1973)

Terry-Thomas and Denholm Elliott star in a very enjoyable Amicus anthology horror from director Roy Ward Baker. Fox R1 DVD.

The Film

In a large building, five men get on board a lift heading for the ground floor, but instead it takes them to the sub-basement where they find themselves trapped. They all recall tales that seem to haunt them - Midnight Mess, Rogers has finally tracked down his sister to a mysterious town where the residents seem afraid of the dark, she was left the money in their father's will and he wants to take care of this. In The Neat Job the successful businessman Critchit (Terry-Thomas) announces his marriage to a young wife, but she discovers that he is incredibly precise about everything around his house, and when she stains a table, minutes before he returns home, she has a race against time to fix up the house. This Trick'll Kill You sees a magician on holiday in India where his discredits a street performance, before being entranced by a rope trick and going to extreme lengths to find out its secret. Maitland awakens in a coffin in Bargain in Death and recalls the insurance scam that landed him buired alive, but seems to be saved when a bumbling pair of medical students try to steal his corpse. Drawn and Quartered - when a failed artist (Tom Baker) working in Haiti discovers that his work is actually highly praised and selling for big money in London, he visits a voodoo man and discovers that whatever he paints will come to pass, bad news for the dealer who tricked him (Denholm Elliott).

Their sixth portmanteau horror picture,Vault of Horror was the thematic sequel to Amicus' highly successful Tales from the Crypt (1971), again using stories derived from the popular EC Comics - evident from the dark comedy present throughout the film. The first and last stories are examples of films that although well written, could have used some extra run-time to be properly effective. Midnight Mess has some very interesting ideas, but the idea of this mysterious town is not properly established (it appears to be nothing more than a London suburb) while the brother/sister element is far too underdeveloped. Drawn and Quartered is a very good segment (one of the best Amicus anthology pieces), and has enough storyline to make sense, but could have used some extra run-time to build up the characters of the victims and create tension.

Fortunately the second and third stories are much better paced and fit the format perfectly. Despite its rather daft synopsis, The Neat Job is a very enjoyable little story and manages to build an amazing amount of tension over such a trivial notion with a superbly paced ending, while This Trick'll Kill You is not as fun, being quite predictable, but keeps you watching to see just how the inevitable revenge will come. Unfortunately Bargain in Death is much less effective with some rather crude comedy and a completely contrived ending - its time would have been better given over to extending the first story. The link story is pretty standard of the Amicus films, but fortunately is kept brief enough not to bother anyone, and has a suitable, if unsurprising ending.

Roy Ward Baker returned from And Now the Screaming Starts (1973) to direct, and does a solid job throughout, although he never gets anything challenging to do, and the film lacks the moments of flair seen in his earlier anthology effort, Asylum (1972). The special effects are solid throughout, with some inventive deaths, particularly in the final chapter. Douglas Gamley again provides the soundtrack and does a generally good job.

The film boasts a good cast of supporting actors, but lacks a big name star (something that would severely affect its box office draw). A year before his casting as Doctor Who, Tom Baker gives the best performance as a tortured artist opposite Denholm Elliot who gets little more than a cameo role. British comedy star Terry-Thomas plays the obsessive compulsive husband pefectly in The Neat Job, working well with Glynis Johns (Mary Poppins (1964) as his wife. Some clever casting comes in the shape of
Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies as medical studies in part four, parodying their long running roles in the Doctor in the House series, and its follow-ups - although the joke was lost on the film's international audience. Big German actor Curd Jürgens (The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)) is quite unpleasant in his role as a magician, rather ruining his segment.

Vault of Horror is one of the best Amicus anthology pieces, with three very good stories (parts one, two and five) although the first and last could have used a little extending, an interesting story (part three) and only one duff. A generally good cast, and solid production wrap it up well. Not the best place to start exploring the Amicus productions, but one that fans of the studio will certainly want to see. Recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Terry-Thomas - a popular British comedy star, who also appeared in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Denholm Elliott - a widely travelled actor, best known for his appearances in the Indiana Jones films.
Directed by anyone interesting? Roy Ward Baker - a popular director for both Hammer and Amicus, working on their effective anthology piece Asylum (1972) and the very impressive And Now the Screaming Starts (1973).
Is it scary?Not really.
Any violence/gore? A couple of quite vivid and bloody scenes.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Certainly one that Amicus fans will want to see.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is generally good, with some noticable grain, but good colours and no print damage.
Audio English original mono, sounds fine.
Spanish dub track.
Subtitles English, Spanish and French.
ExtrasThe disc includes:
  • Original theatrical trailer, 2 minutes, black and white.
AvailabilityOnly available in a double bill with Tales from the Crypt.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Available on DVD from Vipco in the UK, a low quality fullframe print, but fully uncut.
Cuts? The print used here is the original theatrical American print. It is altered in four places compared to the original British theatrical print - two gory scenes are replaced with rather obvious still images for a couple of seconds while the sound continues, while two brief scenes are more subtly cut out and would go unnoticed by most viewers.
The film itself was cut down further for a PG rating as Tales from the Crypt II in 1974, but these cuts are restored here.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 11th September 2007. Part of Horror September 2.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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