The Vault of Horror (1973) – Roy Ward Baker

Taking its cue from the EC and Horror comics of the 1950s, The Vault of Horror is an anthology film and is the next stop in John Landis’ Monsters in the Movies book, available now from DK Canada.

While I’m still in the Vampire section of the book, this film only features one vampire tale, and is accompanied by four other lurid, suggestively horrific tales that seemed to have sprung to life from the four colour panels of the comic books of yesteryear.

Five men in an elevator find themselves in a strange sub-basement, where they sit back and regale one another with dreamlike tales. Among them is a Time Lord – Tom Baker, and a Bond Villain – Curt Jurgens.

Running a very quick hour and twenty seven minutes each tale runs about fifteen to twenty minutes, and embraces varying types of horror. The first tale, Midnight Mess finds a brother, played by Daniel Massey, who is seeking his sister to claim their family’s inheritance. Unfortunately he’s ended up in a strange part of England where Vampires dine after dark, and he may be the next one on the menu.

This tale like the ones that follow, are lurid, gauche and because of that enjoyable. You can actually see the panels of the comic forming in your mind, and like Creepshow, Takes from the Darkside (and the Crypt) this one walks the line between horror, and silliness, and a manner of poetic justice.

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There is a tale of a place for everything and everything in its place that goes a step too far (The Neat Job), an insurance claim that plays out terribly wrong (Bargain in Death), a magic trick that takes lives (This Trick’ll Kill You), and an artist who paints his revenge (Drawn and Quartered).

All of the tales are summoned cinematically from the pages of Tales From the Crypt, and Shock SuspenStories, and they entertain, while not being very creepy, but are no doubt wonderfully similar to their source material.

Jurgens is a magician on vacation in India looking for the perfect illusion, and finds it, and more with a rope trick that may be too expensive for him.

Tom Baker, who is sporting a ridiculous (sorry Doctor) ginger beard in this film plays a painter who learns that his agent (played by Denholm Elliott), handler and primary critic have been working together to undercut him. Seeking out the help of a voodoo priest, his art begins to reflect reality when his images of those he has wronged are damaged. But he has a self-portrait as well…

All of the tales start with characters who are out to do bad things, pull them off in one way or another, and then get their comeuppance before the tale’s end.

I was surprisingly delighted by this one, and was pleased to see three of the characters were played by actors I knew, because, honestly, from the poster, I thought there was going to be no redeeming qualities to this one at all.

So if you want something that pays wonderful homage to the horror stories and comics of yesteryear, you could do far worse than this British made anthology. John Landis’ Monsters in the Movies continues to entertain each and every step of the way. Pick up a copy today from DK Books, turn off the lights and find something creepy and bloody to watch tonight.

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