31 Days of Halloween — Day 14: Vault of Horror (1973) — by Sal Roma

HMP Vault of HorrorEditor’s note: The hosts of Horror Movie Podcast are always impressed by the knowledge and insights of our listenership in the emails and voicemails that we receive, as well as in the comments here at HorrorMoviePodcast.com. Once again, we’ve asked our listeners to participate in our 31 Days of Halloween by contributing written reviews. This review was submitted by a long-time listener and friend of the show who goes by the screen-name “Sal Roma” … You can follow Sal on Twitter @JTalley986 and on Letterboxd at @Sal_Roma

Title: Vault of Horror
Alternate Title: Tales from the Crypt II
Year: 1973
Director: Roy Ward Baker

Five strangers enter an elevator in an ordinary office building. However, the elevator disregards their intended destinations, instead bringing them down to the sub-basement. There, the men find five chairs waiting for them around a table, it’s only when they step out of the elevator to check the basement out that they realize that there’s not a button to re-open the elevator doors. In order to pass the time, the men decide to share nightmares that each have been having that represent their fears or obsessions.

After enjoying watching the original Tales from the Crypt film from 1972, I became interested in the Amicus Productions follow-up anthology film, Vault of Horror. Like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror was originally an EC horror comic from the 1950s. In fact, one of my favorite episodes of the Tales from the Crypt television show and segments from the original ‘72 movie, “And All Through the House…” was taken from a Vault of Horror comic. Like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror presents a very simple wraparound story to allow five unwitting guests to share personal stories, or in this case previous nightmares, to each other. It is interesting to note that while Tales from the Crypt did feature one Vault of Horror story, the actual Vault of Horror film does not contain a single story that was originally featured in the Vault of Horror comic series. It’s no wonder why one of the alternate titles for Vault of Horror is simply Tales from the Crypt II. Another oddity is that Vault of Horror is missing a host of any kind. Where’s the Vault-Keeper?

In the first story, “Midnight Mess” a mysterious man, Harold, has paid a private investigator to find a woman. After learning of her address, Harold kills his private investigator before going to the new hometown of the woman, whom we learn is actually his sister. Once Harold arrives, he gets a general idea that there’s something off about the town and how the normal residents are afraid to be out at night because that’s when THEY come out. Admittedly, the big twist ending of this segment is entirely predictable once it begins to be hinted at, but it only adds anticipation to the eventual arrival of the vampires. This is a Tales from the Crypt story that felt as if it could have been extended into a featured length film if they wished. It’s a great start to the film and although it’s easy to predict the town is overflooded with vampires, Harold manages to keep you guessing what he’ll do next.

The second story of the film, “The Neat Job” is my favorite short of the entire movie. The ironic thing is it’s not a scary story at all. It’s all about a rich older man, Arthur, who has a severe case of OCD and needs his house to not only be spotless, but for everything to be in its place. Arthur’s perfect life gets disrupted as he gets married and his new wife is just not capable of keeping everything in its place. Arthur has several meltdowns in the segment, freaking out over every little thing including when his wife rearranges the furniture. As the story unfolds, we witness a classic comedy skit as Arthur’s wife does one little thing wrong (Leaves a ring on the coffee table from not using a coaster) and subsequently creates a giant mess from trying to fix all of the new problems she unintentionally creates. This is a really relatable story for me because there’s been many times where I’ve tried to fix something small, but it’s a snowball effect with several bigger problems being created as a result. This fun segment would have been the one I would have most liked to have seen featured on the Tales from the Crypt television show. Although it never was, it did remind me of the episode, “Collection Completed” from season 1. A highly entertaining segment, especially if you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone who had some strict OCD-like attitudes towards organization.

The next two segments lose some of the fun for me. In, “This Trick’ll Kill You”, a magician in India would stop at nothing, including murder, in order to obtain a seemingly magical rope that would become the star attraction of his magical act. The problem is it’s a story about a magic rope. Although I liked the basic idea of a man killing in order to gain possession of the very thing that ends up killing him in return, I can’t get beyond the fact that the object in question in this short is a magical rope. Ropes are boring, yo. The fourth segment, “Bargain in Death” is a bit peculiar in that it felt a lot shorter than the other segments and there’s a lot of comedy. It stars Maitland, a down on his luck horror fiction writer, choosing to fake his death, with the help of his friend, in order to scam his insurance company. Yet Maitland’s plan goes south not realizing that his friend is plotting to leave Maitland buried alive to keep all of the insurance money himself and a pair of struggling medical students deciding to pay a guy to dig Maitland up in order to use his believed corpse to practice their anatomy. It’s a wacky story and with so many questionable scoundrels in it, it didn’t seem as if any of them deserved a happy ending. I did like the ultimate conclusion with Maitland, even if it was a little predictable. Still this segment felt as if it was all over the place rather than being a more simple story.

Finally, the fifth and final segment was, “Drawn and Quartered” and it ends the film on a high note. In it, painter, Moore, is feeling as if his work will never be respected as he has given up hope in ever making money. He then learns that his artwork is actually quite popular and worth a lot of money. Realizing that he’s been lied to and scammed by three men he trusted, Moore uses Haitian voodoo in order to turn his paintings into reality. From there, we’re shown some fun scenes where Moore takes the time to make beautiful paintings featuring the three men who did him wrong and then Moore took the time to figure out the proper punishments for them. My favorite of the pieces of revenge dealt with the man Moore wished to never handle artwork ever again. Unfortunately, the ending to this segment is the weakest part. Since the story can’t just end with Moore getting away with getting revenge without being punished himself, the story throws together a series of events that causes Moore’s own demise, without explaining what’s actually happening. A little bit of internal monologue for narration would have went a long way in improving this ending to make things clearer.

If I had to rank these stories, I’d go with:

The Neat Job
Drawn and Quartered
Midnight Mess
Bargain in Death
This Trick’ll Kill You

Overall, I went into Vault of Horror hoping for another film like Tales from the Crypt and I got what I wanted. I’m really enjoying the style of these old British Amicus anthology films. There’s certainly similarities between these movies and the Tales from the Crypt television show, but you’re also getting something different with these movies. Like any anthology film, some of the segments aren’t going to be a hit, although I can’t say I disliked any of these. Even my least favorite segment, “This Trick’ll Kill You” is only my least favorite because I wasn’t a fan of the magical object that was chosen. If you enjoy the old British style horror from this time period, whether it’s Hammer or these Amicus anthology films, Vault of Horror is another must-see movie.

7/10 and a recommendation to rent.

– Sal Roma

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One thought on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 14: Vault of Horror (1973) — by Sal Roma

  1. Day 14: Better Watch Out (2016)

    Better Watch Out (2016) is an instant Christmas horror classic that I’ll rewatch every year. Chris Peckover blends comedy, horror, and Christmas seamlessly. All of the acting is great and it’s particularly impressive how well the young actor’s carry this film.

    The house is meticulously decorated for Christmas, there are Christmas songs, and the film is full of color. But, there’s also a dark side to this film and it gets very disturbing. Don’t turn of your brain either, Better Watch Out is a smart film that rewards it’s viewers. 9/10

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