Friday, October 1, 2010

The Vault of Horror (1973)
UK --- horror

Dir: Roy Ward Baker

"The Vault of Horror" comic series was created as a companion piece to "Tales From the Crypt" and "The Haunt of Fear". Most would think that these comics are as interchangeable as Lego's, but this was not the case. Max Gaines and co. made sure each series had a distinct difference. In the case of "The Vault of Horror", Johnny Craig was the cover artist as well as frequent writer throughout the entire run. The series would in a way have his style, which meant the stories often dealt with psychological terrors. In that regard, "The Vault of Horror" film gets kudos, as a well done adaptation.

As a follow-up to the "Tales From the Crypt" anthology, Amicus studios solicited the use of EC Comics title, "The Vault of Horror". This film is the less gorier of the two, and the tales used in this one, while unique are not quite on par with the stories from "Tales". We have the same formula as "Tales" in this film, where a group of people (this time all men) are gathered together and do not know where they are yet, but recite their tales of their own deaths. The aforementioned psychological aspect comes in here, as they each claim to have recurring dreams or fears. There is no vault keeper in this one, I suppose Sir Laurence Olivier was busy. Kidding.

The first tale stars siblings Anna and Daniel Massey as the brother unfolds his recurring dream/nightmare. Adapted from "Tales from the Crypt" #35, "Midnight Mess" features a conniving brother who is in search of his long lost sister. He has hired a private detective to find her, and after getting her location, he kills the p.i. to cover his tracks. He is, of course, another perfect foil for a story like this. The brother travels to what the p.i. felt was a strange town. He does find his sister and after he reveals that their rich father has died and left everything to her, he subsequently stabs her to death. He goes to a local restaurant for something to eat, and discovers the local habitue are blood sucking vampires. To confirm it, his sister, whom he just murdered, walks in with the murder weapon as the hungry diners have their fresh taste of her brother.

The next story is a darkly comic cautionary tale. It involves an overbearing controlling husband with a bad case of OCD, and his slightly younger timid new wife. The vignette plays like an episode of "I Love Lucy" as the new wife has to adjust to her husband's obsessive demands about life around the house. It gets to the point (no pun intended), that she offs him, and neatly stores away his body parts in labeled jars. Based on a story adapted from "Shock SuspenStories" # 1, "The Neat Job" was another one that was remade in the HBO series as "Collection Completed" by Mary Lambert. The difference between the two being the wife in the film version is very much the victim of her husbands ways, in the TV version, she's the cause and culprit. Personally, though it does give the film variety, the film could do without this particular story, as it seems all the men in the vault were villains who truly belonged there.

In the third tale, we get a different type of married couple. A magician and his wife are on vacation in India when he cruelly exposes the poor street magicians tricks. He later happens upon a young lady performing the Indian rope trick, but she will not sell him the secret. He begs her to at least show his sick wife, but he has other plans. The couple murder the girl in cold blood, and they attempt to uncover the riddle behind the magical rope. The wife tries the rope on for size and climbs on up to the ceiling on it, as she vanishes into thin air. Her blood, however, begins to seep out of the ceiling and the husband promptly tries to escape the room, but the rope snaps at him like a bullwhip. Having him trapped, the sentient rope soon entangles around his neck enough to raise him up off his feet to his demise.

The next tale is quite quick, but it also involves a lot of double crossing and twists. We learn that a writer with the assistance of who is presumably his editor devise a plot to inherit his insurance money. He plans to take a drug that will allow his body to appear to all dead. Then after his burial, his friend Alex is supposed to dig him up within 24 hours. All perfectly planned, until two local anatomy students, who discover his body, have their own plans for the body. The end result of this story, based on "Bargain in Death" from "Tales From the Crypt" # 28, is everyone gets their just desserts.

In the final tale, Tom Baker (the most recognizable Gen X Doctor Who) portrays an artist out for revenge. After a visit to a voodoo practitioner, he adopts the use of the black magic. Through creative uses of his paintings of his three crooked business partners, he disperses of them, one-by-one. Of course, like most good Crypt tales, no evil deed is left unpunished. In the humble opinion department, I felt Denholm Elliot was criminally underused in this film. Of note, years later he starred in an episode of the television series "Ray Bradbury Theater". The story would have made an interesting little vignette in a film this, considering Bradbury allowed many of his stories adapted into EC fare, including this one. Having said that, this particular tale comes off as an episode of "The Night Gallery".

The film ends on a dull note, as the men walk out of the "vault" to the graveyard and disappear to their own graves. As one stays behind to explain that every night they must recall their most horrendous acts of the life they lived. It would have been interesting if they had made a nice little trilogy by adapting some more stories for "Haunt of Fear", but alas . . .