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Vault of Horror

This Amicus portmanteau is crap. Everyone says so. The critics minced it with down-the-nose-isms like “beleaguered grotesque” and “waste of a talented cast”. The audience stayed away in their thousands. EC Comics head honcho Big Fat Bill Gaines hated it so much (in contrast to Amicus’ previous adaptation of his properties, Tales From the Crypt) he huffily stomped off with the rights to any further productions, thus denying us the prospect of such tantalising Subotskiana as More Tales From the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and the 3-D Tales of the Incredible. Even director Roy Ward Baker hated it, and when he barks horror fans jump.

Thing is, it isn’t crap. Honest. OK, so the gambit of having five tales instead of the usual four is spreading the chilling chips a little thin on the bloodcurdling baize of the creepy casino (we’re even starting to annoy ourselves here, sorry). For instance, Michael Craig’s tale wherein he fakes his own death, only for gravedigger Arthur Mullard and ‘do you see?’ cameoing med students Robin ‘Doctor’ Nedwell and Geoffrey ‘Doctor’ Davies to louse things up with a bit of rubbish graverobbing falls a bit flat, and the one where Curt Jurgens gets his via a load of old rope is money for precisely that, the presence of Dawn Addams lounging about in some nifty silk pyjamas notwithstanding. But three out of five is pretty good going. The marvellously titled vampire dealy Midnight Mess sees Daniel Massey admitting he’s never been to a Horrific Harvester before, and impersonating a Grand Guignol version of a Stowell’s of Chelsea wine box for his trouble. Then klutzy Glynis Johns reaches the end of her tether with pathologically fastidious Terry-Thomas, and sends him the way of a Hayward’s pickled onion, in one of the best “funny” horror portmanteau interlues ever attempted, and all set within the most 1970s suburban house you ever did see (love that yellow cookware set!)

Best of all is, of course, the well-documented Drawn and Quartered, with Tom Baker in Bohemian beard and repulsively wide-gauged corduroy suit, getting his revenge on the art world (in the shape of Denholm Elliot and Terence Alexander) via a bit of voodoo painting hocus-pocus, until vanity and a clumsy decorator lead to his inevitable downfall. Point of order about that last tale – when Baker tests out his newfound capabilities to make anything he paints become reality, he settles for drawing a slice of bread, then erasing a bite being taken out of it. If he wanted conclusive proof from the off, why didn’t he paint, say, a unicycling otter with the face of Gilbert Harding? Granted, the bracketing story and its final revelation (a clumsy mixture of the punchlines from Dead of Night and Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors) is no great shakes despite being set in a stylish octagonal dungeon-cum-Late-Night-Line-Up-set, and it can’t hold a cobwebbed candle to From Beyond the Grave, but than again, what can? (Oh, and Marianne Stone is of course here, as Glynis’s chum in the T-T tale.)

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Cindylover1969

    January 1, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    A more interesting point about the last story – why did he go and test stuff on a SELF-PORTRAIT? (Come to that, why did he do one in the first place?)

  2. Gareth James

    January 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    SPOILER ALERT: Isn’t there a slightly different version of this film somwhere, in which the denoument reveals the five narrators as walking corpses, complete with effects similar to that (superb) make-up worn by Peter Cushing in Tales from the Crypt. I saw a photograph of this scene in a book on horror films years ago, but it’s not in the version shown on TV (does it feature on any DVD release?) Has anyone ever seen this version?

  3. Gareth James

    January 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    I’ve found a copy of said photo – it’s currently at: flickr.com/photos/adrian84/3010976153/ – although obviously I cannot be held responsible if this is subsequently changed to a photo of someone’s cats. Internet comments seem to suggest this was never included in final print.

    I have also learnt how to spell denouement

  4. annoyingmouse

    January 2, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Citation Needed Internet Fact #4,753,342 : Skeleton Tom Baker was at one point a rumoured tenth incarnation of Doctor Who and Moore-era James Bond.

    That is a great picture. I certainly don’t remember seeing it on the film but then I’ve only seen it on TV. I’ve always loved this film for some reason or other (perhaps because I think it might have been the first portmanteau I ever saw) but for some reason I don’t have it on DVD. I just did a little poking around the internet and I see that there was an uncut BFI restoration of it about a year and a half ago. I’m not sure but I don’t think this is the version available on DVD. Presumably if it was never in the film it must be a deleted scene as I can’t imagine it being a spoiler filled promotional picture.

  5. TV Cream

    January 3, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Cindylover1969 – you’re right! The self portrait is a classic “asking for trouble” gambit. Mind you, Tom Baker’s no stranger to that sort of thing – see Genesis of the Daleks for proof. “Don’t touch that switch! It turns off my life support system! Don’t know why I put it in, really…”

  6. Pearlyman

    January 6, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Love this film, possibly my favourite Amicus effort. Anna Massey as a vampire has a certain allure too.

    First time I watched this on telly, the shot of Daniel Massey writhing around as they filled their glasses from him had been replace by a still shot, leading to one of the most jarring edits of all time. Also love the non-reaction from everyone in blood-spattering distance when art-dealer fella has his hands chopped off.

    A book I’ve got on 70s horror films suggests there is, or was, a version with the tales in a different order.

  7. Richard16378

    August 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    It looks like the went to the same interior designers as Bev from Abigail’s Party.

  8. Palitoy

    August 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Vault of Horror factets/annoyments:

    1- the “walking skeleton-faced corpses” still is found in the Purnell Book of Horror and was a staged lobby card photo with stand-ins. Never filmed it is rumoured – although my mate Gary claims you can see the “skeletor masks”‘ edges poking from around their face as the protagonists walk to their gravestones.

    2 – Want the unedited movie, Daniel Massey as writhing Stowell’s of Chelsea box-and-all? Buy/Rent/borrow/beg the ‘Vipco’s Vault of Horror – ‘Vault of Horror” (sic) DVD. No other copy will do! This is the one/ same print that FilmFour show.

    3. Filmed at the same time as Ray Harryhausen’s marvellous ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’, uses the same sets (for the bazaar scene, not Terry Thomas’s house, although, c’mon, we ALL want that lounge!) and borrow’s their baddie, Koura, AKA Tom Baker. His beard was retained as Harryhausen’s production necessitated it – but it adds to his character’s bohemian aura, no?

    … I fackin’ love this film, guv’nors.

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