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The Vault of Horror

1973

By Tom BakerPublished 3 months ago 3 min read

The Vault of Horror is an old Amicus horror film, a British cinematic adaptation of various EC comics stories from the 1950s. It has a few familiar faces, including Tom "Dr. Who" Baker, and Terry-Thomas, the famous British character actor, and it's generally very entertaining, although it was pretty much panned during the era of its initial release.

The wraparound has Baker and cohorts descending an elevator to a luxuriantly-furnished room; one is faintly reminded of Sartre and No Exit, and then the assembled recount their nightmarish visions of their deaths.

The first segment, a vampire thriller called "Midnight Mess" is adapted from a story from Tales from the Crypt # 35. A man visiting his sister in a small town murders her for inheritance money, before making his way to a mysterious restaurant wherein, formerly, the patrons have been seen to beat a hasty retreat come nightfall. Unaccountably, he discovers his sister is still alive. He also gives new meaning to the phrase, "tapping the admiral."

(Incidentally, that phrase comes from an old urban legend wherein a young couple comes into possession of a wooden cask of rum. They eagerly drink to the dregs only to discover upon removing the top of the wooden barrel that there are the preserved remains of an old pirate within. "Tapping the admiral," indeed.)

The next segment, starring the gap-toothed, faintly Anthony Hopkinsish Terry-Thomas, is called 'The Neat Job," and is taken from Shock SuspenStories #1. Thomas plays a particularly anal, abusive husband who is constantly berating his wife (Glynis Johns) about her housekeeping skills. She responds with peals of insane laughter and a swipe with a sharp object. You might say to yourself at the culmination of this one, "Well, that's just him all over!" (Shades of the Wizard of Oz?) Poor chap always was flying to pieces; it's a rather good job that his wife went the extra mile and helped him organize them.

The third vignette, which takes place in India, is called "This Trick'll Kill You!" and is taken from Tales from the Crypt # 33. Sebastian (Curd Jürgens) plays a magician on holiday with his wife (Dawn Addams), his assistant, who is scouring the Near East for magic tricks. Exposing the fakery of a common street charlatan (Ishaq Bux), he then meets up with a woman (Jasmina Hilton) who can seemingly charm a rope to emerge from a basket, snake-like. Killing her (but the audience wonders "why?"), he is treated to a supernatural revenge. Grim, horrifying ending to a film that, hitherto, had been mostly comic book yuks.

The fourth story, "Bargain in Death," is taken from Tales from the Crypt # 28 (it is curious that a film called The Vault of Horror seemingly features adaptations of NO stories that appeared in that particular EC title), and concerns a man who injects himself with a rare sedative that mimics death, so he can then be buried alive. A confederate is supposed to then come and dig him up and they are to be off, only to collect the massive insurance money from the fraud. Of course, he plans on disposing of his partner and making off with ALL the loot; the partner, it is revealed, plans on doing the same.

Two medical students and a modern-day "resurrection man" interfere, with blackly humorous consequences.

The fifth story stars the Fourth Doctor, the ever-engaging Tom Baker (who should have bloody well been knighted decades ago; the fact he hasn't been being a travesty) whose fuzzy mop of Time Lord afro and red and black scarf I grew up watching in "Dr. Who" reruns on the AFRTS (rearrange those letters) armed forces television channel in beautiful Panama, Central America, in the 1980s. Here (the tale is called "Drawn and Quartered," from Tales from the Crypt # 26), Baker portrays a painter living in Haiti (why, one wonders) who discovers that art dealers and critics who dismissed him are reaping huge profits selling his work. He goes to a voodoo priest to have his hand cursed, so that whatever image he paints he can destroy, and the subject of the painting will be destroyed, as well.

Unthinkingly, he stores a self-portrait in a safe and finds himself unaccountably short of breath.

Suffice it to say, revenged or not, this does not end well for any party involved, critic, dealer, or voodoo-cursing, Tardis-driving, Time Lord turned artiste.

We come full circle with the wraparound, revealing the twist ending that is, after the preceding, no surprise. The film has been roundly criticized as being mediocre or humdrum; but, if so, it is perfectly mediocre, a well-balanced and neatly packaged collection of classic EC stories retold through the magic of cinematic wonder. Wrapped in a nice, if bloody bow (the sort of gift that might have been delivered by a homicidal Santa, such as the strange visitor in Amicus's companion film, Tales from the Crypt).

The Vault of Horror (1973)

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About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.: http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

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    Tom BakerWritten by Tom Baker

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