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Film / Vault of Horror

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Vault of Horror is an Anthology Film released in 1973 by the British Amicus Productions. It is a horror anthology, adapting five stories from the EC Comics titles Tales from the Crypt and Shock SuspenStories (though none, oddly enough, from the actual Vault of Horror comic).

It is Amicus' second anthology of EC adaptations, following the previous year's Tales from the Crypt.

In the United States the film was released in an edited version that replaced some of the gorier moments with freeze frames, to bring the rating down from R to PG. This version was also used for the U.S. DVD release, although the Blu-ray release uses the uncut version.


Synopsis (From Wikipedia):

Framing Story (Opening)

Five strangers board a descending lift, one by one, in a modern office block in London. They reach the basement, though none of them have pressed for that destination. There they find a large, elaborately furnished room which appears to be a gentlemen’s club. The lift door has closed and there are no buttons to bring it back, nor any other exit. Resigned to waiting for help, they settle down with drinks and talk. The conversation turns to dreams, and each man tells of a recurring nightmare.

Midnight Mess (Tales from the Crypt #35)

Harold Rogers (Daniel Massey) tracks his sister Donna (Anna Massey – yes, his real sister) to a strange village and kills her to claim her inheritance. After settling down for a post-murder meal at the local restaurant, he discovers the town is home to a nest of vampires: his sister is not as dead as he thinks, and he becomes the dish of the night when his jugular vein is tapped out as a beverage dispenser.

The Neat Job (Shock SuspenStories #1)

The obsessively neat Arthur Critchit (Terry-Thomas) marries Eleanor (Glynis Johns), a young trophy wife who is not quite the domestic goddess he hoped for. His constant nagging about the mess she makes eventually drives her mad. She hits him over the head with a hammer then cuts him up, storing the pieces in neatly labeled jars – including his “odds and ends.”

This Trick'll Kill You (Tales from the Crypt #33)

Sebastian (Curd Jürgens) is a magician on a working holiday in India, where he and his wife (Dawn Addams) are searching for new tricks. Nothing impresses until he sees a girl charming a rope out of a basket with a flute and climbing it. Unable to work out how the trick is done, he persuades her to come to his hotel room, where he and his wife murder her and steal the enchanted rope. Sebastian plays the flute, and the rope rises; his wife climbs it, only to disappear with a scream. An ominous patch of blood appears on the ceiling, and the rope coils round Sebastian's neck and hangs him. Their victim reappears alive in the bazaar.

Bargain in Death (Tales from the Crypt #28)

Maitland (Michael Craig) is buried alive as part of an insurance scam concocted with his friend Alex (Edward Judd). Alex double-crosses Maitland, leaving him to suffocate. Two trainee doctors (Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies) who live in the same boarding house as Maitland bribe a gravedigger (Arthur Mullard) to dig up his body to help with their studies. When Maitland's coffin is opened, he jumps up gasping for air, causing the doctors to run out into the middle of the road in front of Alex's car, which crashes. The gravedigger kills Maitland and when trying to close the sale of the corpse apologizes to the doctors for the damage to the head.

Drawn and Quartered (Tales from the Crypt #26)

Moore (Tom Baker) is an impoverished painter living on Haiti. When he learns that his work has been sold for high prices by dealers and critics who'd told him that it was worthless, he goes to a voodoo priest and his painting hand is given voodoo power; whatever he paints or draws can be harmed by damaging its image. After returning to London, Moore paints portraits of the three men who cheated him (Denholm Elliott, John Witty, and Terence Alexander) and mutilates them to exact his revenge. However, he has also painted his own self-portrait, and must protect it to prevent himself being harmed.

Framing Story (Ending)

When the story of the final dream is told, the five ponder the meaning of their nightmares. The lift door opens, and they find themselves looking out onto a graveyard. They walk out and disappear one by one. The last (Jurgens) explains that they are damned souls doomed to tell the story of their evil deeds for all eternity.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Compared to the comic, most characters are attributed some terrible deed to justify their suffering. For example, Harold in the original "Midnight Mess" comic was just some poor schmoe who wandered into the wrong restaurant while visiting his sister. Here he murders his sister so we don't feel too bad for him.
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: The memories of the people in the framing stories have been rolled back to the point before they committed their misdeeds. They're all pretty shocked and confused about what they did.
  • Art Initiates Life: In "Drawn and Quartered", Hollywood Voodoo gives Moore the ability to affect reality with his art. By creating a painting of an object, anything done to that painting occurs to the real object. For example, when he rips up a painting of a jug, the jug shatters. Moore uses this power to take revenge on the three men who wronged him.
  • Aside Comment: During "Bargain in Death", Maitland glances at the camera and remarks, "There's no money in horror."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Arthur Critchit.
    • In "Midnight Mess" and "Bargain in Death", the villainous main characters' comeuppance comes at the hands of just-as-evil punishers who just happen to encounter them and unknowingly make them pay.
  • Berserk Button: After days of putting up with Arthur's crap on neatness, the words "Can't you do anything neatly?" drive Eleanor to kill him with a hammer and neatly place chopped up parts of his body into labeled Mason Jars.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the very end of the film.
    Sebastian: That's how it is. And how it always will be. Night after night we have to retell the evil things we did when we were alive. Night after night for all eternity.
  • Buried Alive: Maitland, in "Bargain in Death".
  • Cat Scare: In "Midnight Mess", a man (literally) pops up in front of Harold Rogers on the street, to warn him to get inside before dark.
  • Clothing Combat: In "Midnight Mess", Harold uses his necktie to strangle to death the private investigator he hired to find his sister.
  • Dead All Along: Everyone in the framing story.
  • Denser and Wackier: Not by far, since there is still extreme violence and the same dark themes, but Vault of Horror has more tongue-in-cheek Black Comedy compared to the grim atmosphere and bleak ambience of Tales from the Crypt. Some scenes are deliberately campy and even the ending condemnation is downplayed.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Eleanor Pritchit's frantic efforts to tidy up the house before her husband comes home.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Arthur Pritchit is a pompous little prig with an obsession for tidiness, and rather outdated ideas about marital duties. But he's not actually evil, and even seems to care for and love his wife in his own uptight way. So, does he really deserve to end up being killed with a hammer, hacked into pieces and pickled in jars in his basement? And then be forced to re-live the same thing every night for all eternity?
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    • "Midnight Mess", "The Neat Job", and "This Trick'll Kill You" couple this with Pay Evil unto Evil as the victims of the wicked turn into their punishers.
    • "Drawn and Quartered" sees a down on his luck painter acquire the powers of voodoo to get revenge on art critics who have given him a bum deal by making whatever he does to his paintings of them happen to them in real life. Too bad that also applies to his own self portrait...
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The characters in the frame story each have a recurring nightmare that appears to foretell their deaths. Subverted when it turns out that they're already dead, and are reliving their deaths over and over.
  • Evil Versus Evil: In "Midnight Mess" it's a greedy murderer versus a colony of bloodthirsty vampires.
  • Eye Scream: In "Drawn and Quartered", Moore takes his revenge on the art critic Breedley by poking out the eyes of his portrait. As he does this, Breedley's wife discovers that he has been having an affair and, swearing that he "will never look at another again", tosses acid in his face: burning out his eyes.
  • Faking the Dead: Maitland.
  • Fan Disservice: The wife in "The Neat Job" mixes up the underwear drawers at one point. Terry-Thomas is not flattered by pink women's panties.
  • Framing Device: The characters are all learning why they're in Hell/paying for their sins by being forced to relive their stories.
  • Hellevator: The elevator in the frame story is revealed by the end as a facsimile of their transition to their final un-resting place.
  • Hollywood Acid: For some reason, Breedley was apparently in the habit of keeping a bottle of acid just lying around the house where anyone could get to it. That's not a good idea even if you aren't cheating on your wife.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: "Drawn and Quartered".
  • I Ate WHAT?!: In "Midnight Mess", after Harold Rogers samples the restaurant's "juice" and "soup" courses and finds both to be rather peculiar-tasting:
    Waiter: And now, how would you like your roast clots? Well done, medium, rare?
    Rogers: Roast what?
    Waiter: Clots. Blood clots.
    Rogers: [Spit Take]
  • Inheritance Murder: Harold's motive for killing his sister (or trying to, anyway) in "Midnight Mess".
  • Insurance Fraud: The object of Maitland's scheme with Alex in "Bargain in Death".
  • In Name Only: None of the stories are from the titular comic (four of them are from Tales from the Crypt, the second one is from Shock SuspenStories), and the Vault Keeper character is omitted.
  • Missing Reflection: How Harold Rogers learns he's dining in a restaurant full of vampires... and how they learn he's not one of them.
  • Mundane Afterlife: Apparently, the only punishment for sinners is being compelled to tell other sinners about their misdeeds every night.
  • Neat Freak: Critchit, in "The Neat Job".
  • No Honor Among Thieves: In "Bargain in Death", Maitland plans to double-cross Alex by killing him and keeping all the insurance money for himself. Then he discovers that Alex has double-crossed him by leaving him buried alive.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Moore, who possesses Sympathetic Magic powers based around paintings, compels one of his victims (who has pulled a gun on him) to shoot himself in the head by showing him a painting he did of him, and then, while his victim watches, drawing a tiny circle between the painting's eyebrows in red pen.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: "Dies Irae", a Latin hymn commonly used in funeral services.
  • Recursive Canon: During the "Bargain in Death" segment, Maitland passes time by reading... a paperback novelisation of Tales from the Crypt.
  • Robbing the Dead: In "Midnight Mess", Harold pays the private investigator he hired to locate his sister, then after he gets the information, he murders the investigator and takes the money back.
  • Spit Take: In "Midnight Mess", Harold spits a mouthful of soup across the table when the waiter tells him he is drinking blood.
  • Sympathetic Magic: Used with paintings in "Drawn and Quartered".
  • Vampire Bites Suck: Well, there actually may be one thing that sucks more... being hanged up by your heels and having a beer tap jammed in your jugular.
  • Villain Protagonist: Every single main character in the stories.