The Vault of Horror (1973) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January and the “31 Days of British Horror” in March , Jules is at it again in May, treating us to the continuation of his chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.

Starring: Terry-Thomas, Curd Jürgens, Tom Baker, Dawn Addams, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Massey
Director: Roy Ward Baker

The Vault of Horror is nobody’s favourite Amicus portmanteau. It’s never the one that people seem to pick as the one they enjoy more than say, Tales From The Crypt or Asylum.

It’s a shame, as it’s got the dependable Roy Ward Baker in the big chair again, a bunch of stories drawn from classic EC Comics horror titles and the now-standard top-notch cast of talent bringing it all to life. So why isn’t it as well-regarded as it’s peers? Why isn’t it anyone’s favourite portmanteau?

Anyone except me, that is..

After the inventiveness of Asylum, the framing sequence is back to an obvious bunch of dead fellows telling each other how they died. It’s fine though, as the set is a wonderful hybrid of ultra-modern (for 1973) and atmospheric creepiness, plus you have folk like Tom Baker and Terry Thomas sitting around a table. What’s not to like?

Midnight Mess is a delightfully twisted take on sibling rivalry that seems to be about one thing then takes a very unexpected left turn.

Harold Rodgers (Daniel Massey) tracks his sister Donna (Daniel’s real-life sister Anna Massey) to a weird village before murdering her to claim her share of the family inheritance. It turns out he’s not the only killer in the village though, as a trip to a restaurant reveals that the rest of the clientele don’t have a reflection…There’s always something magical about bringing a classic horror trope like vampires into the mundane world of little England in the modern era and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Terry Thomas gets to go Full Terry Thomas in The Neat Job, playing Arthur Critchit, a controlling neat-freak who marries Eleanor (Glynis Johns), a supposed trophy wife who finds it impossible to live up to his insanely high standards. He’s essentially a domestic abuser here, so seeing him get his comeuppance with a claw hammer to the noggin (with a laugh out loud sound effect) is a real joy. There’s not much actual horror here until the double-whammy finale, but Thomas and Johns carry it on sheer personality.

This Trick’ll Kill You’s tale of magic, illusion and murder in India is surprisingly effective in selling the heat and bustle of that area of the world. The sitar-fuelled score and constant background hum go some way to conveying the intensity of the place, while it’s story of magician committing murder to steal a trick before it all goes horribly wrong is nicely done.

Bargain In Death’s convoluted plot pushes some coincidences to unlikely levels, but in its short running time we have a man faking his own death, a double-crossing friend, grave-robbing student doctors, an unconnected but completely impactful car-crash and a bumbling gravedigger all coming together to fulfil a final punchline. And it’s glorious.

Just before he was about to take up the long scarf and hat to become the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker closes the whole thing off with Drawn And Quartered. The great man gives an intense and brooding performance as an artist who learns voodoo to take revenge on an art critic and the dealers who have conspired to cheat him for his work. Now whatever he paints can be harmed by damaging its image. Unfortunately for him, he’s also recently completed a self-portrait…

Anything with folk like Tom Baker and Denholm Elliot heading up the cast is onto a winner already, but this is a wonderfully malicious tale, with no heroes or empathic characters, just unpleasant, immoral ones being taught a lesson by a man who doesn’t seem to be particularly nice himself. It’s nasty, but no less enthralling for it.

There’s something about The Vault Of Horror that just ticks all the boxes for me. If balances evocative locations from middle England to the Far East, it has some genuinely horrific ideas and there’s not a single segment that doesn’t work, with some working really, really well.

There’s plenty of competition, but this is an exceptionally high quality portmanteau from a company who really had the formula nailed by this point.

Rating: 4/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

1 Comment on The Vault of Horror (1973) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

  1. This is actually my favourite Amicus portmanteau. It was the first one that I ever saw, back when I was a young kid… scared the hell out of me! I loved all the stories (and still do) especially the vampire one. I agree with you about the appeal of old school vampires lurking in (then) modern day England. Great stuff!

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