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Vault Of Horror (1973)

Vault Of Horror is British to the core - and it sets out its stall by playing the credits over that most British of cliches, the Houses Of Parliament, before a shakey zoom onto a high-rise apartment block.

Cue five bored-looking character actors in a lift, which for some reason, ends up in the sub-basement. "But I pushed ground!" complains one. "So did I!" exclaims another. Perhaps that's what broke the mechanism, I don't know. I just write smart-arsed reviews of bad films, I'm not a lift expert (by the way, the Americans amongst you should read "lift" as "elevator").

Anyway, after a bearded Tom Baker says they should all make the best of it, they start swapping tales of dreams they've recently had. "It's a strange situation, almost like a dream..." says Terry Thomas, whistfully. "Dreams are much more frightening, at least... mine are!" says one of his companions, out of the blue. And so it begins...

Midnight Mess

Our first dreamer is told by a private investigator (rather fantastically played by Mike Pratt, who was Geoff Randall in the original and best Randall And Hopkirk... Deceased) that "she" has been found, and proceeds to bump off the unfortunate gumshoe. He goes to the village where "she" is, bumps into a miserable local (as usual) who tells him not to hang around after dark. He tries the local restaurant, finds "her" (his sister), ignores her tales of 17 bodies found drained of blood, and stabs her to death. Cheers. Of course, it'll come as no surprise that vampires have taken over the town, but what makes this segment is the jokey way it's done - back at the vampire restaurant, he gets a funny look when he reckons that what he's been served is tomato juice, the mirror scene is brilliantly done, and the final images as the body convulses for the camera is quite nasty.

"We all have a recurring dream," one of his companions tells him (errr... no we don't, actually), "what's yours?"

The Neat Job

Gap toothed lothario Terry Thomas wastes no time in discussing his own sordid tale. He's getting married (at his age?) to his friend's daughter (urgh!) Eleanor (God knows how old his friend is, but she's no spring chicken), and she wastes no time moving in to his groovy 70s pad and stamping her own mark on the place. This drives him nuts, because he has a place for everything, and everything should be in its place - or he gets confused (the site of an ageing Mr Thomas in nothing but a pair of women's knickers will remain with me for the rest of my days).

As things get worse and worse (it has to be said that she is a clumsy bint) and arguments about spaghetti sauce get ever more wearing, she ends up belting him one with a hammer. "There Arthur," she tells his bottled remains, "you said I couldn't be neat, but I was, I tidied up everything. Everything in it's place and a place for everything..."

Which only leaves the question - what exactly is in the "odds and ends" jar?

This Trick'll Kill You

Ah, India. Jewel of the far East, etcetera. As a cockney swami regails his audience with basket stabbing and sword swallowing antics, his act is ruined by our third dreamer, Kurt Jurgens. "No tricks..." he tells everyone. "As a fellow magician I can assure you of that!" Has the man never heard of the Magic Circle? Paul Daniels still won't reveal how he sawed Debbie Magee in half, 10 years after everyone stopped caring!

Old Kurt is actually on the lookout for new tricks for his own show, and after watching a blacked-up actress perform the rope trick, he kills her to get the secret. When his wife/assistant climbs the rope herself, she sees something at the top, screams, and disappears - leaving nothing but a swiftly spreading pool of blood on the ceiling. Nasty. As the cockney swami continues his tricks outside, we see Kurt attacked by the rope and left swinging in his room, watched by the dead eyes of the Indian girl.

Bargain In Death

"It begins in a graveyard..." says our fourth dreamer. "In a grave... a freshly dug grave... my grave... buried alive!"

Our "hero" is a horror story writer, ("there's no money in horror...") who's determined to collect on his insurance money, 'cos he's broke. He makes a deal with his friend, but murmurs that once everyone believes he's dead his friend "won't be needed any more". Cheers.

He takes a drug to slow his heart down and make it look like he's died (while he's waiting for it to take effect, he reads the novelisation of Amicus' previous anthology, Tales From The Crypt - nice touch).

Anyway, he gets buried, and enter two medical students (Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies from the sit com Doctor In The House - well, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time), who decide they need a body to practice on. You can see it coming, can't you?

Well, there's comedy prat falls ahoy (including an "hilarious" Crackerjack - style dirt in the face routine) as the pair of lank haired nob-ends search the graveyard - before coming across a very alive cadaver, which makes their hair actually stand on end (oh dear).

In the rather frantic finale there's a nasty car crash and an even nastier "spade in the head" death, but as is commented on in the icy calm following the tale-telling, it's a "preposterous story".

Drawn And Quartered

Tom Baker is an artist, working in Haiti, who finds that he's been ripped off by his London-based agent. He buys some voodoo and discovers that whatever he draws or paints, if he destroys it, the thing is destroyed in real life, too. So what's the first thing he does? Draw a picture of himself. What an arse. Anyway, he packs up the self-portrait and heads to London, where he takes revenge on the people who have been ripping him off before accidentally wrecking his own picture. Derr.

And so we get to the end of the film, which, in the time-honoured method of many of the Amicus anthologies, has our dreamers realise that they're actually in a great deal more shit than they thought. Vault Of Horror is a great anthology - more camp than Asylum or Tales From The Crypt, but infinitely more enjoyable than the turgid Torture Garden. A surfeit of 70s locations, some great character actors, and a healthy dose of humour don't hurt, either.

It was recently the subject of a "homage" by comedian Steve Coogan and writer Henry Normal, as part of their dreadful Dr Terribles House Of Horrible series. As with the other five episodes, it died on its arse - mainly because what the creators failed to realise was that the original films are funny and entertaining enough and don't need to be the subject of satire.

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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