Was there ever bet­ter source mate­ri­al for an Amicus hor­ror anthol­o­gy than the hor­ror comic books pub­lished by E.C. Comics? Clearly, Amicus liked what they saw as they quick­ly fol­lowed 1972’s Tales From The Crypt the next year with Vault Of Horror. As with the pre­vi­ous install­ment, they used a stal­wart Hammer hor­ror direc­tor — this time, Roy Ward Baker — to guide a set of bite-size E.C. hor­ror nar­ra­tives trans­lat­ed into screen­play form by Amicus hon­cho Milton Subotsky. The results aren’t quite as con­cen­trat­ed in impact as Tales TalesVaul-bluFrom The Crypt but still offer plen­ty of macabre fun for hor­ror fans.

In Vault Of Horror, Amicus dis­pens­es with the hor­ror host con­ceit of E.C. Comics alto­geth­er and frames the sto­ry­li­nes with a sim­ple but effec­tive link­ing device of their own. A group of five men, includ­ing Terry-Thomas, Curt Jurgens and Tom Baker, are mys­ti­fied when the ele­va­tor they are using deposits them in an under­ground floor where a round table and drinks await. Since they can’t get the ele­va­tor to work (no but­ton on this floor), they take a seat and swap sto­ries to pass the time.

The hor­ror vignettes that fol­low offer a vari­ety of sce­nar­ios, with each man claim­ing that their tale comes from a strange, reoc­cur­ring dream. The sce­nar­ios include a fuss­bud­get hus­band (Terry-Thomas) dri­ving his new wife to the brink, a sleazy magi­cian (Jurgens) try­ing to plun­der a bit of mag­ic in India and an artist (Tom Baker) who turns to voodoo to seek revenge on those who cheat­ed him. As the tales pile up, the five men work their way towards an inevitably spooky twist end­ing in the wrap­around.

Vault VaultOH-01Of Horror is a text­book exam­ple of the Amicus style cir­ca the ear­ly ‘70s: good pro­duc­tion val­ues, a nice cast, a bal­ance between grue and black humor and an old-fash­ioned hor­ror sen­si­bil­i­ty but­tressed by the pres­ence of a Hammer direc­tor at the helm. The results don’t pack quite the same punch as Tales From The Crypt: the lengths of sto­ries vary, with the tale involv­ing Baker run­ning per­haps a bit too long, and the tales cho­sen here aren’t as effec­tive­ly manip­u­la­tive as those used in the pre­vi­ous film. The coda won’t sur­prise any­one who saw Tales From The Crypt but it’s han­dled with a sur­pris­ing ele­gance and mood­i­ness.VaultOH-02

That said, Vault Of Horror still gets the job done. Subotsky’s script keeps both the dark humor and the shocks flow­ing. Baker directs the pro­ceed­ings in a tidy, gen­tly styl­ish man­ner. He doesn’t play up the comic book angle as much as Freddie Francis did but he keeps things col­or­ful, par­tic­u­lar­ly in an ear­ly tale involv­ing a mur­der­ous swindler vis­it­ing a town with a secret (the coda per­fect­ly cap­tures the style of an E.C. Comics part­ing shot). Denys Coop’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy helps build the mood, as does anoth­er thun­der­ous score from Tales com­poser Douglas Gamley.

VaultOH-03Finally, the cast is fun: Terry-Thomas takes plea­sure in apply­ing his “upper class twit” per­sona to more a men­ac­ing set­ting, Jurgens is sub­tly intim­i­dat­ing as the unscrupu­lous magi­cian and Baker brings an unex­pect­ed but effec­tive under­tone of men­ace to his venge­ful artist char­ac­ter. Fans of U.K. fare should also look for an ear­ly appear­ance from Denholm Elliott in the final sto­ry.

VaultOH-posIn short, Vault Of Horror makes a fun com­pan­ion piece to Tales From The Crypt, deliv­er­ing more E.C. comics fun in a dry British style, and is worth a look for fans of Amicus hor­ror antholo­gies.

Blu-Ray Notes: Vault Of Horror was recent­ly released by Scream Factory in a new blu-ray dou­ble fea­ture set with Tales From The Crypt. It is includ­ed in no less than three ver­sions: a new uncut pre­sen­ta­tion on the first disc with Tales and then a sec­ond disc that includes the edit­ed the­atri­cal cut and an open-mat­te pre­sen­ta­tion of the uncut ver­sion. All three trans­fers are solid and the uncut ver­sions indeed restore all the miss­ing snips from the the­atri­cal cut. Extras are lim­it­ed to an alter­nate title sequence (as Tales From The Crypt II) and a trail­er this remains a great deal for fans of hor­ror antholo­gies.