Twitter Plot Summary: A group of random gentlemen are whisked away to a basement where they discuss some slightly horrific dreams they have experienced.
Adapted from horror comic Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror is a classic example of the anthology format that was once popular in cinematic circles, in that it features a number of big name actors showing up to do a few minutes of film before picking up their pay cheque and the story moves onto the next vignette. From a purely business perspective it’s a great model for a film as you can cram it with big name stars and only have to pay them a fraction of their usual fee. This method has of course been tarnished in recent years from a glut of lowbrow comedy films including but not limited to the travesty that is Movie 43. But let’s move on quickly from such matters lest this film be tainted by that awful, awful film.
The framing device is flimsy to day the least. In modern day London, five men climb into a lift – among them are Curt Jurgens, Terry Thomas and a pre-Doctor Who Tom Baker – which descends to the sub-basement against their will. There they find a table, wine and cigars awaiting them, so completely randomly they decide to tell each other about the recurring dreams that have been plaguing them.
The anthology format always has its up and down points, much like sketch comedy. Some material is very strong whereas other parts lack either a solid concept or have just been presented in the wrong way. The opening segment doesn’t do too badly until the laughable vampire teeth make an appearance, although the mirror reveal is rather well done. The second sequence features Terry Thomas having to contend with his wife – played by Mrs Banks herself, Glynis Johns – moving things around whilst trying to keep their place tidy.
The third story sees Curt Jurgens as a magician seeking new tricks and desperate to learn how an Indian girl is able to charm a rope without any signs of trickery – magic and mysticism, naturally. Story 4 features a man being buried alive as part of an insurance scam – not a clever move either way. Finally, Tom Baker seeks voodoo input and paints a creepy self portrait after he is betrayed by critics who have sold his works at an inflated price while he saw no profits. He also rocks an impressive beard.
It’s almost quaint by modern standards, often less scary than an episode of The League of Gentlemen. The music is frequently far more dramatic than the story being played out, and the production values are standard low key 70s fare. The Hammer films may have completed much of their filming on a soundstage rather than venturing out into the real world, but they had a very specific visual style and looked impressive. In this case, there’s more than a fair share of Monty Python’s Flying Circus to the production value, which does not help in the slightest. If you can see past this then The Vault of Horror has plenty going for it, but if you draw the line at slightly iffy effects and the fact it looks nothing like the Hammer movies, then please move along.