Is it comforting or horrifying thinking there are invisible forces, inevitably punishing or rewarding people as morality demands? 1973's The Vault of Horror is, like the EC series of horror comics in the 1950s, a depiction of a world where people are usually punished in equal measure to their wicked designs, often ironically. Actually taking almost all of its stories from Tales from the Crypt, this anthology film for Amicus directed by Roy Ward Baker features a wonderful cast performing tonally very faithful adaptations.
The Vault of Horror comics, like The Haunt of Fear, were mostly interchangeable with Tales from the Crypt, all published by EC Comics, featuring many of the same writers and artists, like Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig, telling similar stories. Tales from the Crypt stories were typically introduced by the Crypt Keeper but the Vault Keeper, from Vault of Horror, and the Old Witch, from Haunt of Fear, would appear to introduce stories in Tales from the Crypt, too.
Sadly, the Vault Keeper is absent from this film, despite the fact that it is something of a followup to Amicus' Tales from the Crypt which featured Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. The framing story for this Vault of Horror film features the main characters of each story, a group of five men, finding themselves stranded on one floor of a building by an apparently malfunctioning elevator. To pass the time, each tells a story of a dream he had where he died after committing some form of wrong doing. Each remarks on how real the dream seemed. I'll leave it to you to guess what happens at the end.
The only story not from Tales from the Crypt comes from EC's Shock SuspenStories, "The Neat Job", written by Tales from the Crypt's prolific writer Al Feldstein. This one stars Terry-Thomas and Glynis Johns and, as you might expect, plays more to comedy than the other stories. He's (of course) an obnoxious wealthy man and Johns is his good hearted but clumsy wife. It's a pleasure watching these two together though they have the ugliest house I've ever seen.
The climax of the story mostly leans on Johns who does a good job building tension with an otherwise slapstick routine as she breaks one thing after another, trying to clean up the house before the fastidious Terry-Thomas arrives home.
The other stand out story, based on a Tales from the Crypt story by Jack Davis, is "Drawn and Quartered" starring Tom Baker with Denholm Elliott in a small but crucial role. This film came out a year before Baker was cast as the Fourth Doctor but he's already showing an admirable taste in eccentric attire.
Baker plays a painter living in Haiti in poverty when he learns a friend (Elliott) has made a fortune selling his paintings back in London along with two accomplices, a dealer and a critic, who conspired to drive up the market value of Baker's art while keeping him out of the loop. It being Haiti, the painter turns to a distinctly comic book version of voodoo for revenge. If Dorian Gray were more interested in revenge killings, you might have gotten something like this story. Baker, with his hypnotic bug eyes and deep voice, easily enthrals the viewer, and his showdown with Denholm Elliott is captivating.
The other stories are all decent enough and the film's competently filmed by Roy Ward Baker.
Twitter Sonnet #1038
Delivered lines of growing wheat matured.
In questions asked the atoms turn to suns.
So nameless orbs at autumn late interred.
Along the sides of fish the river runs.
The thousandth first was time to plant the husk.
On beams below the brain's a sudden storm.
The solar flare became a neon tusk.
Across the sand the desert's getting warm.
Examined toast attracts the cooking mouse.
Beneath the boiling brush the paint began.
A canny clip assessed the vault in house.
A travelogue disclosed the rice again.
In helpless paintings pens can take the gun.
A moment's cat can easily outrun.