This Amicus film begins with shots of the Houses Of Parliament and stirringly ominous music from Douglas Gamely. The camera pans across the Thames to a high-rise tower by the river and we meet the cast as – one by one – they all enter a descending lift.
The lift takes them all the way down to a lavish sub-basement and then shuts the door behind them.
Vault of Horror was bloodier than the other Amicus compendiums but cuts were made in order to gain a lower certificate.
“Looks like some sort of a club,” says Maitland (Michael Craig), surveying the decanters of brandy sitting on the table. Resigned to waiting for help, Moore (Tom Baker) suggests they might as well make the most of it – so they all pour themselves a glass of something and settle down to talk.
They’ve all had very vivid nightmares recently that seemed very real. Harold (Daniel Massey) is the first to share his own particular recurring nightmare . . .
In the first segment – ‘Midnight Mess’ – the thoroughly unpleasant Harold tracks down his sister, Donna (Massey’s real-life sister, Anna) to a strange town where there is much talk of murders and warnings not to venture out at night.
“Why is everyone afraid of the dark here?” asks Harold. “Because of them!” his sister cryptically replies.
After killing her to claim her share of the family inheritance, Harold settles down to a post-murder meal at the local restaurant, where he ultimately discovers the town is home to a nest of vampires . . .
Donna is not as dead as he thinks, and he becomes the dish of the night when his jugular vein is tapped out as a beverage dispenser – “Ah, tomato juice!”
‘The Neat Job’ stars Terry-Thomas as Arthur Critchit – a mature bachelor with a fondness for huge cravats and classical music. But his bachelor days finally end when he ties the knot with the somewhat clumsy Eleanor (Glynis Johns) and she moves into his garish seventies abode.
Tension soon arises because Arthur is an obsessively tidy and neat person to the point of being slightly mad, as Eleanor soon discovers. The suspense comes from Eleanor desperately trying to tidy up as the clock ticks down to his arriving home from work, and her desperation leading to an escalating series of accidents where she spills something on the carpet and makes a mess of his cellar workshop when she tries to find a nail to hang a picture back on the wall. This simple premise is surprisingly gripping.
After shouting at her, “Can’t you do anything neatly?”, she kills Arthur with a hammer and cuts up the corpse, putting all the different organs into neatly labelled jars.
‘This Trick’ll Kill You’ stars Curd Jürgens as Sebastian, a magician mooching around India with his wife, Inez (Dawn Addams, dubbed here by Honor Blackman) looking for new tricks to perform in his act. Nothing much impresses until he watches an extraordinary performance of the Indian rope-trick and asks the girl who performed it to demonstrate the trick to him and his wife in his hotel room.
Sebastian is unable to work out how the trick is done so decides to just steal the rope and do away with the Indian girl (Jasmina Hilton).
Inez experiments with climbing the rope, only to disappear with a scream. An ominous patch of blood appears on the ceiling, and the rope coils around Sebastian’s neck and hangs him. Their victim reappears alive in the bazaar.
‘Bargain in Death’ has Michael Craig as Maitland, a horror writer with no money who drugs himself to appear dead and is buried alive as part of an insurance scam. But can he trust his partner in crime Alex (Edward Judd) to come and dig him out?
Further complicating matters are medical students Tom and Jerry (Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies from the Doctor sitcoms of the era) who want to dig up a body to help with their studies, roping in Arthur Mullard as a gravedigger.
When Maitland’s coffin is opened, he jumps up gasping for air, scaring Tom and Jerry who run out into the middle of the road in front of Alex’s car, which crashes into a tree and explodes. The gravedigger kills Maitland, and when trying to close the sale of the corpse apologises to Tom and Jerry for the damage to the head.
Vault Of Horror ends on a high with ‘Drawn and Quartered’ starring Tom Baker as Moore, a bearded artist with big hair, who lives in a bamboo hut in Haiti.
Moore visits a local exponent of voodoo and is granted some of its power. Whatever he draws or paints will now happen. If he draws a scar on his cheek then something will happen to give him a scar on his cheek. If he draws a picture of someone and destroys the picture that person will be killed in real life . . .
He discovers his paintings have been sold for high prices by London art dealers Diltant (Denholm Elliott) and Gaskill (John Witty) after being praised by critic Fenton Breedley (Terence Alexander) – all of whom told him that they were worthless.
The impoverished artist decides to head home to exact suitable revenge with his new voodoo superpowers.
When the story of the final dream is told, the five ponder the meaning of their nightmares until the lift door opens, and they find themselves looking out onto a graveyard.
They walk out, becoming decomposing corpses, and disappear one by one.
Sebastian stays behind and explains that they are damned souls compelled to tell the story of their evil deeds for all eternity. He then turns back into the room (which is now the inside of a tomb with a coffin in the centre) and the door shuts behind him.
This was Dawn Addams’s final film before her death on 7 May 1985, at the age of 54.
Roy Ward Baker