The Cryptkeeper may be absent from proceedings but, taking its name from 'Tales From The Crypt''s sister publication, 1973's 'The Vault Of Horror' can most definitely be considered a sequel to the previous year's Amicus terror compendium. Written once again by Milton Subotsky with Roy Ward Baker stepping into the directors' chair left vacant by Freddie Francis, the film was actually marketed as 'Tales From The Crypt II' or 'Further Tales From The Crypt' in certain territories. This time we have five sordid tales in addition to the framing story, so let's dive in.
First up is 'Midnight Mess', a particularly memorable yarn in its original comic form. In the grand old EC tradition, once more an inheritance provides motive for a murder - in this case Harold, (Daniel Massey) learns that his sister (played by real life sibling Anna Massey) is the crucial link who's demise will secure him a jackpot. Traveling to a strange small town to do the dirty deed, Harold naturally caps off his murderous evening with a celebratory meal. He soon learns, however, that there's more to the pallid complexions of the local citizens than a lack of vitamin D and one particular undead diner has plans to make him 'Today's Special'. It's a silly and cartoonish premise that arguably worked better in print, though Daniel and Anna's performances are fun enough to carry what is basically a lightweight opening segment.
In 'The Neat Job', Arthur Critchit is a precise and persnickety older man who's new, young wife Eleanor (Glynis Johns) has little time for his obsessive neatness. His attempts to berate her into compliance are unrelenting and it's only a matter of time before Eleanor snaps and disposes of her unfortunate hubby - in the neatest way possible, of course. Another fairly basic story, it's saved by an amusingly grim pay-off and some enjoyably hammy moments from our leads.
More interesting by far however, is 'This Trick'll Kill You'. The trick in question is the much fabled Indian Rope Trick, an often discussed though rarely witnessed illusion that has confounded Western magicians for centuries. In the trick a coiled rope is made to emerge from a basket, snake-charmer style and ascend to the sky where it is climbed by the magician. In our story a magician named Sebastian witnesses this trick performed by a girl on a trip to India to find/steal tricks for his own act. Mystified and unable to get an explanation, he conspires with his wife Inez and they invite the girl to their hotel room where they murder her in order to obtain the enchanted rope. But Sebastian's debut performance does not go as planned when it transpires that the young prodigy had equipped her prop with a unique - and fatal - anti-theft device. Tales involving conjurors, freakshows and circuses always fire the imagination and made for some of the most memorable Crypt outings in all of the franchise's incarnations. One of my favorite segments across both of the Amicus movies.
We've already had the inheritance plot mainstay, so how about an insurance scam story? In 'Bargain In Death', Maitland (Michael Craig) and Alex (Edward Judd) are two friends who have planned one such scheme, involving Alex faking his death and being placed in a coffin. Greed has got the better of his erstwhile pal, however and Maitland is left to be buried alive/suffocate in order that Alex can avoid having a mere 50/50 split of the proceeds. Meanwhile two young doctors, bizarrely named Tom and Jerry have enlisted the help of a gravedigger (played by Arthur Mullard) in procuring corpses to aid them with their studies - and if you haven't guessed by now how this seemingly unrelated aside is going to Alex and Maitland's story, you don't know your EC! While the first two parts of 'The Vault Of Horror' suffered from overly-simplistic plots, this one is almost preposterously contrived and with little to recommend.
Fortunately things improve drastically for our closing chapter 'Drawn and Quartered' in which the always entertaining Tom Baker stars as Moore, a seemingly unsuccessful artist residing in Haiti. Moore soon discovers that while he's been living an impoverished existence, art dealers have been getting rich off of his paintings, exploiting the very talents that they denied he had. This being a 1970s horror movie based on a 1950s comic, I'm sure that the moment Haiti was mentioned you knew that voodoo would enter the picture sooner or later, and you did not miss your guess. A voodoo priest grants Moore an unusual power that means any subject he paints can be damaged in real-life should the painting itself be damaged. With revenge on his mind, Moore heads back to London to begin work on a triptych of the three men who wronged him - a seemingly sound plan, so long as Moore takes extra special care of any self-portraits. A definite highlight, 'Drawn and Quartered' is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.
Little care seems to have gone into the wraparound story this time. Five strangers in an elevator find themselves descending to a basement room with decor to suggest an Old Boys Club of some sort. Stuck there with nothing to do, they begin to recount their troubling dreams to each other, which gives us our five stories. It's an average idea and mostly forgettable, which sadly is the case for much of 'The Vault Of Horror'. While it has its moments and is rarely boring, only 'Drawn And Quartered' and 'This Trick'll Kill You' come close to the quality of the previous film, and I found myself mildly disappointed. That being said, overall if you're an anthology or classic horror fan it is still worth checking out for a handful of great performances.
While Amicus would release a further installment in their portmanteau horror series, 'From Beyond The Grave' in 1974, it would be without any input from the EC library. In fact it would be a full sixteen years before 'Tales From The Crypt' returned to the screen with the much loved HBO show of the same name. Join me soon when I'll begin a countdown of my Top 10 favorite episodes of that classic series.
Have you seen 'The Vault Of Horror'? What was your favorite segment? Let me know in the comments below.