Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ten Statements About....VAULT OF HORROR (1973)

"Now all I have to do if find a spot on the Santa Monica pier
where the tourists love British character actors..."
"It's getting dark. We always close before dark. They come out in the dark."

1) This is maybe the laziest of the Amicus portmanteau films' framing sequences. From the rather awkward start ("Hey, we're all in an elevator...why is it going to the basement? Oh, look, a club!") to its even more awkward resolution ("We're doomed to retell our evil every night in the Disco of Hell" who, Curt? Why?), it lacks the style, wit or dignified atmosphere of other, superior examples.

2) You know, if everyone in "Midnight Mess," the opening story, had dentition like Anna Massey's Donna, the resolution would have worked. Sadly, though, everyone except Massey's got these long saber-tooth like choppers that make it seem like they're all playing at being walruses.

(And while we're on the subject, should I be worried that I have always found Anna Massey sexy in a starchy way?)

3) Even though I will admit that there are some funny comedic beats in the fourth segment, "Bargain In Death," I wish they had allowed the second segment, "The Neat Job" to stand as the sole humorous story. Because of their previous skill at comedy, Terry-Thomas and Glynis Johns are much more effective in advancing their story while also providing satirical smiles--as opposed to the group of lesser actors mugging and overcompensating to make their laughs work in the other one.

Okay, she looks okay...but check out the walrus tusks on the
vampire to Anna Massey's left!
4) Whether you liked or hated the third segment "This Trick'll Kill You"--I thought it was okay, more or less--there are two things you have to admit--1) The rope/snake effect is actually pretty clever, and probably could have done without the slow motion and the whip cracks obviously dubbed in to sell it, and 2) Jasmina Hilton, who plays the Indian Girl who preys upon our asshated magician couple, is really, really hot.

5) The aforemetioned "Bargain In Death" is a real mess...the plot is unnecessarily convoluted, the narrative is clumsy in its execution (did we really need the main character's conspirator tell us out loud what we figured out, oh, in the first two minutes of the story?), and overtly broad in its 'comedy.' Yes, Arthur Mullard's Gravedigger is genuinely hilarious (the way he seems to be playing with the two hapless medical students, throwing dirt on them 'accidentally' is well timed)...but the sight of people's hair standing on end and running around in speeded up Keystone Kops style is winge-worthy. In a field of generally mediocre stories, this one is the story that actively stinks.

6) Of the five main characters, a pre-Doctor Who Tom Baker (this film was released a year before he became the Fourth Doctor, and apparently he was a busy boy--there's something like five entries on his cv for that year) stands out. With his wild hair, prominent beard and deep voice, he provides a startling contrast to the other soft-spoken, well-manicured types who are waiting to tell their stories.

7) Good thing, too, because Baker's story, "Drawn and Quartered" is not only the longest tale but the best. Baker is able to carry the show based on his natural charisma, and even the borderline cartoony approach to the voodoo element works because it manifests itself in a novel and visually engaging way.

8) Boy, in a film rife with some pretty unpleasant human beings, the ones in "Drawn And Quartered" takes the cake--from the art critic who manipulates Baker's artist and cheats on his wife because, you know, it's the 70's to the art dealer who thinks nothing of trying to shoot Baker because he pisses him off, these guys deserve to be shredded.

And to think I left Bushwick to play this role...
9) Not that everything in this story works--the rather obvious Native American figure in the voodoo hogun's grass hut is a particularly inept (lack of attention to) detail.

10) Look, the hero of "Bargain of Death" is seen reading the novelization of Tales From The Crypt! And the two medical students are played by the stars of Doctor In The House! How wait, NO IT ISN'T! of the weaker Amicus anthology films. While there are small touches that are good, especially performances by Thomas, Johns, and Baker, it doesn't hide the fact that there are four bland stories and one hold out. Definitely one to put toward the end of the queue when doing an Amicus retrospective.

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