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Less well known than their rivals Hammer, Amicus was the other British studio producing boundary pushing horror films in the 60’s and 70’s. Unlike Hammer who readapted the classical Universal monsters, Amicus devoted itself to original horror. Its specialty being a series of anthology films, today Scream Factory is releasing two of the best.

Most of the Amicus anthologies focused on original stories, but these two drew as their source material the comics from the EC line. While the films don’t reproduce the tone of these old comics with the fetishistic fidelity of say Creepshow, they do preserve EC’s nasty edge, grim humor and lurid gore.

The stronger of the two is probably Tales From The Crypt which benefits from the direction of Hammer veteran Freddie Francis and a stronger line up of stories. These include “All Through The House” where a woman trying to cover up a murder finds herself stalked by a homicidal maniac dressed as Santa. “Poetic Justice”, in many ways the archetypical EC story, in which a harmless, childlike pensioner played by Peter Cushing is tormented to death by a pair of utter bastards and then come back from the grave for a bit of retribution. It’s the typical EC formula of horrible things happening to terrible people and a damn satisfying example. Cushing makes the most of a rare good guy turn. Things go out on a high note with “Blind Alley” in which a cruel man takes over a shelter for the blind and after driving his charges half mad with inhumane treatment ends up the subject of a deliciously baroque revenge plot. This one is anchored by another strong turn form a British character actor, with A Clockwork Orange’s Patrick Magee bringing his trademark intensity as the leader of the revolt.

But Vault Of Horror is certainly no slouch either, the best segments being, “The Neat Job” in which a prissy neat freak husband pays a stiff price for his nagging and “Drawn And Quartered” in which Tom Baker (yep that Tom Baker) plays an artist gets revenge on a group of men who cheated him via his voodoo powered paintings only to have things backfire on him quite spectacularly. While neither segment reaches the ghoulish heights of Tales and director Roy Ward Baker doesn’t quite have Francis’s eye, Vault Of Horror is more of the same dependable, carefully crafted horror with which Amicus made its reputation. While a couple of segments may stray into camp on the whole both films are as sturdy and dependable as the British character actors who fill their ranks.

There are no extras to speak of though you could certainly argue that Vault of Horror itself is a generous extra. The transfer is typically excellent work from Scream, crisp and detailed I think it’s fair to say that these films have never looked better. The Amicus back catalog is a deep one, here’s hoping that this is just the beginning of Scream’s excavation (fingers crossed for a Robert Bloch double feature).

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The Author

Bryce Wilson

Bryce Wilson

Confirmed film geek and literary nerd. Writer for Paracinema and Art Decades Magazine, columnist for the San Luis Obispo New Times and author of Son Of Danse Macabre. Resides in Austin, TX.