Director: Roy Ward Baker
Release Date: 1973
Amicus were, almost, a poor man’s version of Hammer, certainly with much lower production values and less skilful scripts, and yet they made some memorable films and became Hammer’s main rival for many years. They also made several compilation films, like Vault of Horror, that showed several short stories linked by a common theme. In this case five men enter an elevator on different floors. It descends past the ground floor into the sub-basement. They get out and enter a rather opulent room that has a chamber with five chairs around a table with drinks. The elevator door closes and there is no call button and so, to pass time, the men tell each other of the nightmares they all seem to have been having.
The first is the vampire tale, which is the tale we are interested in. Very quickly, however, I’ll tell you that the other tales involve the iconic Terry Thomas in a tale of a woman’s pain at her husband’s obsessive compulsive traits. There is the tale of a stage magician who will go to any length to get his hands on a new trick. A man tries to fake his own death for an insurance scam, which goes terribly wrong. Finally, the fantastic Tom Baker plays a painter who develops the ability to use voodoo via the medium of his art – this is actually the best short in the film carried, in no small part, by Tom Baker’s eccentric charisma.
The vampire story is titled “Midnight Mess” and stars Daniel Massey as Harold Rodgers. When we meet him he is putting on a tie but is interrupted as someone comes to his door. A shady looking gentleman (Michael Pratt) comes in and Rodger’s asks whether he has found her and then asks where the woman, he is obviously looking for, is. The man won’t answer without being paid, but passes him the address after money changes hands, warning Rodgers that he didn’t like the town because it seemed strange. Rodgers wants to know if anyone knew he was there and, when he replies no, strangles the man with his tie and takes back his money.
Rodgers goes to a house and rings the bell, but there is no answer. He notices a restaurant across the street and is heading that way when he bumps into a local who realises he is a stranger and advises him to get indoors as it is almost dark. At the restaurant he is informed that the establishment is closing as it is almost dark and so returns to the house where he rings the bell again. This time a woman’s voice asks who is there and he tells her it is her brother. Donna (Anna Massey) opens the door and lets him in, though there is no warmth to their meeting.
She asks why he is there and he simply says that he has come to see her and then asks why everyone is afraid of the dark. Cryptically she answer because of them and then adds that seventeen people have been found recently, all drained of blood. Rodgers reveals his true colours and informs her that their father died four weeks before and she is the heir, so long as she is alive. After producing a knife he stabs her.
Outside her home he laughs and then notices people going into the restaurant. He follows them in and we notice that the contents of their plates and glasses seem very red indeed. He is shown to a table and informed of the main menu. A drink is brought, again very red, “Tomato juice,” he guesses and takes a sip, pulling a face at the taste. A plate of soup is brought to him. As he drinks it the waiter (Jerold Wells) comes over. Rodger’s says that the soup tastes odd but the waiter informs him that it is as always and then asks how he would like his clots done; rare, medium or well done. Rodger’s is confused and the waiter explains, blood clots. Twigging finally, he spits the blood from his mouth and, when trying to leave his seat, is forced back down by the waiter. The waiter opens a curtain, revealing a mirror, and the only person reflected is Rodgers, the other diners are quickly on their feet.
Donna walks in, none the worst for wear with her brush with a knife and walks past a couple of vampire women who are drinking glasses of blood, “Much better than the frozen stuff,” one remarks. Donna asks for a glass, and then reveals her fangs, and we cut to Rodgers (in a scene that I believe has been cut from the US version), hung upside down, with a tap in his neck, being bled. Each time the tap is turned he spasms, which was a very nice touch indeed.
The entire short must only last around 11 minutes and so really doesn’t have long to build any form of character sympathy. I must also point out that the vampires have comedy fangs. However, the joy of the short is the ending, which whilst not explicit has a wonderfully gruesome air.
Looking at this I cannot really give a score for the entire film, it is only the vampire short that this page is concerned with. It is very short and, therefore difficult to score, and I would say that the short by itself does not make the DVD worth buying – though if you are interested in the whole film then obviously the DVD becomes much more attractive a prospect. I should add that my DVD box claims that the film is digitally remastered but the transfer is very poor indeed.
There is little scope for any major plot or character development in the story and the scope for any of the actors to shine is limited. Then there are the comedy fangs, always a bad sign. That said I loved the tap to the neck, very inventive indeed, and am going to give 3.5 out of 10 for the “Midnight Mess” short. Incidentally the write up on the back of the DVD seems to indicate that Tom Baker plays Rodgers, this is clearly incorrect.
The Vault of Horror imdb page is here.
A trailer for the movie is here, bizarrely the only part of any of the stories shown in this is from “Midnight Mess” and shows the tapping of the neck.