Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Vault of Horror (1973)

As I may have mentioned a while back, I was a big fan of Tales from the Crypt (1972) when I was a kid. I watched it several times over the years, and each time it just got better and better. The Vault of Horror (1973) was the direct sequel to Tales from the Crypt, but somehow I didn’t see it until I was well into adulthood. And, unfortunately, when I did finally watch it, it turned out to be the censored TV print. I didn’t know this until afterwards, but the whole time I was watching The Vault of Horror, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. It just didn’t have the same spark that Tales from the Crypt had – which was odd, because it was a decently rated film (2.5 stars in Terror On Tape – and some of my favourite movies rated 2.5 stars in that book). Once I figured out that there was actually missing footage in the version I watched, I knew that I had to track down the uncut print…

The new Tales From The Crypt / Vault Of Horror [Double Feature] - Blu-ray from Scream FactoryAnd thanks to Shout Factory (or Scream Factory) releasing a double feature Blu-ray of both films, I finally did.

It turns out that there is only about 40 seconds of extra footage in the uncut print, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but depending on what it is, it could make a big difference to the viewing experience. And, of course, I wondered if perhaps there might be alternate footage in some moments. I recall the unrated VHS tape of Re-Animator (1985) being shorter than the censored R-rated edition. According to the IMDb, this is due to the addition of “16 non-violent scenes.” I just remember L.A. Morse, in his book Video Trash and Treasures, imploring everyone to rent the shorter version (which didn’t seem like the obvious choice, but he was right).

I should mention that The Vault of Horror was directed by Roy Ward Baker, who directed a lot of movies and television – including classics like The Vampire Lovers (1970), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971), Asylum 1972) and  one of my other childhood favourites, The Monster Club (1981). Those last two were anthologies, like The Vault of Horror. The Monster Club is not as well loved as the other films I mentioned, but I rented it on Beta when it was pretty new and I loved it. It was one of those movie that I watched about three times before returning the tape to the store the next day. As a result, the nostalgia level is through the roof whenever I look at it now. I suppose it’s impossible for me to accurately assess it as a piece of filmmaking, but who cares? That’s why the word favourite exists. It has nothing to do with overall filmmaking excellence or critical judgment. 

The Vault of Horror is not coloured by any such feelings in my case. I was over 30 the first time I saw it, and it wasn’t exactly a steller viewing experience. It did make me want to see the uncut version, but I didn’t feel any particular love for the movie. Basically, I was withholding my judgment until I could see it as Roy Ward Baker had intended me to – and last week I finally got the chance. 

I already knew this from the first time, but the cast is truly outstanding. From Anna and Daniel Massey to Terry-Thomas and Glynis Johns to Curd Jürgens and Dawn Addams to Denholm Elliott and Tom “Doctor Who” Baker – the list  goes on and on. The production values are excellent, and the film feels very much like an Amicus Production (which is a good thing). The stories are a bit of a mixed bag, which is often the case in anthologies. I like two of them very much, and I must say that the one with Denholm Elliott and Tom Baker is my favourite. The other stories are more cute and funny, as opposed to scary, but that’s not a bad thing either. Basically, it’s a fun movie. 

The uncut footage is mostly gore, and it does add something to the overall experience. It does not, however, elevate mediocre stories to excellence. For my money, The Vault of Horror is not as good a movie as Tales from the Crypt – but keep in mind that my feelings of nostalgia are working overtime for that movie as well.  I have no doubt that The Vault of Horror is a better movie than The Monster Club, but I will likely never feel as warmly toward it because of nostalgia (or lack thereof). 

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this sequel very much and would say that The Vault of Horror (1973) is a fine example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. I’m sure that it has nostalgic fans who would treasure it above many other films I have mentioned – and rightly so. There is no wrong when it come to favourite movies. And while I wouldn’t list this one among my own personal favourites, I would definitely watch it again someday – perhaps on another rainy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: New Year’s Evil (1980)

Back in the 1990s, I appeared on a radio show to promote one of the low budget film projects that I was working on at that time. The host asked me if I had seen any good movies lately. For some reason, this question threw me. It’s always a little tricky to think of a good answer to an unexpected question when you’re put on the spot during a live interview. However, I watch at least one movie a day, so surely it should have been easy for me to rattle off a list of seven or ten titles just from the past week. But perhaps it was the inclusion of the word “good” that made me hesitate, and see nothing but visions of dust and tumbleweeds where the memory of my recently watched pile of movies should have been.

The last thing anyone wants on the radio is dead air, so I immediately started to answer the question with some sort of awkward stammering about how it all depended upon a person’s definition of “good”. Thankfully, as I was speaking, one recently watched movie came back to me.

“I just saw New Year’s Evil,” I told him.

The host looked puzzled. “New Year’s Evil…?”

“It’s not a recent movie,” I explained. “It’s an old slasher film from the ’80s. Made after Halloween, so they named it after a holiday – or at least a day in the calendar. Like Friday the 13th or My Bloody Valentine.”

“I haven’t seen it,” the host admitted, “but I know which movie you’re talking about.” He was roughly my age, and a huge fan of ’80s movies, so it wasn’t surprising that he would have heard of it.

“As you know, I’m a fan of slasher films,” I continued, “but I had never seen this one either. Maybe because the books all said it was bad.”

“And was it?” he asked me.

“I actually liked it,” I said, and I’m not sure which one of us was more surprised by that answer.

Truth be told, my expectations for New Year’s Evil (1980) had been pretty low. My most trusted review book, Terror On Tape by James O’Neill, gave the movie one and a half stars and called it “A less than great throwback to those bygone days when no holiday was safe from the makers of mad slasher movies… With bad music, little blood, and a predictable twist ending…” In Video Trash and Treasures, L.A. Morse says “I think there are more music/dance interludes than bodies in this one, which probably says it all…”. I actively avoided watching this movie for the better part of two decades. It was only when I found an old VHS tape in a bargain bin that I decided it was time to finally see what it was all about.

I certainly did not expect to discuss this movie on a live radio show about FIlm.

It was true that I had enjoyed New Year’s Evil much more than I had expected to – perhaps largely due to the very low expectations that I had developed over the years. Most reviewers criticized the film for it’s extensive use of rock band performance footage – and often called the music bad. I actually enjoyed that aspect of the film. It’s about a big New Years Eve rock show. They call it a “punk rock” show, but the music seems to be more straight up hard rock or classic rock. We do see bands performing several times throughout the movie.

I have a particular fondness for movies about rock bands. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is a favourite of mine from way back – and it is, in way, about “bad music”, although my friends and I all bought the soundtrack and loved it. I am also a huge fan of the heavy metal horror films like Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987), Black Roses (1988) and Rocktober Blood (1984). New Year’s Evil is not really like those movies. It’s not a story about the band(s), or in which the members of the bands are characters. In fact, the bands in New Year’s Evil are actually real bands. This makes it, in some ways, closer to movies like The Prowler (1981) which features a band performing on stage. But New Year’s Evil features so much music – and a flamboyant rockstar-like celebrity host played by Roz Kelly (who some might remember as Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days (1974-84)) – that it takes on a bit of that rock band horror movie feel. And call me crazy, but I like the music featured in the film – you can hear the theme song by Shadow on YouTube.

So, I wasn’t lying to the radio host when I said that I had liked New Year’s Evil, but I think it was a fairly mild like after that first viewing. Over the years, however, I started to watch New Year’s Evil on New Years Eve (go figure), and I found my appreciation of the film growing stronger with each viewing. Kind of like a song or album that you hear once and think is okay, but after you hear it a few more times you start to really get into it. Those are some of favourite songs/albums. After wearing out my VHS tape, I upgraded to the Scream Factory Blu-ray and I couldn’t be happier. The film has never looked (and sounded) better, and it’s nice to have a few extras to enhance the experience.

One more rock and roll reason to love New Year’s Evil (at least for me), is the fact that Nurse Robbie, whom our psychopathic killer encounters at a mental institution, is played by Jennie Franks. She has a few acting credits over a ten year period, and was apparently also a photographer and playwright. I had never noticed this before, but she also has quite a few songwriting credits on the IMDb – and they are all for one song: Aqualung by Jethro Tull. Those who know me, know that I am a huge fan of Jethro Tull, and Aqualung is one of my all time favourite albums, and songs. When I saw Jennie Franks’ soundtrack credits on the IMDb, my brain couldn’t quite comprehend them – until I remembered that Aqualung is one of the only songs in Jethro Tull’s vast catalogue that wasn’t written solely by Ian Anderson. And I had noticed, years ago, that the co-writer of Aqualung was a woman… Jennie Anderson, in fact; Ian’s first wife. Now I discover, much to my surprise, that Jennie Franks, the actress who plays the nurse who (SPOILER ALERT) gets murdered in New Year’s Evil, used to be called Jennie Anderson, and is, in fact, the very same Jennie Anderson who co-wrote one of my all time favourite songs!

What are the odds of that?

I actually always liked Jennie Franks’ portrayal of Nurse Robbie in this movie, but I had no idea who she was until this year. I suspect that all future viewings of New Year’s Evil will only be enhanced by this exciting new discovery…

Director Emmett Alston only made eight films during his relatively brief career, and by the looks of them they might all be #NotQuiteClassicCinema of one type of another. Alston seemed to be particularly partial to ninjas, having made three films about them. A year before  New Year’s Evil was released, Alston made his directorial debut with something called Three-Way Weekend (1979). It’s described on the IMDb as “Two bisexual girls go camping in the woods and are followed around by a perverted guy in a gorilla mask and a man in uniform with a whip who thinks everyone’s a communist…”. If ever a film heralded the arrival of a cinematic genius it’s got to be this one. Needless to say, I’m putting it on my must-find-a-copy-and-watch list.



For me, New Year’s Evil (1980) will always be a welcome addition to any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – especially if that Friday also happens to be New Years Eve, or New Year’s Day. And looking at my new 2021 calendar, I think I know what I’ll be doing next December 31…

Friday night at the home drive-in: Dr. Orloff’s Monster AKA The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll (1964)

Jess Franco directed over 200 movies in his lifetime. Most of them are considered to be bad by mainstream critics. I first took an interest in him when reading bad reviews of his movies in Video Trash and Treasures by L.A. Morse. Continue reading