This dismal direct-to-video anthology of nine short subjects is almost guaranteed to provoke howls of outrage from disappointed viewers demanding their money back. The low-budget production values show a certain technical competence, suggesting reasonably well-made student films, but the stories are so flimsy and the pay-offs so weak your reaction is less likely to be a scream of fear than a confused, “Is that all?” In short, this feels like a throwback to the early days of home video, before the major studios had entered the direct-to-video market, when even no-budget amateurs could get their titles released on VHS, as long as they had enough exploitable elements (e.g., nudity and violence). It is a little harder for the small guy to make a splash in the DTV world these days, but Video on Demand (which is how we viewed THE HORROR VAULT) has become this generation’s VHS: a cheap method for low-budget filmmakers to get their films see without prohbitive shipping and handling costs associated with theatrical release.
The opening credits, with a cheesy but fun synth score, suggest a fun ’80s-era horror anthology TV series, but the stories tend toward violent psycho-horror bordering on torture porn, peppered with female nudity to keep your eyelids from closing prematurely. The nadir is a sleazy docu-drama showcasing some of the crimes of Ted Bundy for no particular reason other than that it offers an excuse for portraying acts of sexual violence against women (you can practically here the filmmakers squealing their defense in mock outrage, “Hey, don’t blame us – this really happened!”) Fortunately, there are one or two supernatural tales tucked into the mix, not that their quality is much better, but it offers some variety.
On the plus side, the various episodes are ambitious enough to attempt conveying several different time periods (the 1920s, the 1950s, etc.) with reasonable success, and one or two have premises interesting enough to hold your attention. For example, the intriguing “Alone” focuses on a lone college girl, locked inside an empty sorority house, who must figure out which of two men claiming to help her is actually a serial killer; of course she makes the wrong choice – a weak ending that spoils what could have been a little gem. (The episode is vaguely similar to a sequence in Dario Argento’s OPERA, where the material was handled much better – and with a more thrilling pay-off.)
The stand-out episode is “Disconnected,” which features a man who finds himself confined in an old warehouse where he is brutally tortured. If you’re squeamish, you may find yourself reaching for the fast-forward button, but don’t push it. The hysterical punchline, involving the absurd reason the victim is being tortured, yields the one truly satisfying conclusion to any of the tales.
As for the rest, the episodes tend to be vague or inconsequential and, in at least one case, downright incomprehensible. There is also the problem that, with no time to develop plots, the stories rely only on setting up simple situations – and several of the situations are the same (two episodes involve hitchhikers, more than one features a character waking up in the middle of a horrible situation). Considering how repetitious these nine episodes are, it is amazing to realize that the filmmakers felt they had more to say: THE HORROR VAULT 2 is already available, and THE HORROR VAULT 3 is in the works. It seems unlikely that many viewers who suffered through the first batch will be reopening this vault.
THE HORROR VAULT(Cletus Productions, 2008). Directed by Kim Sonderholm, David Boone, Josh Card, Russ Diaper, Mark Marchillo, Kenny Selko, Thomas Steen Sorensen, J.P. Wenner. Written by Russ Diaper, Drew English, Nicolai Ketelsen, Mark Marchillo, Zach Rasmussen, Kenny Selko, Kim Sonderholm, Thomas Steen Sorensen, J.P. Werner. Cast: Claire Ross-Brown, Kim Sonderholm, Jonathan Trent, Heather Tom, Elisa Richardson, Chad Mehle, James Terry Salles Wells Cook.