How Scream Factory Salvaged The Vault of Horror (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

In 2007, MGM released Tales From the Crypt and its follow-up, Vault of Horror, on DVD in a 2-disc set as part of their Midnite Movies line-up. Tales From the Crypt is a minor horror classic, so it was only natural, when Scream Factory got access to MGM's masters and rights, that they would announce this pair rather quickly as one of their double feature blu-rays. But just one problem: MGM's DVD was cut! They'd let some version cut down for a PG rating back in the days through their gates. In the UK, the uncut version was out on DVD, so it's not like we're talking about long lost footage here; ut we just had this lame-o cut version stateside. So what choice did Scream Factory have in this but to fix this situation? And fortunately they did.
Amicus was already known for making anthology horror films by the time they got to Tales From the Crypt. This one, though, was based on stories from the classic EC horror comics from the 50s, Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror (you see now where the second film's title came from). Except, strictly speaking, most of the stories aren't actually taken from the comic books, but are just more Amicus original short horror stories. But their sensibilities are so similar, you'd be hard pressed to pick out which are which if you didn't already know going in. They're fun, ghoulishly twisted little stories that are almost appropriate for all ages, especially compared to more modern horror films. They're all slightly humorous stories, often of "just desserts," with a bit of a punchline twist ending to them. As I said, Amicus was already expert at these (and they'd surely been inspired by the old EC stories in the first place), and had gotten some excellent British actors and directors for these films. In the case of Tales and Vault (released as Tales From the Crypt II in some markets), we have notable contributions by Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Joan Collins, Patrick Magee and veteran directors Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker. It's safe to say you're going to have a good time with these.
This killer Santa episode was remade as the first episode of the HBO series.
But you'd have less of a good time if you were watching the cut version of Vaults. Some cuts are less devastating than others, but each one is kind of a key moment that it sucks to have spoiled. One in particular is the very punchline to the whole story. Imagine someone told you a really long, complicated joke, that went on for like twenty minutes... "and then the rabbi said to the priest," and on and on... Finally, at the very end he goes, "so the bartender says to ALL of them" and then stops. What? What did the bartender finally say?  "Well, I can't tell you that bit.  But you got 99% of the joke, why fuss over a few missing little words?" I mean, I like to think the stories in these films are a little richer than just gags, but you get the idea.  You CAN'T just clip these films and think they're still close enough. Something had to be done, and Scream Factory had posted different possible plans as the release date for their disc grew nearer... they could splice the uncut footage from the UK DVD into MGM's HD master. But finally on October 3rd last year they announced a welcome discovery:
"Thankfully, there was rumor that the British Film Institute had done a restoration on the film years ago. We contacted them and, sure enough, BFI had done an HD transfer from a film print--and it was the UNCUT version!  :) We quickly had a clone made of their master and then removed dirt and scratches from it to the best of our resources.

The release is now a 2-disc set. The first disc will include TALES and VAULT's uncut widescreen. The 2nd disc will include VAULT's theatrical cut (from the Fox master) and a rare open-matte version of the BFI master."
The downside was that the expense they acquired getting the new master meant there would be no extras to speak of  That's a drag, because I'm sure there are a lot of fun stories behind these two movies and how they made their way from comic books to Amicus anthologies, which ultimately lead to an HBO series and more movies decades later. But still, getting Vault uncut was essential. I would never have picked up the MGM set if I realized it was cut... But I did, so we can compare it now, along with... what did that quote say?  Two extra versions of Vault? Oh boy, that's going to be a lot of screen grabbing.
Scream Factory's 2014 blu on top; MGM's 2007 DVD below.
So we start off easy with Tales From the Crypt. There are no varying cuts of that one; just the original SD DVD and the HD blu-ray. As you can see, it's the same master, with identical framing, colors, etc.It's a fine blu-ray upgrade, but the MGM DVD was excellent enough that you barely notice the difference until you start zooming into the finest detail like eyelashes in the upper shot (with the basketball), which do get a little lost on the DVD. The film grain also gets a little smudged out on the DVD. There's no question which is superior, but this is one of those releases where casual viewers with modestly sized televisions would probably not notice the difference.

But now let's get into the comparisons we all came here to see:
Scream Factory's uncut blu first, cut blu second, full-frame version third and MGM's DVD last.
The first interesting thing you'll probably notice is that the cut and uncut versions on Scream Factory's blu don't look the same. Obviously, you'd expect the uncut version to have a little extra footage; but why should the rest of the film look different? Well, Scream Factory's story above explains it: The uncut version is the new transfer made by the BFI, and the cut one is MGM's older HD transfer. So there are distinct differences, most notably probably the colors. Look at the painter's hand: it's much redder in the cut version and yellower in the uncut version. Naturally, then, MGM's DVD also has the redder skin tone, and the full-frame version on disc two must be from the BFI transfer as well, as he has yellower hands again there.

Otherwise, the framing (slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1) is pretty identical... Except for the BFI's fullscreen version on disc two, obviously, which is open matte, showing more picture on the top and bottom. It's a bit of fun for curiosity seekers, I suppose; but it's evident just from watching the film that the widescreen version is the proper aspect ratio.
Apart from the colors, I'm not sure how much of a revelation the BFI transfer is. It's a bit smoother and nicer - look again at the painter's hands in the MGM (reddish) image; they look downright spotty. But it's really not much of an upgrade; the key thing is that the BFI brought all the cut footage into HD. That's pretty awesome and the key reason to support this release and replace your DVDs.
So let's talk extras. Like I said, there's really nothing to speak of, so don't get excited. But there's not absolutely zero. MGM had a fullscreen, black and white (presumably for television) trailer for Vault of Horror on the DVD. That trailer has been carried over to the blu, and they've also included an alternate opening credits sequence for Vault with the alternate Tales From the Crypt II title card. That's it. Nothing else on either disc.
So there ya go, two good, vintage horror films on a nice double bill, presented exactly as they should be. The second disc isn't as desirable as just a few nice extras would've been - is anyone really going to sit down and watch the cut version when they've got the uncut one? It's not like it's got any unique alternate scenes; it's just missing stuff. And the music skips on the cuts and one bit of film is quite distractingly replaced by a still frame. But it's what they had, I guess. And the important thing is they went the extra mile for Vault of Horror. So sit down and enjoy before some crumbling dead person digs his way out of the grave and delivers whatever poetic irony you've got comin' to you.


  1. The cuts of THE VAULT OF HORROR MGM DVD are horrendous,with the David Massey,Terry Thomas,and Tom Baker displaying severe edits as if they were intended for a TV viewing,the Massey segment's finale of the vampire pouring blood out of a large corkscrew in Massey's neck that the MGM DVD completely blacks out yet it's a full freeze frame(complete with the large corkscrew shown) shot on both the TV and Eastwest public domain DVD versions. Glad to know that the Shout!/Scream Factory edition did it right.

  2. Not sure why the restoration by the BFI was shrouded in mystery, as it was played in HD on Channel 4 in the UK not long after they finished the work on it. It comes with a card after the end credits informing those watching about the work done on it. Still have a copy of that screening somewhere in the vaults!