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The Vault   C+

Full Moon Pictures / Tempe Entertainment

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: R
Director: James Black
Writers: Douglas Snauffer, Carl Washington Jr.
Cast: Michael Cory Davis, Shani Pride, Ted Lyde, Leopoldo Papi, Austin Priester, Kyle Walker, Antoine Java Benson, Paris Washington, James Black.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

After the last two Full Moon productions, HorrorVision and Stitches, strayed from the kids-trapped-in-a-big-scary-place scenario that the company so enjoys utilizing, The Vault heads right back to that tired formula. Hey, at least the film has slick direction, some good performances, and a few decent death scenes. But so much for change.

This time around, a teacher (Ted Lyde) and five high school students go to an abandoned school to have a look around and salvage any memorabilia before it's torn down. But, of course, this isn't your typical abandoned high school. Nosiree. The place has a haunting history of torture and death, since slaves were held captive there before the Civil War. Oh -- and there's an angry spirit imprisoned in a vault in the basement. Who wants to bet that those pesky kids are gonna open the vault and unleash the spirit?

Released through Full Moon's "urban" label, Big City Pictures, The Vault features an all black cast. The color of the cast, however, doesn't change the fact that these characters are the same cardboard cutouts that populate many other horror movies with teens trapped in a big scary place. You've got your football-playing jock/jerk (Austin Priester) who spends his time hitting on the stuck-up cheerleader (Shani Pride), while the angst-ridden rebel (Michael Cory Davis) picks on the token nerd (Kyle Walker).

So, the screenwriters were lazy in creating the characters. Maybe they did something interesting with the plot or threw in some unexpected twists. Nope, the screenwriters follow the kids-trapped-in-a-big-scary-place formula to a tee. Almost as soon as the students and their teacher arrive at the old school, one of them says, "I think we should split up." Okay, fine, nothing bad has happened yet, so I'll accept that the kids are eager to split up and get away from their teacher to have some fun. But it's disappointing that this movie doesn't have much respect for its characters, who repeatedly do stupid things in service of the plot. Even after the first sign that something strange is amidst (something very strange), they don't leave -- no, they must find the others first.

I kept waiting for something to happen that deviated from the formula. Once, just once, I wanted to be surprised into thinking, Wow, I didn't see that coming. But The Vault isn't to blame for the tired conventions it so rigidly adheres to -- it's merely to blame for not having the guts to break away from the mold and do something different with the formula.

The Vault is, despite its familiarity, still a fairly entertaining way to waste 72 minutes. This is the directorial debut of actor James Black, who starred in J.R. Bookwalter's micro-budget Ozone and has even appeared in Hollywood fare like Godzilla and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight. Working with cinematographer Mike King, Black shows a nice flair for cool and stylish visuals. The visuals aren't anything spectacular, but they're slick and easy on the eyes.

The cast is highly likable. Michael Cory Davis is especially good as the rebel who turns out to have a better head on his shoulders than first impressions suggest (he's the only character in the flick that comes close to being more than just a cardboard cutout), while Shani Pride as the cheerleader chick is also a standout. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is saddled with roles that don't give them much to do or are just plain insulting. Kyle Walker, as the nerd, even has a scene where his character takes a swig of hard liquor and promptly spits it back out because, as bad movies and TV shows before this have confirmed, this is what nerds do. I mean, c'mon, this isn't a sitcom.

Sometimes the only thing a kids-trapped-in-a-big-scary-place flick has going for it is shocking death scenes. The Vault has a few decent deaths, including a real shocker involving a big shard of glass (now that was cool). In the end, despite its strict -- and sometimes insulting -- adherence to predictable conventions, The Vault isn't a bad way to spend 72 minutes thanks to the slick direction, the likable cast, and at least one death scene that is certifiably cool. If you absolutely must have your kids-trapped-a-big-scary-place fix and have seen nearly all the others in the horror section of your local video store, it might be worth checking out. Just watch out for broken windows. Ouch.

Review published 04.30.2001.

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