THE SKULL (1965) – The Dungeon Review!
Amicus Production’s The Skull directed by the great Freddie Francis is based on Robert Bloch’s (he of Psycho fame) The Skull of the Marquis de Sade. The film is quite literally about the skull of the Marquis de Sade. I have seen my share of cinema interpretations of the life and work of the Marquis de Sade; Jesus Franco’s sex-fuelled Justine, Henri Xhonneux’s animated film Marquis, Peter Brook’s Marat/Sade, Philip Kaufman’s Quills and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s positively vile Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom to name a few. If I can say one thing about films based on the Marquis and his work, it is that you never know what the hell you are going to get. The Skull is really quite unlike any of the aforementioned titles. Than again, the film is actually based on Robert Bloch’s fictional story not the actual writing and/or life of the Marquis.
Demonologist Dr. Christopher Maitland, purchases a flesh-bound book allegedly written by Marquis de Sade from shady dealer Anthony Marco. Marco promises to bring the doctor an even grander treasure. The next evening he arrives with the skull of the infamous Marquis de Sade. Cynical of its authenticity Dr. Maitalnd consults with his friend Sir Mathew Phillips who informs him that the skull was stolen from his collection and is indeed authentic. He also warns Maitland of the evil power the skull possesses and strongly urges Maitland not to make the purchase. The warning only serves to intrigue the good doctor who procures the curio for his collection.
The usual depravity, torture and weird sex of most of the Marquis-related stuff are non-existent in The Skull. The premise is that the Marquis de Sade was possessed by some manner of demon or perhaps Satan himself. The skull is prone to glowing green, bewitching its owner to do its bidding and hosting random satanic rituals. It goes without saying that the skull causes all manner of trouble for its newest owner Dr. Christopher Maitland. The effects are limited but there are some nice trippy psychedelic scenes that involve the skull doing things a skull just shouldn’t be able to do. These scenes are admittedly a touch on the hokey side but are nonetheless hugely entertaining! The Skull has a particularly lively and exciting opening scene where we are given a little background on how the skull became unattached from the Marquis’ body. The best scene in the film is one particularly effective nightmare sequence; it alone is worth checking this film out for! The Skull looks extremely well with its immense shadows, fabulous set pieces and tremendously fun POV shots.
Peter Cushing plays Dr. Christopher Maitland and brings the charm, class and talent he brings to everything he graces with his presence. This is definitely Peter Cushing’s film and he is pretty much on screen constantly after the opening bit. It goes without saying that this is a very good thing. The two major supporting roles are also strong with Christopher Lee who plays fellow collector Sir Matthew Phillips and Patrick Wymark as the shady (but not quite sleazy) peddler of art and antiquities.
Keeping in mind that The Skull is about a possessed skull the story is quite coherent and well-written. Freddie Francis’ The Skull is a well acted, great looking trippy film that is solid entertainment! Recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5
Directed By: Freddie Francis
Starring: Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Christopher Lee, Peter Woodthorpe, Michael Gough, George Coulouris, April Olrich, Maurice Good, Anna Palk, Frank Forsyth