Amicus, the main competitor to Hammer Studios for British horror films in the 60’s made a spate of horror anthologies (mostly comprised of three short stories each) that were more often than not completely enjoyable. With The Skull, they tried something a little different by doing away with their regular formula and ventured into the realm of feature length horror. To ensure success, they even hired such Hammer vets as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Michael Gough to star, and even tapped Freddie (The Evil of Frankenstein) Francis to direct. While it’s not quite up to par with some of Amicus’ other offerings, The Skull is nevertheless a breezy horror outing with a capable cast and a few memorable moments.
Cushing plays a collector of occult relics who purchases the skull of Marquis de Sade from a shady charlatan. Little does he know that the previous owners of the skull all ended up with horrible fates. You see, the Marquis’ spirit still inhabits the skull and drives it’s owners to murder and eventually kill themselves. Pretty soon Cushing starts hallucinating like a hopped up hippie and imagines himself playing Russian Roulette in an empty courtroom, being trapped in a room where the walls close in around him, and (of course) sees the skull floating around chasing him. He then goes insane and goes on a killing spree.
Francis builds in a modicum of atmosphere to the proceedings, like the pre-title sequence in the graveyard and the scenes where the skull flies around menacing Cushing. The shots where the skull is superimposed over the action are quite effective and the final portion of the film (which is done completely without the benefit of dialogue) is also well done.
The biggest stumbling block is that the script (based on a short story by Robert Bloch) is way too thin to sustain a feature length movie. On top of that, The Skull suffers from a leisurely pace and has far too many lulls in the action for it to be entirely rewarding. If Amicus had shortened this down to about a half an hour and placed it in one of their numerous anthology movies, it could’ve made for a memorable segment.
In my book though, any movie starring both Cushing and Lee (even films in which they only share limited screen time like this one) is automatically worth watching. Both of them always deliver top notch performances, even if the films themselves come up a bit short. Fans of both Cushing and Lee will no doubt enjoy their work here, but they’ll ultimately wish the script had a bit more meat to it.
The Skull will be released June 3rd by the good folks at Legend Films who are now releasing several titles from the Paramount Pictures library on DVD for the first time. For a complete listing of all their upcoming releases visit www.legendfilms.net today.