This blog is a place for Me to review classic British films (in particular horror films) by Hammer, Amicus and the like. But I will occasionally branch out and review international films as these are the international counterpart to the British films, some of which will include works by American International Pictures, Mario Bava et al. I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Skull


Christopher Maitland, a collector and writer, is offered the skull of Marquis de Sade a French madman who wrote about horrific torture methods and such. But the skull holds a dark secret, it has evil powers and is able to possess whoever holds it. Can Maitland resist the power of the skull or will he fall victim to it's unrelenting evil?

The Skull is a 1965 Amicus production. It stars Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark and Christopher Lee. It was directed by Freddie Francis. It is based on a short story by Robert Bloch; The Skull of Marquis de Sade.

First of all, look at the cast. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Michael Gough (but he only appears in one scene [sad face]).

Ooooh something is clearly afoot. Maitland and fellow collector (and friend), Matthew Phillips, had a bit of a competition going at the auction over a set of four sculptures of demonic figures. Ending in Phillips paying way over the odds for the bid, then when Maitland asked him why he paid so much when they clearly weren't worth it he replied saying he didn't know, almost as if he were under a spell.

Marco, an unscrupulous antiques dealer, comes to Maitland with a book all about Marquis de Sade, explaining about how he was a handsome young man before he began meddling with witchcraft. After that he changed and became twisted, he began writing books about sex, torture and the like. The following night, as he now knows he has Maitland's interest in Marquis de Sade, Marco comes to his house and presents him with the skull of Marquis de Sade. Then we learn that the skull has powers, it can possess the living, turn them evil and make them do the it's bidding. He tells Marco that he'll think about making the purchase and will let him know later.

I absolutely love that shot. It's a trait of Freddie Francis' even though he only used it in one other film (that I'm aware of), that being The Creeping Flesh. Still, very good shot.

As the plot develops, over a game of snooker Phillips tells Maitland that he had the skull and it was stolen from him, but he's glad it was stolen as it had power over him. For instance, the whole auction hoo-ha was all due to the power of the skull wanting him to get the demonic figures for a ritual that happens on the night of the new moon. So he warns Maitland against buying the skull telling him it's dangerous because he believes that Marquis de Sade wasn't mad at all, but in fact possessed by a demon, a demon that still inhabits the skull even after the man's death. He explains that on the night of the new moon the skull would move around as he would find it the next day out of it's cabinet which he locked the night previous to which only he has the key.

Even the shots panning and fading around Maitland's office are eerie because he collect some creepy fucking stuff. So the creepy objects mixed with the uneasy music don't help but make you feel a little unsettled. Just wait until the skull kicks off, jeez.

The skull begins to take effect on Maitland, giving him a bizarre and surreal hallucination about the police taking him to an empty room where there's a judge who makes him play three rounds of Russian Roulette before sending him into a room filling with gas and where the walls are closing in. And if that wasn't enough, the skull comes floating through the mist towards him. It's then that he wakes up screaming and realises he's in Marco's apartment building, but he doesn't know where Marco lives. Almost as if something was drawing him there. Ooooooh.

Against his friend's warnings Maitland heads to Marco's apartment to buy the skull from him, but when he arrives he finds Marco dead so he hides the skull in the cupboard and calls the police. Maitland then has another discussion with Phillips who once again warns him, explaining that Marco was killed on the first night of the new moon, and that tonight is will be the second night of the new moon and the satanic rituals. Again, against his warnings, Maitland heads to get the skull from it's hiding place but is caught by the landlord who tries to stop him, but the skull takes control and makes maitland strike out pushing the landlord off the top floor and plummeting to his death.

There's some brilliant shots in this film. One in particular is when Maitland places the skull in the cabinet and walks away but the camera remains looking at the skull and we can see Maitland's reflection in the glass cabinet turning back and staring at the skull. My description may not be doing the shot justice, and I can't get a screenshot as I have the Region 1 DVD which I can't play on my computer, so my suggestion is go and watch the film.

A baddie that is just simply a skull, so simple but so effectively scary. The shots of it slowly gliding through the air and placing itself in new locations just staring at Maitland are brilliantly creepy.

Oh no! Maitland got possessed by the skull and it made him go and steal the demonic figures from Phillips' house. But Phillips caught him so Maitland walloped him in the head with one of the figures. Maitland is now completely under the power of the skull, he even goes to kill his own wife. He is about to plunge the knife right into her chest but at the last moment catches sight of the cross hanging around her neck and manges to shake off the skull's possession. So he returns to his study and places the skull into a glass cabinet and wraps a holy relic around the handle so that the evil of the skull won't be able to touch it.

He thought he could stop the skull, HE WAS WRONG! The skull simply smashed though the glass and repositioned itself on the table, once again taking possession of Maitland. But again he managed to shake it off by remembering the cross and stabbed the skull right in the eye socket with the knife, then assuming it's all over goes to bed. Again, HE WAS WRONG. The skull simply locked him in his bedroom and appeared in there with him slowly approaching him as he screams. Then the next day, Maitland's wife wakes up to find her husband dead in the other room with a knife sticking out of his chest. The police inspect the crime scene comparing it to the Marco case, asking “What's the connection?” “Witchcraft?” “Not in this day and age...not in this day and age.” END.

The Skull is a great film, great acting from great actors, a great story and visually thrilling. I can clearly see how this film could have terrified people years ago, the sequences where the camera moves though the corridors with the skull slowly gliding before it is creepy as hell. In addition to the eerie tale about a possessed skull is the fact that Marquis de Sade was in fact a real person, so they've taken real facts and tweaked them a little to create a terrifying tale. Also an interesting bit of trivia, the skull of Marquis de Sade was exhumed from his grave in the asylum where he was buried for scientific analysis, but it was later lost and it's whereabouts are still a mystery today. There's nothing more really to say, except it's a really good film, so go seek it, find it and watch it.

The Skull 5/5

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