26th Oct2015

‘The Skull’ Blu-ray Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe, Michael Gough, George Coulouris | Written by Milton Subotsky | Directed by Freddie Francis

the-skull

For fans of Hammer Horror films, Amicus was another studio that felt comfortably close to its style, yet just different enough to bring more diversity to your horror taste. With The Skull, Amicus brought together horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in yet another story of the dangers of the darker side of life…

The Skull sees Cushing star as Dr. Maitland a collector of strange and unusual artefacts. When he buys a skull said to be that of the Marquis De Sade, he ignores the warnings from fellow collector Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) of the dangers of owning it. As the skull soon begins to take control of his mind, he soon realises the danger he has put himself and his wife in, though it may be too late.

While The Skull feels like a Hammer film, especially with the casting of Cushing and Lee, there is a different style at work here that creates a totally different atmosphere. While Hammer and Amicus’ movies were more based on action and gothic horror, The Skull is more surreal in nature. This includes the use of nightmarish dream sequences, the floating skull itself, and the eerie viewpoint that feels like the audience is taking in events from inside the  titular skull.

A good old-fashioned horror, taking a historical character – in this case the Marquis de Sade – and using his infamy to create a fantastical tale of horror, The Skull is actually based on a Robert Bloch short story. Watching it now we roll our eyes at the tales of devil worship, the setting up Marquis de Sade and his skull as a villainous entity and having him influence people’s minds from beyond the grave. But buy into the fun of it though and the film does work.

To enjoy The Skull, you have to realise that this is not a typical Hammer, or even Amicus, film. It is more about the belief that horror exists and its power over the “innocent” that creates a creepy atmosphere. Where Hammer use the intimidating presence of an actor like Christopher Lee to bring to life the intimidating Dracula character, The Skull is very much more about the quiet room full of artefacts with the skull ominously sat there waiting for its chance to push people to its will, and that can be just as creepy when done the right way.

With the inclusion of Peter Cushing and Christopher Leeyou can almost guarantee that the acting will push the movie to another level, and this is definitely the case with The Skull. While Lee doesn’t play a big role in the film, he still manages to make his presence known, stealing his scenes in what often feels like a competition between the two actors to make the film theirs. As Cushing is the lead protagonist though, he has the edge and the screen time to be the focus, though the real winners are the audience enjoying their performances.

The Skull isn’t the best of Amicus’ output but it certainly isn’t the worst. There are moments the film manages to be creepy, and the use of the Marquis de Sade as the ominous entity at work, playing on his real life infamy works to a point, though today we are more clued in to who he actually was as a historical character. Let yourself enjoy The Skull and take it for what it is, a fun little trip back to the golden years of British horror.

**** 4/5

The Skull is available in the UK on Dual Format (DVD and Blu-ray) now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek
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