The Skull is a 1965 British Amicus Productions horror film directed by Freddie Francis from a screenplay written by Milton Subotsky, adapted from The Skull of the Marquis de Sade, a short story by Robert Bloch (Torture Garden; The Night Walker; Psycho).
The film stars the frequently paired horror actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, alongside Patrick Wymark (Repulsion, The Blood on Satan’s Claw), Jill Bennett, Nigel Green (The Masque of the Red Death, Countess Dracula), Patrick Magee (Dementia 13, The Black Cat) and Peter Woodthorpe. Michael Gough (Horrors of the Black Museum, Konga, Horror Hospital) also has a minor role as an auctioneer.
It was one of a number of British horror films of the sixties to be scored by ‘avant-garde’ composer Elisabeth Lutyens, including several others for Amicus.
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On 14 March 2017, Kino Lorber release the film on Blu-ray in the US with the following special features:
Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas
Jonathan Rigby on The Skull featurette (24:14)
Kim Newman on The Skull featurette (27:18)
Trailers From Hell with Joe Dante
In the 1800s, Pierre, a phrenologist (Maurice Good), robs the grave of the recently buried Marquis de Sade. He takes the Marquis’ severed head and sets about boiling it to remove its flesh, leaving the skull; before the task is done, Pierre himself has met an unseen and horrific death.
The modern-day: Christopher Maitland (Cushing), a collector and writer on the occult, is offered the skull by Marco (Wymark), an unscrupulous dealer in antiques and curiosities. Maitland learns that the skull has been stolen from Sir Matthew Phillips (Lee), a friend and fellow collector.
Sir Matthew, however, does not want to recover it, having escaped its evil influence. He warns Maitland of its powers. At his sleazy Soho lodgings Marco dies in mysterious circumstances; Maitland finds his body and takes possession of the skull. He in turns falls victim as the skull drives him to hallucinations, madness and death…
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Although Freddie Francis created a visually seductive film, the narrative — based on Robert Bloch’s short story — is simply not strong enough to support the feature-length running time. A sterling cast is therefore wasted in what would have been a better part of one of Amicus’ celebrated anthology features.
Adrian J Smith, MOVIES and MANIA
“Clearly the film lacks a proper script, and I wouldn’t blame any Peter Cushing fan for wanting to avoid one of his poorer performances. However, it is probably the most visually dynamic film in Freddie Francis’s directorial oeuvre, even when those visuals can’t sustain the flimsy story. What The Skull does best is provide a peek at the full potential of a highly talented individual.” Classic-Horror.com
“The Skull remains one of the most stylish and atmospheric horror movies of the 1960s and certainly worth repeated viewings for those attuned to it in, order to take advantage of the amount of visual detail that director Freddie Francis and his staff have imbued with it.” Britmovie
“Francis overdoes his camera movements, inserting too many point-of-view shots from within the skull, detracting from their effectiveness. Most of the credit for the film’s success should go to Bill Constable and Scott Slimon for their claustrophobic sets which expertly convey the barely pathological tendencies of a manic collector of occult bric-a-brac.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror, edited by Phil Hardy