The Skull (1965)
Directed By: Freddie Francis
Written By: Milton Subotsky, Based on the short story"The Skull of the Marquis De Sade" by Robert Bloch
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark
1965`s The Skull was a Gothic period horror film made by Hammer studios rival Amicus. Its directed by the great Freddie Francis who had just previously directed "The Evil of Frankenstein" for Hammer and "Dr.Terrors House of Horrors" for Amicus and based on a short story by Robert Bloch (who wrote the novel Psycho in case you don't know who that is). The cast is then assembled with some of the greatest English actors of all time with Peter Cushing in the staring role and Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Patrick Wymark,and Patrick Magee. The final film though is a very interesting result, that will probably have peoples opinions divided, my opinion is that its a fantastic film and one of the best of its kind, but I can understand why people would not be attracted to it.
The film is like I said based on a short story by Robert Bloch called "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade"; in which an avid collector of occult artifacts and antiques Dr.Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) who purchases the skull of Marquis de Sade. In case you dont know who Marquis de Sade is he is i`ll give you a quick overview of him; he was a french aristocrat whose extreme perverse sexual preferences and erotic writings gave rise to the term sadism. His writings combined philosophy with pornography depicting sexual fantasies that emphasized violence, criminality, and blasphemy against the Catholic Church. He spent over 30 years in an insane asylum and wrote most of his works there. I could go on about him but if your curious to know more just go to Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica, they have a lot of information on him. All you need to know about him in regards to this film is he was a really crazy person and his skull is the cursed skull in the movie. Anyways after Maitland is convinced its the actually skull of De Sade he buys it and almost immediately begins to suffer from a series of nightmarish events that drive him to the brink of madness.
I personally really do enjoy this movie and have actually grow to like it more over the years. I do have to warn some people though its kind of a slow film. Its not fast paced horror movie and takes on the more slow burn style horror film, I prefer it that way and personally feel its what helps make the film more effective. It also allows the actors to be more naturalistic and gives the director Freddie Francis who by the way was also a Oscar winning cinematographer, to be more at ease and artistic with how he set up shots and scenes.
One major thing worth mentioning about the movie is how great the cast is. Its one of the best assembled casts for an Amicus film. First off you have the star Peter Cushing who is one of my favorite actors of all time playing the lead. Obviously he does a great job and plays the role completely convincing and is joy to watch when every he`s on screen. Christopher Lee has supporting role in the film as Maitlands friend and fellow collector of items of the occult Sir Matthew Phillips. Another Hammer film regular Michael Gough plays a small role as an auctioneer who actions off Occult items to rich British people. English actor Patrick Wymark who was in bunch of great movies like Prices`s "Witchfinder General" and Polanski`s "Replusion" plays a seedy graverobber/thief who gets hard to find items for Maitland, no questions asked. And Patrick Magee ("A Clockwork Orange" & "Masque of the Red Death") makes a welcome appearance in the film as a police surgeon.
Overall you cant go wrong with The Skull. Its a wonderfully directed atmospheric film, that's presented in a fantastic 2:35 format. The story is a great and entertaining occult/possession film that never gets dull or derivative. Of course though the cast alone makes this movie worth checking out, Cushing and Lee are at there best here. So if you get the chance I highly recommend checking out this great little lesser known English Gothic horror film.