Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Terrifying Tuesdays: The Skull (1965)


"The Skull" (1965) is an Amicus Productions film featuring Peter Cushing and directed by Freddie Francis.  It is also one of many films pairing Cushing with another well-known horror movie favorite, Sir Christopher Lee, although Lee's appearances are quite brief.  These two men were not only frequent co-stars, they were good friends in real life as well.  The movie is based upon a short story by popular horror writer Robert Bloch (author of the novel Psycho) called "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade".  Bloch also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

"The Skull" starts off with a prologue set in the 1800s showing a phrenologist robbing the grave of the Marquis de Sade.  His goal is to steal the skull of the Marquis, but his efforts result in his untimely and horrific death.  The movie then moves to more modern times, where collector and occult writer Christopher Maitland (Cushing) is offered the skull by an unscrupulous antiques dealer (Patrick Wymark).  Maitland discovers that the skull was stolen from Sir Matthew Phillips (Lee), who does not want it back.  He warns Maitland that it is evil, and that he himself barely escaped its diabolical power.  After finding the antiques dealer dead in his lodgings, Maitland takes possession of the skull.  Unfortunately, he soon comes under its evil influence, leading to hallucinations, madness, and death.

This movie showcases the talents of Peter Cushing, whose character is the main focus of the movie, and he handles the role brilliantly.  While the movie does tend to drag in certain places, as the Marquis' skull begins to exert its influence on Cushing's character the scenes become much more intense.  While there are several deaths in the movie, here is actually very little violence -- the film truly is more about psychological horror than physical violence.

Interesting Facts:  Michael Gough, who has a small role as an auctioneer in the movie, went on to portray Alfred Pennyworth, Batman's butler, in the Tim Burton "Batman" movie and its sequels.  Also, when this movie was released in France, all promotional references to the Marquis de Sade had to be removed due to legal action by the present-day Sade family.  Finally, the body of the Marquis de Sade really was exhumed from the cemetery of a lunatic asylum and his skull removed for phrenological analysis, after which the skull was lost and its whereabouts are unknown to this day.

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 0

Peter Cushing in "The Skull" (from Macabre Drive-In Theater)

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