Movie Name: The Skull
Release Date(s): June 9, 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
The skull of the Marquis de Sade comes with a curse. Those who possess it succumb to the same madness of the Marquis. When the skull comes into the possession of occult collector Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), Maitland is warned to get rid of it by fellow collector Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee). As the full moon begins to rise, Maitland finds himself falling to the madness.
Directed by Freddie Francis, The Skull was based on a story by Psycho author Robert Bloch called “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”. The movie found legal problems in France from the Marquis’ family who forced the title to be changed there to Le crâne maléfique (The Evil Skull) instead of referencing the Marquis de Sade in the title as originally planned.
Though I like some of the filming techniques in the movie it is quite dull. Much of the film has no dialogue and is simply filled with lots of imagery (often good and creative). Despite the great imagery, the story is so simplistic and slow, that the run time of less than an hour and a half still feels long. It does have some truth to the story in that the skull of the Marquis de Sade was stolen in real life and its location is unknown.
Cushing is the only reason worth watching this film. His battle against the skull is mostly mental and he does a great job expressing the toll on him. As mentioned, the movie doesn’t have much dialogue and Cushing expresses his exhausting battle with skill. Scenes like the Russian roulette scene are quite tense and Cushing does a great job. The normally interesting Christopher Lee is listed as only a “guest-star” in the credits and barely has any screen time.
The Skull visually looks like a 3-D movie…but isn’t. There is a nice Technicolor look to the movie but it constantly looks like it is being shot to be seen in 3-D. The skull hovers in front of you and the “skull view” look just scream that they were supposed to be in 3-D, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention that it was planned that way.
The Skull feels and looks like a classic horror film, but it doesn’t have the fun that a classic horror film should have. It has an almost artistic approach to the story and the visuals make it seem like an art picture. If you want some classic British horror, you could probably do better.