Release Date: August 25th, 1965
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Milton Subotsky, Robert Bloch
Based on: The Skull of the Marquis de Sade by Robert Bloch
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough
Amicus Productions, 83 Minutes
“All I can say to you is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade!” – Sir Matthew Phillips
I felt like I was going through Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee withdrawals, as it’s actually been awhile since I got to kick back and watch one of their many collaborations. I mean, there were 22 of them and I’ve already reviewed several but I just felt the need to spend some time with two of my three favorite horror legends, especially during this trying COVID-19 self-imposed social exile.
Anyway, I really love The Skull. It’s not the best film with these guys in it and frankly, they don’t share enough scenes but this picture is full of so many great actors from the era, that it is hard not to love. I especially liked seeing Patrick Magee, Nigel Green and Michael Gough pop up in this.
The plot is an interesting one, as it sees Cushing come into possession of the skull of Marquis de Sade. The skull itself is possessed by an evil force, presumably de Sade, and it makes those around it do evil acts. Cushing is driven mad and we even get a moment that shows him murder his best friend, Christopher Lee.
What’s really fun about this movie is how some scenes are shot in regards to the skull. While this is a low budget production and a product of its time, where effects were still fairly primitive, the skull truly becomes its own character because of the simple tricks the filmmakers did.
I love how you see through the skull’s eye sockets in many shots, giving you a first-person perspective of the evil force, as it enchants and takes control of its human vessels. The use of colored light within the skull added a certain mystique to these shots. Also, the way that they made the skull physically float through the air was done to great effect. Even though modern HD televisions make the strings more visible, it still works and most of these effects look really smooth, especially for the mid-’60s.
The tone and atmosphere of the film are also well crafted. The cinematography is effective, especially in regards to the lighting and shot framing. And even though most of the story takes place in what was modern times, it still has a very Victorian feel to it.
Most importantly, this is well acted from all the key players, as they gave this film their all and made it better than it needed to be.
Like most old horror, this relies on the imagination of the viewer. It’s a “less is more” suspenseful thriller that uses your own imagination as its real monster.
While Amicus wasn’t quite at the level of Hammer, the best of their pictures, this being one of them, definitely stood proudly alongside their closest competition.
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films. Specifically, those starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.