Film Review: The Skull (1965)

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

Review:

“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.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films. Specifically, those starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Film Review: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Release Date: June 24th, 1964 (London & Los Angeles premieres)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell
Based on: The Masque of the Red Death and Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: David Lee
Cast: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee, Nigel Green, Robert Brown

American International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existance. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.” – Prospero

While I can’t talk highly enough about all of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman and Vincent Price, I really can’t talk highly enough about The Masque of the Red Death, which is one of the best of the lot, as well as the most aesthetically pleasing.

Other than a couple quick scenes, the entirety of this picture takes place within the castle walls of the Satan worshiping Prince Prospero. He has entombed his party guests and a few villagers he spared within the structure in an effort to wait out the “Red Death” outside the castle gates.

While trying to avoid the plague, Prospero tries to influence the young girl he feels he saved from death. He shows her his secrets and opens up about his allegiance to the Devil himself. All the while, the reach of the Red Death works its way into the castle to deliver Prospero’s inevitable and unavoidable fate.

There is also a neat side story that was based on Poe’s Hop-Frog. I liked this mini story within the larger story and how it was all tied together.

I also like that this film re-teamed Price with Hazel Court and also threw in Patrick Magee, Robert Brown and Nigel Green. Now it’s not a star studded cast like what Corman delivered in The Raven, a year earlier, but it is a good ensemble of character actors and ’60s horror icons.

This is a pretty imaginative film that is visually stunning and alluring. The big climax is superb, especially for those who are a fan of Corman’s style when it’s rarely at its artistic apex.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations.

Film Review: Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Release Date: November, 1980 (Paris Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Terry Marcel
Written by: Terry Marcel, Harry Robertson
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O’Farrell, W. Morgan Sheppard, Patrick Magee

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Marcel/Robertson Productions Limited, Chips Productions, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Now this must stay a secret between you and me. Not only will I bring back the head of this Hawk, but I’ll have the gold as well. Then Voltan will see who is the lord of the dance.” – Drogo

This movie is equal parts bizarre and funky.

While that may sound like a strange description, it makes this a very unique sword and sorcery tale with a lot of style.

First of all, the movie has an incredibly energetic and cool score. Harry Robertson, who also was one of the picture’s writers, created some interesting music that at first, might not seem like it fits within the genre but once the film really gets going, it transforms it into something otherworldly in the best way possible.

Also, the film’s style is partially defined by the filmmakers’ love of glow-y things. There are a lot of neat lighting effects employed within the weapons throughout the movie, as well as magical items and other majestic things within the picture that apparently needed some sort of neon flourish. This flick looks like a bunch of medieval era people crashing through an ’80s candy store at the mall.

The acting is pretty much at the level one would expect from a film like this but Jack Palance definitely stands out and embraces the madness of his character. He could have looked a wee bit cooler but his performance isn’t too dissimilar to Frank Langella’s Skeletor from the 1987 Masters of the Universe live action film.

Patrick Magee also pops up in this in a minor role but he grabs onto you like he always does. He’s always got a certain kind of intensity and his role here is no different.

This isn’t my favorite sword and sorcery movie but it is still a really cool addition to the genre and certainly stands out on its own.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies from the ’80s.

Film Review: Asylum (1972)

Release Date: November 17th, 1972
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Robert Bloch
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Patrick Magee, Charlotte Rampling

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 88 Minutes

asylum_1972Review:

Amicus was kind of like the lesser known little brother to England’s Hammer Studios, who were the masters of 50s, 60s and 70s gothic horror. In their heyday, they made some horror anthology pictures. I have always been a bigger fan of full length horror pictures with one cohesive story but I like seeing some of the lighter ideas explored in anthology films. Sometimes an idea is good but it doesn’t need 90 minutes.

What drew me to Asylum initially was the fact that it “stars” one of my favorites, Peter Cushing. I put that in parentheses because he is barely in the film. That was pretty common in anthology pictures, however. He wasn’t even the main character of his story though, so it is somewhat disappointing.

The film also features Patrick Magee, who I have loved as an actor due to how great he was in A Clockwork Orange and also for his roles in Barry LyndonThe Masque of the Red Death and Dementia 13.

One story in the anthology features the always beautiful and alluring Britt Ekland and the greatly talented Charlotte Rampling, who is very young in this.

Some of the stories here are fairly creepy but overall, the film isn’t very good. It is a bit slow in some sequences and I found certain points to be boring, actually. The first story, which features crawling disembodied limbs, is the highlight of the film. Everything else goes downhill from there. The Ekland and Rampling story is interesting enough to hold your attention but it isn’t anything entirely new. The final twist ending also isn’t that fantastic, as it has been done a million times over. Granted, it may have felt fresh and unique in 1972.

Asylum is a good enough film to kill some time on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic, by any means. It fits well in the Amicus catalog but they did produce much better films.

Rating: 5.25/10