Written by: Carroll Jenkins on August 15th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: UK, August 25th, 1965
Director: Freddie Francis
Writer: Milton Subotsky, Robert Bloch
Cast: Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe, Michael Gough, George Coulouris, April Olrich, Maurice Good, Anna Palk, Frank Forsyth
DVD released: June 3rd, 2008
Approximate running time: 83 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Legend Films/Paramount Pictures
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $14.95
Synopsis: A private collector is obsessed with understanding the nature of evil. A shady antiques dealer brings him a biography on the Marquis de Sade bound in human skin, and then his actual skull. This is a high maintenance collectible, since the Marquis wasn’t merely mad but possessed by an evil spirit which still resides in his skull. On nights of the full moon, the skull expects it’s owners to do it’s bidding.
This is a Hammer styled outing from Amicus, starring Peter Cushing with Christopher Lee in a supporting role. There’s a lot of period back story intercut with the ‘modern’ story. One way or another, none seem to possess the skull very long. Christopher Lee’s character had it stolen and warns Peter Cushing to stay away from it to no avail.
The story is moderately engaging as a psychological study combined with supernatural possession. The big possession scene shows Peter Cushing forced to play Russian roulette, which usually signals a desperate attempt to create tension where there isn’t any. The ‘special’ effects consist of flashing lights, wires, wind machines, and lots of skull point-of-view camera shots.
There are several interesting sets, especially if you like ceremonial masks and macabre sculptures. Peter Cushing’s library, Christopher Lee’s billiard parlor, the antique dealer’s room, and the flashback doctor’s abode are all packed to overflowing with unusual trinkets and bric-a-brac. The inlaid table that the skull prefers must have been damaged during the finale, since the fading shot shows a plain wood grain table in it’s place (both bear duct tape pentagrams).
Fans of the film will definitely be thrilled at the original and crucial 2:35 aspect ratio (anamorphic). Looks very good with some mild grain and minor wear. The scene where the doc peers into the open grave demonstrates pitch blacks, sharp focus, and reasonably vivid colors. You can easily spot the wires when the skull and books and things float around. Sound is fine and closed captions are included. The trailer is a good piece of showmanship.
This is probably the best Amicus feature (as opposed to anthology) and presents a middle ground between Hammer horrors and William Castle thrills. Fans of Peter Cushing will certainly be possessed by an urge to own it.