Skull, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe found an awesome and free ornament at Peter Cushing's estate sale...
Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) collects items of occult interest, but is generally an unbeliever in the supernatural. One night Maitland purchases an unusual skull from his usual black market source. The merchant swears that the skull belonged to the Marquis De Sade. Maitland soon realizes that the merchant stole the skull from friend and fellow collector Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), who claims to be happy to be rid of the cursed cranium. Phillips tries to warn his friend of the skull’s power, but it’s too late.
If it wasn’t made by Hammer Studios, Mario Bava or Roger Corman, but you swear it was, it’s probably an Amicus production—at least that’s my general rule of thumb. Mixing a delightfully campy script, which was based on a Robert Bloch short (Bloch wrote a few other Amicus features), an evenly effective pulp gothic atmosphere, and some shockingly understated acting work from two of the kings of the horror, The Skull is pretty much a must see, and one I am ashamed of missing all these years.
The Skull is s slightly too slow moving piece for most modern tastes (including my own I have to admit) that seems like it would’ve worked better as a short part of an anthology, which was becoming quite popular at the time, and is my personal favourite brand of early ‘60s Euro-horror. There’s quite a bit of simple camera movement, but the staging, pace, and performances look and feel more like a medium budget stage play then a motion picture. Some theatrical, weird and garish stuff happens about half way through, but quickly we revert back to relatively familiar Amicus territory. It’s still good stuff, but it’s not quite classic stuff.
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are the big draws, but fans of British horror (a subgenre to which I’m not entirely familiar) will also be happy to see Patrick Magee and Michael Gough. Only Donald Pleasance is missing. It’s always a pleasure to look back on these films that used to be considered campy and violent garbage and enjoy such class in performance. It’s especially nice to see Christopher Lee in what basically equates to a good guy, after hundreds of colourful villains (Cushing gets to play the whack-job this time around). The film’s tone will strike modern horror fans unfamiliar with the melodramatic and pulpy British style as quite silly, most likely, and there is a distinct lack of graphic violence, but sometimes this brand of over-stated theatrics is just what the doctor ordered.
Fans of the Amicus studios should be excited at the prospect of a widescreen presentation of this as of yet unavailable feature. The anamorphic enhancement is another plus. The fact that the video quality is generally good is the best gift of all. There’s some grain and low-level noise smeared over the entire run time, and you will notice a bit of print damage, but the overall clarity is plenty impressive given the age of the feature. The occasionally gaudy colour schemes appear a bit dulled and washed out, but the relative naturalness off the more natural tines is effective. Blacks are impressively deep, but there is a noticeable line of edge enhancement around sharply contrasting tones.
This Dolby Digital two channel Mono track is aged like cheese—it’s a little funky, but overall a solid representation of the sound of the era. There aren’t a lot of sound effects, but the music and dialogue is clear enough. There’s a hint of hiss on the vocal track, but screams and other high volume noises don’t distort as easily as comparable tracks. There’s some inconsistency between scenes, and some pops and cracks scribbled throughout.
The film was scored by one Elisabeth Lutyens, who I admittedly hadn’t heard of before looking into this film. Lutyens wasn’t famous for her work scoring films (she almost exclusively worked for Amicus), but she was apparently a very important player in early avant-garde music. I’m not a good enough film music historian to really gage the level of her influence, but the score is very strong and utilizes some rhythm techniques that weren’t very popular at the time. The music mix is flat by modern standards, but for a mono track it’s effective. The biggest problems, as far as distortion, come from the occasional use of organ, which oddly enough isn’t even that loud.
Nothing but a trailer is present here.
The Skull is an occasionally flamboyant, slight gothic thriller that balances class and cheese more effectively than most. It’s not going to win over any modern converts specifically interested in stuff like the Saw movies, and it isn’t as good as many other British horror films already available on DVD. Amicus fans will want a copy for their collections, and those of us looking to complete our British horror educations will want to find time for a rental viewing at least.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 3rd June 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Freddie Francis
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee
Length: 83 minutes
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