The Skull (1965 UK)

SkullOld friends Professor Maitland (Peter Cushing), a writer about demonology, and Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) are attending an auction sale of macabre exhibits. Maitland is surprised when Sir Matthew bids an excessively high sum for four statuettes of the divinities from hell. Maitland is visited by the shady Marco (Patrick Wymark) who provides him with material for his research. He sells him a book on the life of the Marquis De Sade bound in human skin. But on the following night he returns with a human skull, which he claims is that of the Marquis himself. Maitland is warned about its occult properties and off we go….

Peter Cushing and director Freddie Francis give it everything they have despite a rather hokey premise of a skull having supernatural powers. Cushing displays how his character is unable to resist the powers of the skull’s control, with horror and confusion taking over. We see a battle of wills with Cushing’s researcher losing almost every time, simply too weak to overcome the evil which slowly takes over his mind. We see how the skull, since the one who once had it was such a sadistic and cruel sort, who enjoyed pleasure through pain, commands those whose minds it takes over to kill others nearby. In Maitland’s case his wife, with the only thing saving her being a crucifix she wore as a necklace.

We have here the old theme of “good vs. evil” against the skull and its demonic grasp of Maitland. We also see how, if you do not obey what it wishes, the result is disaster. Francis, with the flimsy material that probably wouldn’t hold under close scrutiny (if the skull was so powerful how come it never exited the grave? If De Sade in life was such a sorcerer, how come he died the way he did in a prison? And, where does the power of the skull derive from when all that is left of the one who practiced sorcery is dead?), does what he can through tricks and style. The De Sade book, with binding made of human skin, sold to Maitland by Marco, removes itself from a shelf floating to the table where the skull lies within the “devil’s star.”

The SkullThe camera P-O-V peering at Maitland through the following eyes of the skull. A key turning on its own releasing the skull from it’s “glass cage”. Windows opening on their own with the wind blowing the curtains. A mirror breaking as Maitland walks past. And Francis sure opens the film with visual aplomb…a distorted graveyard with a creaky gate as the phrenologist enters the dug grave of De Sade, relishing the moment. And, any film which has a bidding war over Satanic artifacts between Cushing and Lee, and the two icons playing snooker or billiards, works for me! Some great names in the cast have smallish roles such as Nigel Green, an inspector, with his partner Patrick Magee, investigating the violence the skull leaves behind. Nice to see Michael Gough having fun as a smirking auctioneer too.

Jill Bennett, as Maitland’s wife Jane, finds her life in danger while she sleeps as her husband grapples with plunging a dagger into her. This is definitely Cushing’s film. He has many scenes where it’s just his character alone with the skull, attempting unsuccessfully to fight the evil desiring to overtake him. Peter Woodthorpe has a memorable role as the nosy landlord of Marco’s, whose poking nose sends him to an early grave. Probably the film’s most bizarre, baffling set-piece is a nightmare where Maitland is forced by cops into a car, led to a strange building with a judge forcing him into putting a gun to his head, before carting him off to a room as a colourful poisonous gas enters through vents. This is a classy B movie I recommend for its impressive visual style and the minimal use of dialogue. Its still creepy too!

The Skull 1965



  1. Sounds right up my alley, I’ll definitely check it out sometime soon! Excellent review as always! šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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