Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Skull (1965)

"All I can say to you is to keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade!"

I haven't reviewed a film featuring the great Sir Christopher Lee since his sad and fairly recent death, which is remiss of me. So I decided, on a whim, that this rather interesting-looking Amicus film, directed by the ever-reliable Freddie Francis, might do the trick. Perhaps it isn't Lee's biggest role- he's very much the guest star to an extraordinary starring performance from Peter Cushing here- but he is, nevertheless, superb. The auction scene alone (a cameo from Michael Gough!) shows that.

The film is excellently shot and made and, while the effects at the end are a little dated, that's all part of the film's charm. The film isn't perfect- the only two female characters exist only to be imperilled, and the Bechdel test is well and truly flunked, as you'd expect, and perhaps the pacing could be improved- but it's carried by Cushing's extraordinary performance: the moment towards the end where, with facial acting alone, he shows himself being possessed by the skull- is extraordinary.

Yes, there are cliches aplenty- we even have a police inspector dressed exactly like Clouseau in his coat and hat- but this Poe-like tale, in which Cushing's Chris Maitland, a rich collector of macabre items who doesn't enquire too closely into the ethics of their acquiral, is slowly unhinged and turned to murder by the cursed skull of the Marquis de Sade, is suitably griping. We get a satisfyingly lurid account of Sade's life, and some rather nice use of flashback to show us the skull's deadly history. It's only the slight slowness of the admittedly well-directed climax that lets the side down slightly.

This may be a slightly obscure film, but it's worth catching on Netflix if you can and, at 82 minutes, doesn't outstay it's welcome. 

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