A Movie A Day: Quint on THE SKULL (1965)
All I can say to you is keep away from the skull of Marquis de Sade.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we jump from Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON to the 1965 Amicus horror flick THE SKULL via Patrick Magee.
Oh boy, am I looking forward to the next month or so. Thanks to the connecting tissue aspect of this column we’re getting into a lot of horror movies. Hammer, Amicus, Bava… And it kicks off with this one, a great little flick directed by Freddie Francis who you may now more for his brilliant work as director of photography on films like Lynch’s ELEPHANT MAN, THE STRAIGHT STORY and DUNE as well as Scorsese’s CAPE FEAR remake and the awesome black and white atmospheric ghost story THE INNOCENTS starring Deborah Kerr.
As would be expected when a DoP helms a film, the color cinematography in THE SKULL is rich and elegant, thanks to the great work by Hammer staple John Wilcox, who also shot one of my all time favorite Hammer flicks LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES, a Hammer/Shaw Bros co-production… That’s right, a kung fu vampire flick starring Peter Cushing! What a great movie.
At any rate, what you have here is Peter Cushing carrying a film about an occult author and collector of the macabre who acquires the legendary skull of the Marquis de Sade. The Marquis was known for his cruelty and obsession with witchcraft, according to this story. I like to remember him as the quirky perv as portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in QUILLS, but in this story he was darker.
Based on the short story by Robert “Psycho” Bloch, the main conceipt of the plot is that the Marquis wasn’t evil, but rather possessed and his possession didn’t end with his death.
The head from his corpse is taken at the beginning of the film and the poor bastard who did it has about enough time to dunk the body part in an acid bath before he’s taken over by the evil that surrounds the Marquis’ very bones and takes a dip himself.
Then we jump forward a number of years where we meet Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee bidding against each other at auction for rare occult items. They are friends who share a common interest in creepy artifacts.
We don’t ever really know Lee’s backstory, but Cushing is an author who writes about this stuff without believing any of the superstition surrounding them. He’s fascinated by the superstition and the power it holds, but is himself a cynic.
When Cushing is offered the skull by Patrick Wymark he at first refuses as the creepy snuff-addict wants too much for it. But Cushing is drawn to it and consults Christopher Lee over a billiards game. Lee warns him to avoid the skull, vouching for it’s authenticity, but says it really is evil and will make whomever is in possession of it do unspeakable things.
Of course Cushing doesn’t listen to him, being the cynic he is. And thank God, because if he did we wouldn’t have a movie.
The direction is tight and inventive. After spending months going over dramas, comedies and westerns it’s a refreshing to be reminded why I love horror so much. Francis has the freedom to take some brilliant characters, like Cushing and Lee, and play with the camera, finding awesome dutch angles and unique ways of telling the story.
For instance there’s a fucking great Skull POV thing they do at a few key moments in the movie where you see essentially from inside the skull, looking out of its eyeholes and nose hole. Francis always uses this to frame the characters (Cushing’s face in one eye-hole, his hand holding a pipe or book or something in the nose-hole) and it really is a creepy effect.
Sure, when the skull goes crazy in the last act of the film and flies around you can see the wires, but I was so into the story by this point that it didn’t bug me. Instead I was focusing on Cushing’s great demented and tortured performance and the lighting.
The last 2 reels are essentially played without any dialogue as we see the influence of the skull on Cushing. Francis chooses to keep the tension with his lighting and shot selection, all anchored by a great performance by Peter Cushing.
He’s aided greatly by a fantastic score composed by Elisabeth Lutyens who scored many other British horror movies of the era, like THEATRE OF DEATH. It’s an odd score, but great at putting the viewer on edge.
Final Thoughts: The flick is paced wonderfully, lightning fast, and is just plain fun. It doesn’t really give you something to chew on for days or weeks, but it doesn’t need to. The entertainment is in front of you, the story engulfing enough to let you buy into this world for the 80 plus minute runtime. Cushing is fantastic and once again his partnership with Christopher Lee is a memborable one. The two really were great together and even though Lee’s not in a whole lot of the film, every moment he’s onscreen he’s magnetic. I really dug the hell out of this one.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Wednesday, August 13th: THE HELLFIRE CLUB (1961)
Thursday, August 14th: BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1963)
Friday, August 15th: TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961)
Saturday, August 16th: PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962)
Sunday, August 17th: THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964)
Monday, August 18th: JESS FRANCO’S COUNT DRACULA (1973)
Tuesday, August 19th: DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)
Tomorrow we follow Cushing over to THE HELLFIRE CLUB. We have a big run of Christopher Lee flicks coming up… some pirate films and a couple of his Vampire pictures. This is going to be a really fun month. See you folks tomorrow for more Cushing!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Aug. 13, 2008, 2:54 a.m. CST
this is my favorite horror movie no joke. over at ymdb it's #3 in the top 20 movie list. great atmospheric stuff. amicus at its best
Aug. 13, 2008, 2:58 a.m. CST
by The Dum Guy
Saw a few Cushing films lately, and I ain't been to wow'ed.
Aug. 13, 2008, 3:16 a.m. CST
Billy Bob Thonrton has been tapped to play Freddy in the new Nightmare on Elm Street. I shit you not!
Aug. 13, 2008, 3:17 a.m. CST
I meant Thornton. Damn big fingers!
Aug. 13, 2008, 3:54 a.m. CST
I remember watching a clip of this movie on TV when I was a kid and being scared out of my mind.
Aug. 13, 2008, 4:33 a.m. CST
I loves me some Hammer / Amicus / Tyburn old school horror. This, Hollywood, is the way to do it - with conviction.
Aug. 13, 2008, 5:44 a.m. CST
Or is it Fred Bob Kruger? My understanding is that's not confirmed by any damn body, but a juicy rumor. In my direct and indirect talks with the dudes at Platinum Dunes I'm under the impression that their deal isn't even locked into place yet, so I'd take any casting treated as fact with a giant lump-o-salt.
Aug. 13, 2008, 6:15 a.m. CST
It's not as bad as some of the other Amicus Hammer knock offs, but it's still not on the level of Cushing and Lee's Hammer collaborations - especially the ones helmed by Terence Fisher. Francis isn't half the director Terence Fisher was.
Aug. 13, 2008, 6:44 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
I've seen a lot of these old movies, but never with them together. I should check this one out.
Aug. 13, 2008, 7:03 a.m. CST
I'm not sure if you've seen these, but for me the must see Cushing/Lee films are: 1) The Curse of Frankenstein 2) The Hound of the Baskervilles 3) The Horror of Dracula 4) The Gorgon (they switch hero and villain roles) 5) The Mummy 6) The Satanic Rites of Dracula 7) The Creeping Flesh 9) I, Monster There are others, but those are the best featuring both actors. Whatever you do - skip The Horror Express. I also recommend the following Cushing films: 1) The Brides of Dracula 2) The Revenge of Frankenstein 3) Frankenstein Created Woman 4) Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed 5) The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires 6) The Masks of Death Feel free to skip The Evil of Frankenstein and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell And I also recommend the solo Lee film The Devil Rides out - directed by Terence Fisher. It's one of Fisher's best films.
Aug. 13, 2008, 7:24 a.m. CST
So Quint, how was Mr. Magee in this film? I look forward to seeing it. Another interesting connection between he and this film is his involvement in Marat/Sade where he plays Marquis de Sade in an insane asylum. Very weird flick you should check out.
Aug. 13, 2008, 8:36 a.m. CST
The Skull is a gem, trust me. If you haven't seen it, watch it. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at the top of their Horror game here. Old British Horror ruled, bottom line.
Aug. 13, 2008, 8:38 a.m. CST
by Boba Fat
I'd add Cushing's segment in the Amicus, Tales From The Crypt Movie. (Also, directed by Francis). Cushing delivers a really moving performance in that as the wronged Mr Grimsdyke. <p>I love both the tales movie and Vault of Horror Amicus adapted in the 70's, between them they have just about every great British character in there and are surprisingly faithful to the EC comics.
Aug. 13, 2008, 9:35 a.m. CST
by Tom Cullen
Man I love me some Hammer Horror, and Cushing and Lee are amongst my cinematic Gods, as are directors such as Terence Fisher. In fact recently I just watched all of Hammer's Dracula related films back to back, and I intend to do likewise with their Frankenstein series next. Just great stuff.<p>Now I don't think Freddie Francis was ever close to being in the same league as Fisher, however he did make quite a few good flicks (along with quite a few really, really bad ones). Along with this (The Skull), highlights include The Creeping Flesh, the under appreciated and lesser seen gems Paranoiac, Dr Terror's House of Horrors and Nightmare, his german spy film Traitor's Gate (aka Das Verratertor) with Klaus Kinski in the lead, plus Amicus' anthology horror Torture Garden, and his contributions to the Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein series, with Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and The Evil of Frankenstein, all being well worth a look. The 70's on were not kind to him though for the most part, although the horror musical Son of Dracula starring the likes of Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson has to be seen to be believed, in all it's traffic accident like truly bizarre awfulness. However his take on the story of Burke and Hare, The Doctor & The Devils, in the mid eighties, was a nice return to form, and had a great cast to boot - Timothy Dalton, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Rea, Jonathan Pryce, Julian Sands and, uh, Twiggy. Another one that's well worth a look.
Aug. 13, 2008, 10:06 a.m. CST
Cushing does give a great performance in the Tales From the Crypt movie. I just wish he was in more of it. That goes for a lot of his later work - he's always good, but often in smaller roles.
Aug. 13, 2008, 10:58 a.m. CST
by Boba Fat
You're right. Maybe it was his age. I always thought it was a shame he went down with the Death Star and couldn't come back in the sequels.
Aug. 13, 2008, 11:28 a.m. CST
--and extremely underrated. Check-out his performances as "Osric" in HAMLET (comic relief that pretty much eclipsed Olivier). I admire Chris Lee (disputably the best Dracula) but he always added an aristocratic panache to his performances--Cushing, however, was entirely flexible (ever notice that, later in the Frankenstein series, he incrementally turns more obsessive--more insane--with each subsequent movie?). I'm afraid that films like THE SKULL, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (which I humbly submit is the best in the Hammer series) and CURSE OF THE DEMON will be lost upon the douchebags who prefer to be spoonfed carnage, sans script, in junk like FRIDAY THE 13TH. By the way, don't forget that Michael Gough (HORROR OF DRACULA and a legion of Brit B-films) plays a small supporting role in THE SKULL (Tim Burton hired the actor, no doubt as homage, for SLEEPY HOLLOW). By the way, I was amused by defenders of BARRY LYNDON--most of whom, no doubt, never actually screened the movie or fast-forwarded between chunks of Adult Swim. It's Kubrick's most narcoleptic indulgence--and decidedly anti-cinematic. I appreciate some of Kubrick's work (PATHS OF GLORY, DR. STRANGELOVE and, most especially, THE KILLING). But BARRY LYNDON was a dull conceit and Kubrick's later work devolved into near-student filmmaking (EYES WIDE SHUT, esthetically Kubrick's equivalent of the sophomoric NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Ollie Stone blows). As for Bill Bob--yep, it's official, he's Freddy in the NIGHTMARE remake. Check-out IMdB.
Aug. 13, 2008, 11:40 a.m. CST
Along with Torture Garden and DR Who and Daleks this is one of my favorites from Amicus.
Aug. 13, 2008, 11:46 a.m. CST
by La Frog
To quote the man : "Cushing is fantastic and once again his partnership with Christopher Lee is a memborable one". It's treu.
Aug. 13, 2008, 11:51 a.m. CST
TORTURE GARDEN may be Amicus' best anthology (certainly validating Freddie Francis' aptitude as a viusal director). The late Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) has mixed feelings about the adaptation of his script (told me that "Columbia cut some significant footage" and that "Jack Palalnce and Francis took liberties with the ending of the 'Man Who Collected Poe" installment). Would you believe that I still have my package of TORTURE GARDEN seeds? (free at the boxoffice!).
Aug. 13, 2008, 11:53 a.m. CST
Aug. 13, 2008, 12:02 p.m. CST
Does anyone know of any great books, documentaries, etc. on Lee and Cushing's relationship? I'm really interested in those two and especially the time they spent working together. Thanks a bundle.
Aug. 13, 2008, 12:33 p.m. CST
I'm not aware of any documentaries specifically on Cushing and Lee's friendship. Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror is a nice documentary about Hammer and the various movies. It's narrated by Cushing and Lee and has some behind the scenes info. There's an interview with Christopher Lee on The Hound of the Baskervilles DVD in which he talks about his friendship with Cushing. That's probably your best best - at least that I can think of. There are some nice quotes from Lee about Cushing on Lee's IMDB bio page and on the Wikipedia page for Cushing.
Aug. 13, 2008, 1:03 p.m. CST
by El Borak
i'd like to see this.
Aug. 13, 2008, 1:26 p.m. CST
by El Borak
that i recall seeing was, i believe, "house of the long shadows"? i saw it when i was a kid and it freaked me out. can't remember much about it except tarkin was in it and some chick got her faced burned off. can any of you experts confirm or deny?
Aug. 13, 2008, 1:57 p.m. CST
Man, I love "The Devil Rides Out." I was actually reminded of it for some reason while Quint was talking about "The Skull." Christopher Lee was great as Duc de Richleau. Quint, if you haven't seen "The Devil Rides Out" do yourself a favor.
Aug. 13, 2008, 3:07 p.m. CST
Got to agree, The Devil Rides Out is brilliant. Stands up well today, and Lee is excellent in a fab cast. But Charles Gray steals it as Mocata. I've never seen The Skull to my shame, but generally think Amicus produce atmospheric and creepy films that always seemed to be filmed at twilight in October... shiver... See TDRO Quint if you haven't already! :)
Aug. 13, 2008, 3:09 p.m. CST
might be called The Devil's Bride in the U.S.
Aug. 13, 2008, 6:34 p.m. CST
about 4 months ago I burned through every Lee & Cushing and/or Amicus flick that Netflix has and it was a hell of a lot of fun. Like the chocolate and the peanut butter, they are two great tastes that taste great together.
Aug. 13, 2008, 6:49 p.m. CST
Is terrific. I liked it so much from my Netflix viewing that I bought it.
Aug. 13, 2008, 8:22 p.m. CST
August the 11th, to be precise.<br><br>An unbelievably gifted actor, and a very pleasant, gentle man. Oddly enough, he didn't like horror films, but was resigned to the fact that that was want his public wanted, and so those are the roles he played.<br><br> The was very lonely, having lost his wife in 1971. She was the center of his life, and he never really recovered from that loss.<br><br>trivia: In Star Wars, his boots were too small for him, and so he performed most of his parts wearing slippers.<br>I always wondered how much he was paid to play his various roles. Whatever it was, it wasn't enough.
Aug. 14, 2008, 1:22 a.m. CST
Try "Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Horror Cinema: A Filmography of Thie 22 Collaborations" by Mark A. Miller (McFarland Books). Definitely good reading...
Aug. 14, 2008, 1:34 a.m. CST
I'll never forget Cushing's appearance at NY's Famous Monsters convention (Ingrid Pitt was also in attendance). He was so damn communicative and funny. God, he recounted stories about Laurel and Hardy (Cushing played a minor supporting role in A CHUMP AT OXFORD. I mean, the cat actually worked with Laurel and Hardy). By the way, I love ALL of Cushing's work but his performance as CAPTAIN CLEGG is seriously underrated (Hammer's NIGHT CREATURES, a film that deserves re-discovery; Disney produced his own version, THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH). Another good Cushing book: "In All Sincerity...Peter Cushing" by Christopher Gullo (not great, but the writer's hubris is pretty damn infectious).
i wish i could've been at the convention. i've liked cushing over lee as well. lee plays villains waaay too much to the point where it becomes a bit monotonous, with cushing he played good and evil so there was more of a dynamic and contrasting freshness to whenever he went a different route.
Aug. 14, 2008, 3:38 a.m. CST
I agree with you on Clegg - great movie and a wonderful performance from Cushing.
Aug. 14, 2008, 6:47 a.m. CST
I'll definitely check that one out.
Aug. 14, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST
I don't know why I forgot about Night Creatures. It's a little strange, but it's a lot of fun. It's great to see Cushing buckling some swash.
Aug. 14, 2008, 12:09 p.m. CST
The book is well worth the purchase. And I agree with you 100%, bmkz. By the way, JuanSanchez, did you ever notice that Cushing performed his own stunts? No body doubling for the swashbuckling stuff--or equivalent thereof--in the likes of NIGHT CREATURES (CAPTAIN CLEGG), EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDES and HORROR OF DRACULA, et al. My favorite Hammer film is BRIDES OF DRACULA, which defected from the more provincial scripts (introducing Freudian, Oedipal and sapphic concepts that pre-dated THE VAMPIRE LOVERS). Lee was not cast as Drac but Cushing effortlessly carried the film. The bottom line is that Cushing was actually a gentleman and a helluva nice guy; he never challenged his status as a "horror actor" but if anyone is dumb enough to doubt his credibility, compare his sympathetic portrayal of the elderly Grimsdyke (TALES FROM THE CRYPT) to his cold, calculating Puritan in TWINS OF EVIL. Cushing, like Karloff, appended a shade of grey to his bad guys. I've never seen his match (Clooney, Pitt, et al comparatively negotiate only generic performances--absolutely none of Cushing's intricate exploration). The death of Cushing's wife handicapped the man (the photo of Grimdyke's deceased wife in TALES was, indeed, a snapshot of Cushing's beloved Helen. He "couldn't wait to join her in Heaven." The reunion was prompted by Peter Cushing's own demise in 1994). And, by the way, Cushing's compatriot--Vincent Price--was equally cool (I rushed backstage after Price's performance in "Diversions and Delights" [Baltimore]; an usher cautioned me, "Sorry, Mr. Price isn't seeing anybody"--but Mr. Price spotted me an we engaged in a 2-hour dialogue. I miss both of them and still grieve the loss. Today's horror "actors" are stuntmen. It just ain't the same. One more thing before I pull the plug on my blathering; check-out another book, aptly titled "Peter Cushing: The Gentle Man of Horror and His 91 Films" (Deborah Del Vecchio and Tom Johnson, McFarland Books). Very well researched.
Aug. 14, 2008, 12:19 p.m. CST
Unlike today's (so-called) horror "icons", Cushing and Price patiently signed whatever volume of stills that you submitted. Never charged a dime, it would have been beneath their dignity. But today's genre-related "actors" (even the chumps who play minor roles in SAW movies and Romero's DEAD franchise) charge $20 a pop. Cushing and Price appreciated their public. I hope their respective legacies will survive indefinitely.
Aug. 14, 2008, 12:36 p.m. CST
Yeah - the great thing about guys like Cushing and Price is that they took their shit seriously even if they didn't take themselves too seriously. Sure, it wasn't Shakespeare, but I've never seen either of them phone in a performance. I love seeing them together in Madhouse. Gotta love the bizarro ending. On The Beast Must Die DVD the Director talked about Cushing's prep and how he even sketched out the clothing and haircut for his character so he would look more wolf-ish. A total pro.
Aug. 14, 2008, 2 p.m. CST
Cushing never phoned-in a performance, I agree with you 100% I really loathed MADHOUSE (a missed opportunity) but the "transformation" ending--and Price warbling a song at the concluding credit crawl--were pretty redemptive. Cushing was the consummate actor--Price's tongue-in-cheek flair was a safety net of sorts, but you gotta love the guy (critics panned his hammy performance in COMEDY OF TERRORS but--fuck 'em--I loved it. Ditto his eat-the-scenery tactics in "The Black Cat" segment of TALES OF TERROR [w/ Peter Lorre). Just a total joy). Thanks, amigo.
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