Release Date(s)1965 (March 14, 2017)
Studio(s)Amicus Productions/Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
1965 saw the release of The Skull, which showcases Amicus Productions dipping into full-length story territory, not something that they were known to do very often. Based upon a story by Robert Bloch, Peter Cushing stars as Charles Maitland, a collector who studies all forms of the occult, accumulating many relics along the way. However, once the haunted skull of the Marquis de Sade comes into his possession, he begins exhibiting diabolical, murderous behavior. Other notable names in the cast include a fellow collector portrayed by Christopher Lee, as well as smaller parts by Patrick Wymark, Michael Gough, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, and Jill Bennett.
Directed by cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis, who most know from Tales from the Crypt and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, this Milton Subotsky-adaptation did well for Amicus upon its original release. Most horror aficionados hold it up today as being both memorable and effective. However, looking at the film’s story more closely, you could surmise that it’s stretched incredibly thin and might have been more effective as a short within an anthology instead. There are several scenes, including the opening moments with the original obtainer of the title’s namesake, that don’t really contribute to the main narrative and could conceivably have been trimmed by a more ruthless editor or studio head. On the other hand, the dream-like sequence, involving Cushing’s character suddenly being dragged away by two policemen, subjected to Russian Roulette, and stuffed into a room with smoke pouring out of the vents and walls closing in around him, was certainly the most unorthodox and memorable sequence in the film. Nothing else in it ever came close to that level of bizarre, which is one of the reasons why The Skull is special. It’s greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s also been released on Blu-ray a couple of times previously, most notably by Eureka in Region B territories. Kino Lorber’s transfer of it is likely not a fresh one, but still maintains a solid presentation. Grain levels are well-handled despite detail not being overly precise. It’s a bit lacking, particularly in the shadows. Colors are good but not great, with some mild banding present from time to time. Skin tones are merely decent while black levels exhibit mild crush. Brightness and contrast is generally ok, although I felt it was a tad too dark. Mild stability issues are also present, as well as mild speckling and a few thin black lines. The English 2.0 DTS-HD soundtrack is of the same caliber. The Eureka release came with a 2.0 LPCM track, which technically makes the audio here a step down in quality. Dialogue, while not overly rounded, is still quite discernable. Both score and sound effects are adequate but a little lifeless as there isn’t much in the way of dynamics or LFE activity. Some mild hiss is also noticeable throughout. Despite any flaws, it’s still a worthy transfer, all said and done. Subtitles are available in English for those who might need them.
The supplemental materials are mostly carry-overs, but the best of them is a brand new audio commentary with Tim Lucas, which is often one of the most educational and entertaining extras on a release when he is involved. In addition, there’s also two separate interviews, one with Jonathan Rigby and the other with Kim Newman, both speaking about the film. There’s also the Trailers from Hell version of the movie’s trailer with Joe Dante, as well as additional trailers for Tales of Terror, The Oblong Box, Madhouse, House of the Long Shadows, and The Crimson Cult. It should also be noted that the Eureka release featured a booklet with an essay on the film by Vic Pratt, which hasn’t been replicated here.
Well-shot on a modest budget, The Skull stands out in many ways, with performances that are generally good and set design that seems to have had careful consideration. It’s a little untidy, but overall, it’s an efficient and well-executed horror film. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray is a welcome release here in the U.S., especially with a great Tim Lucas audio commentary to go with it.
- Tim Salmons