Sunday, December 24, 2023

head boy.

Watched this last night to celebrate the start of the holidays (yes we're very romantic here) and suddenly realised I'd never seen it before....I shall hand in my horror fan card forthwith.

Oh and Merry Christmas.



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


The Skull (1965).

Dir: Freddie Francis.

Cast: Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe, Michael Gough, George Coulouris, April Olrich and Maurice Good.

Our terrifying tale opens in a fog-filled graveyard somewhere in France (well I say somewhere but it's actually Épernon which lies some 27 kilometres northeast of Chartres, at the confluence of the Drouette and the Guesle, fact fans) in the year 1814 - tho' that might just be the time - where full-time phrenologist and part-time Tom Jones impersonator Pierre Soontodie (Good, Phineas Clanton himself from that 60s Doctor Who classic The Gunfighters) is busying himself exhuming the corpse of that well-known perv-miester Donatien Alphonse François - AKA Marquis de Sade in order to study his skull for signs of mentalism.

 No really.

Heading back home with the head in a bin bag Pierre is surprised to discover his sexy shouldered yet unfortunately unnamed mistress (Olrich whose biggest roles were as a party guest in Supergirl and as the bespectacled beauty Desiree in the 70s TeeVee 'classic' Roberts Robots) sprawled across his bed scoffing marshmallows.

Tho' to be honest I'd be pretty surprised to find myself in this situation seeing as although the recipe for marshmallows was invented by the ancient Egyptians, the weren't produced in their present form until 1850.

And it's this blatant disregard for historical accuracy that obviously causes him to push the Parisian strumpet aside and head straight into his makeshift laboratory to clean the skull of all its flesh. 

Three bags of marshmallows later and his French fancy is still sprawled across the bed awaiting the attentions of Pierre when she notices plumes of strange coloured smoke emanating from under the laboratory door and being curious/bored/French/ decides to investigate only to find her lover drowned in the same vat of liquids he used to clean the skull as the skull itself peers (as skulls do) from a nearby shelf...

Bloody Hell it's Fred Titmuss!

 Jumping forward to the present(ish) day (well 1965 so technically the past, spooky) we soon find ourselves - as in we're watching on the screen not in a Star Trek transporter type way, you get the idea - in a stuffy auction house where Michael Gough (obviously with an afternoon free) is refereeing a bidding war 'tween the eminent occult expert Dr. Christopher Maitland (Cushing) and the slightly less-eminent occult collector Sir Matthew Phillips as they battle to see who will spend the most cash on a set of four knock-off Gorillaz figures.

Phillips, being richer than Maitland - and it seems in a trance - wins out, paying double what the figures are actually worth yet seems to have no recollection of doing so and on that bombshell goes home leaving Maitland to drown his sorrows with the dodgy antique dealer Anthony Marco (genre stalwart Wymark) well known around the antique/occult circuit for acquiring rare items by any means necessary (including theft and probably offering sweet, sweet kisses) who offers him a rare book bound in human flesh (but not that one) for a princely £100 and a packet of Haribo.

"Can you see my bra?"


The book, it seems, is a complete horrible history of the Marquis and his erotically charged occult shenanigans and just to prove the point we get a spooky flashback to see what became of the marshmallow munching MILF from earlier when Pierre's solicitor, Dr. Londe (Coulouris from loads of stuff) turns up to sort out the dead mans affairs.

Oh and after seeing the skull on the shelf, stab the lady to death.

Maitland is understandably  intrigued by the book and excitedly hands over the cash but Marco has an ace up his sleeve.

And by that I mean the actually skull in question, in a Londis bag under his jacket.

And he's willing to part with it for a grand.

Or maybe even 500 quid.


Unfortunately Maitland isn't convinced (I mean let's be honest, most skulls look the same, except mine obviously seeing as I have a fucking huge head) so decides to discuss the proposition with Phillips that very night over their weekly billiards game.

"Put it in me!"

Fiddling self-consciously with his balls Phillips admits to Maitland that the skull is in fact the genuine article as Marco actually stole it from him in the first place but is reluctant to press charges as the skull had spooky powers that took him over and compelled him to purchase over-priced statues at the auction and the like in order to stage a demonic sacrifice style ritual over the next few days.

Sounds legit.

Anyway Phillips is convinced that the evil entity residing in the skull is the same force that compelled the Marquis de Sade to commit all that bad stuff and pleads with Maitland not to buy it.

Now convinced that the skull is worth having, Maitland heads home to prepare a space on the shelf and to take a deeper dive into the Marquis only to be disturbed (during a particularly juicy bit) by a knock on the door. 

Maitland answers only to be confronted by two (tiny) fedora wearing besuited blokes (less men in black more blokes from Barnardos)  who roughly arrest him before bunging him in the back of a police car and driving him to a big house where he's forced to play Russian Roulette by a grinning judge as the walls close in around him and acrid smoke appears from nowhere.

Tho' to be far compared to some of the stuff the police get up to in the UK (I'm looking at you Lesbian Nana - among others) Maitland gets off lightly.

A Lesbian Nana licking piss off John Nettles yesterday.


Suddenly Maitland wakes with a scream, yup it was all a dream but somehow he's woken in Marco's flat (and his trousers are on backwards) so without further ado he sneaks out and hurries home to explain his bedtime absence to his permanently bewildered wife Jane (button-nosed Bennett)and to get the cash to finally buy the skull.

Unfortunately when he returns (again) he finds Marco dead behind the door so quickly hides the skull in a cupboard to collect later before calling the police - who arrive in the form of cult favourites Patrick (WINE?) McGee and Nigel (Jason and the Argonauts, Zulu, Tobruk and The Ipcress File) Green - who conclude that Marco was killed (to death) by a wild dog or a very angry stoat due to his throat being ripped out.

Dirty nailed landlord Bert (Woodthorpe, the voice of Pigsy in Monkey) disagrees with this tho' seeing as he doesn't allow pets in the house.

Which is fair enough I guess.

Not that his opinion matters much seeing as later that night when he returns to retrieve the skull Maitland accidentally kills Bert by pushing him over a banister.

He then heads home to keep watch over the skull in order to see what funny japes it'll get up to.

Cue twenty (very) odd minutes of Cushing gurning and screaming whilst trying to stab his sleeping wife as the skull attempts to possess him...


It is you know.


With a plot (from Robert Bloch's - very - short story "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade") stretched almost to breaking point by producer-screenwriter Milton Subotsky, The Skull is a lean, mean and genuinely nightmarish (at times) thriller that for the most part relies solely on the acting prowess of Cushing (and a couple of really cool 'skulls eye view' moments) to keep the viewers entertained.

And incredibly it works.

A modern - for the time - British-based gothic horror that isn't afraid to channel the likes of classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari alongside the then current trend for psychological horror over the supernatural (before cheekily melding the two) to produce a taut and terrifying little thriller that's a forgotten gem in the Amicus crown.

Plus it's a nice wee change of pace to the usual Amicus anthology 'orrors.


Eye son.


Fantastically - and simply -  staged and with fantastic cinematography - the skulls eye view scene are a particularly creepy stand out - whilst Freddie Francis' direction is never better add to that the music by Elisabeth Lutyens' (the first female British composer to score a feature film, fact fans) and you have a perfect example of British gothic horror at it's finest.

And it's just right for a cold, winters watching.

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