Monday, April 30, 2012
The Skull (1965)
I must confess I've stayed away from Freddie Francis The Skull for many years just because someone, sometime, told me that it had a cheesy flying skull. Stupid me, but I've learned over the years never to listen to anyone who claims a movie is bad in anyway - because I know that I in most cases have different opinion. The thing is also that I never been a big fan of Amicus. Don't ask me why, but I always had a hard time getting into them. This is a really original and atmospheric horror flick with an original story and well-executed effects. Sure, it has a skull hanging on strings - but if you're gonna basha movie just because of that then you should stay away from this form of art.
The formidable Patrick Wymark (for me he's a part of a childhood trauma because of his death in Where Eagles Dare) plays Anthony Marco, a very shady antiques dealer who's favourite customer is Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), a specialist in the occult and unknown. One evening Marco shows him a skull who he says is the skull of Marquis De Sade. Maitland is not interested, but after Marco leaves he finds himself more interested in the skull and the story behind it. Soon he's possessed by the pure existence of the cranium, he needs to own it - even if his good friend Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) warns him, because he once owned the skull himself... and knows the dangers ahead!
Freddie Francis directed some of the more edgy and dark British thrillers and The Skull is no exception. There's not hope for humanity, this easily distracted and greedy animal, here. Maitland is one of Cushing's more complex roles. Think about it, Cushing is doing his nice guy routine here, but the character is both very cynical and greedy - but pretends not to. He gladly buys stolen artefacts, with that patented Cushing-nod towards the thief. He has his full office filled with - it's suggested both by Marco and Maitland - stolen goods. He does everything to OWN. More relaxed, and more realistic his Phillips - who's been there and never want to go that road again. For him it's not important anymore.
The 2.35:1 ratio is used to maximum with deep colours, shadows and an interesting - but hard to define - sense of dread hanging over the characters. The frame is filled with details and interesting props and I would kill for a time machine to go back and take a closer look. Overall the set design is excellent. So how about that flying skull? You CAN see the threads at one point, but who the f**k cares really? It's a flying skull, they don't exist for real anyway! The flying is actually quite effective, especially considering the glorious cinematography by John Wilcox (who has a very impressive resume, including another favorite: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires).
But the most fascinating ideas with the movie is about the obsession of the skull, and it's possession of it's victims. One of the highlights is a really trippy sequence when Cushing - probably hallucinating - is forced to play Russian roulette and is trapped inside a big red room with moving walls!