The Skull - dual-format DVD/Blu-ray

Tuesday, 27 October 2015 00:00 Written by 

The Skull - out now on dual format Blu-ray and DVDBased on a short story by “Psycho” author Robert Bloch, “The Skull” is a dark, gothic horror film about a skull with the power to compel murder. The picture stars Peter Cushing (“Dracula”, “The Curse of Frankenstein”) as Christopher Maitland, a rather starchy collector of occult relics, with Christopher Lee (“The Wicker Man”, “The Mummy”) in the supporting cast as a fellow collector who has somehow evaded its influence.

The skull was severed from the neck of none-other than the Marquis de Sade, the infamous 18th-19th Century French aristocrat with a penchant for sadism and other morally dubious behaviour. On its own, the skull is able to control the weak-willed but when combined with other satanic artefacts, its power could overwhelm even the strongest and most devout minds. Incredulous, Dr Maitland pursues the object with potentially deadly results.

Released by the Amicus label run by horror stalwarts Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, the movie has some solid performances, not least from Cushing who is in his element as the intellectual archivist. He has to do a lot of acting without much in the way of dialog. Lee gives one of his rare appearances as a goodie, or at least a fairly normal human being who tries to help a fellow collector. Patrick Wymark (“Where Eagles Dare”) gives quite a slimy, creepy performance as a shady dealer in curious objects.

The direction by Freddy Francis (“The Ghoul”, “”Dr Terror’s House of Horrors”) is aided by some excellent sets that are crammed with hideous, menacing relics and dark shadows, and the score by Elisabeth Lutyens (“Paranoic”) is jarringly effective if lacking in subtlety.

The Blu-ray version is another example of a wonderfully detailed, spruced-up Eureka release. As is sometimes the case when films are cleaned up, special effects wires are revealed on a few occasions, but the spooky lighting helps to overcome any shortcomings on that front.

Ranked alongside other films of the era by Amicus and Hammer, “The Skull” is mid-table; it is well produced and whilst not overly scary it does have that essential, impending doom atmosphere. The 80-plus minute running time stretches Bloch’s short story to the limit, slightly undermining the overall effect.

Special features include:

  • Exclusively restored 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • New video interview with film scholar Jonathan Rigby
  • New video interview with critic and author Kim Newman
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork
  • Limited Edition Collector's Booklet, featuring an essay by Vic Pratt

Both Rigby and Newman have some interesting things to say about the state of horror movies around the time of the release of “The Skull”, including comparisons between Amicus and Hammer.

“The Skull” (1965) is out now on dual-format DVD and Blu-ray (two discs), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment Ltd. The main feature has a running time of 83 minutes approx, carries a '15' certificate and retails for £15.95, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

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