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06.11.08

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Phaedra

The Skull

One disc; Legend Films; $14.95

By Michael S. Gant


Directed by Freddie Francis; starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; photographed by John Wilcox. A glance at the credits for the 1965 shocker The Skull ("When the Skull strikes, you'll scream!") screams Hammer Films, but this satisfying British horror entry actually came from the competing Amicus Productions, founded by writer Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg. Working the same vein as Hammer, Amicus produced such exploitation fare as Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (which could just as easily have been Dr. Horror's House of Terrors), Torture Garden and The House That Dripped Blood. In The Skull, Cushing's Dr. Christopher Maitland foolishly pursues dangerous collectibles in competition with pal Sir Matthew Phillips (Lee in what is really a cameo). But even Phillips knows enough not to fool with the preserved cranium of the Marquis de Sade himself. The powerful relic of debauchery turns out to have the power to drive men to murder. The action proceeds at a stately pace in book-lined, dark-paneled rooms. The spirit's-eye-view through the eye holes of the skull are the best effect, and the floating head zooms toward the viewer as if the film should have been in 3-D. A lot of the pleasure comes from the rich bench of character actors: Nigel Green (The Ipcress File), Michael Gough (Bruce Wayne's butler), Patrick Magee (who went on to play Sade in Peter Brook's Marat/Sade), Jill Bennett (The Nanny) and George Coulouris (Citizen Kane). No extras except a wonderful vintage trailer: "It's a new height in fright!"


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