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The Skull

* * * * -

An atmospheric horror that draws upon the brightest talent from the Hammer stable in order to compete against them.

Image of The Skull

Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Mon 26 Oct 2015

Freddie Francis / UK / 1965 / 83 mins

Often derided, much maligned, but never forgotten – the British horror films of the post-war period occupy a curious place in the national consciousness, Hammer Horror being a byword for camp films, sleazy damsels, bad acting, ample cleavage and dodgy sets. At one time, it appeared that Hammer and its contemporaries were churning them out by the bushel, regardless of the quality: but to pigeonhole them for doing so is to commit a great disservice.

For every The Reptile, there was a The Devil Rides Out. For every Dracula AD 1972, there was Hammer’s first version of Dracula, faithful to the source text – rough diamonds amongst the scuttles of coal. Far from being a bastion of mediocrity, Hammer launched the careers of many well-known British actors and actresses, and also provided a platform for Oscar-winning cinematographers such as Freddie Francis to convey their ideas in the horror medium.

Naturally of course, Hammer Horror wasn’t the only game in town, spawning a wide range of imitators, chief amongst these was Amicus Productions – a curious Anglo-American affair, that was able to call upon the talents of horror titans such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and the aforementioned Francis.

Said talent drew together for the 1965 Amicus production of The Skull, a curious tale of a demonic cranium (said to be that of the notorious Marquis de Sade) that finds its way into the hands of Dr Christopher Maitland (Cushing), a collector of arcane and occult items, by way of a sleazy Soho antiques dealer (excellently portrayed by Patrick Wymark). Ignoring the dire warnings from his colleague (Lee), Maitland pushes on with his quest to unravel the mysteries of the skull, with predictable results. Namely death and destruction! And screams… lots of screams.

Featuring great cinematography and direction by Francis, some inspired set-building and an unnerving score, The Skull is a creepy, atmospheric horror film in the strong tradition of Britain’s long established horror canon and cemented Amicus Productions as a serious rival to the undeniably important house of Hammer.