Amicus might have seemed like lightweights in comparison to the horror specialists at Hammer, but they certainly gave their rivals a run for their money when their blood was up. There were all those much-loved portmanteaus (or is that portmanteaux?) but as they were quite prepared to wheel out the big guns on the rest of their horror output, they’re always worth a watch. So we should never underestimate Amicus with a Robert Bloch story (he wrote Psycho) and a bit of Pete and Chris at their finest. It’s a good start.
And on the subject of good starts, The Skull opens with a pre-credits sequence in a 19th century graveyard that would shame any cemetery Hammer ever knocked up. If we’re judging a movie by its body exhumation scene (as good a way as any) this is a bona fide classic as Pierre the Phrenologist (Maurice Good) digs up no less than the Marquis de Sade and nicks his head. What was he thinking? That skull will be floating about and making people do Bad Things before you know it even if Pierre makes it to the opening credits (which he doesn’t). But Amicus were on a roll here so post-credits we’re at a present day auction with Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) and Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) going head-to-head for some weird occult statues. What’s not to like? Needless to say, it turns out Big Chris has the most money. Of course he has.
After that, The Skull doesn’t keep the thrill-factor quite as high. Patrick Wymark does a good sleazy antiques dealer who flogs the titular skull to Maitland but it turns out he pinched off Phillips who, as it happens, is rather pleased to be rid of it as it moves about of its own accord and calls him to join in nocturnal weird-stuff-with-mysterious-things at certain times of the month. You have to admire the Lovecraftian vagueness of that sort of thing. From then on we’re into some quite well done hallucinogenic stuff and some predictable Doing Bad Things territory. No real surprises unless you count Nigel Green turning up for an all-too-brief performance as the inevitable Inspector investigating the aforementioned rumness. He’s even got Patrick Magee along as the police surgeon. Were these guys just hanging round the canteen that day? Throw in Peter Woodthorpe out-sleazing everybody as the dodgy-dealer’s landlord and The Skull is a lot of fun even if it doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of the opening scenes.
While this is a pretty earnest attempt by Amicus at outdoing Hammer, The Skull is basically a fairly predictable piece of ‘60s horror saved by some great performances and some nice touches here and there. But it looks good on Blu-ray and it’s pretty good fun so we’d still recommend it as long as you’re forgiving enough to be chilled by a skull floating unconvincingly around Peter Cushing’s living room.
Special Features: Interviews with Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman / Booklet
THE SKULL (1965) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: FREDDIE FRANCIS / SCREENPLAY: MILTON SUBOTSKY / STARRING: PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, JILL BENNETT, PATRICK WYMARK, NIGEL GREEN, PATRICK MAGEE, PETER WOODTHORPE, MICHAEL GOUGH, MAURICE GOOD / RELEASED: OCTOBER 26TH