Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) is a collector of all manner of curiosities. His life is devoted to studying the darker side of things, so when an associate of his named Marco (Patrick Wymark) procures him a biography of the Marquis de Sade that’s bound in human skin, naturally he pays him his asking price. However, he has one other little curiosity as well. It seems that a long time ago, a phrenologist procured the skull of the Marquis de Sade from his grave, which Marco now has in his possession. Christopher isn’t interested at first, as he has no idea whether or not it’s authentic, but eventually he’s taken in by the chance that it could be. Unfortunately for him, not only is it authentic, but it has a long and bloody history. Everyone who’s possessed it has either committed murder, suicide, or both. Everyone that is, except for a collector friend of his named Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), who managed to resist the skull’s influence. When he discovers that Christopher has acquired the skull, which was stolen from him, he warns him to get rid of it. Unfortunately, the pull of the possessed skull is so great that he can’t bring himself to do it. Will he be able to resist the skull’s influence, or will he succumb, as so many before him have done? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared in countless films together, and were the best of friends right up until Cushing’s death in August of 1994. One of my favorite interviews about their friendship is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxmE1FZOEpc
Because of this friendship, and because of their wonderful acting abilities, their on screen chemistry is always brilliant. This film is no different, but unfortunately in this particular film, Christopher Lee’s character is more of a side character. Cushing’s character is the star, and as per usual with his performances, he plays it perfectly.
What I found the most endearing about his character was that he was just a polite gentleman who dearly loved his wife and had a genuine curiosity about all things that were dark in the human psyche, even though he didn’t allow that curiosity to change who he was as a person. He didn’t become dark himself because of it. On the contrary, he was quite good natured and likeable. As such, he’s someone that you, as the viewer, can pull for as he fights the forces of darkness that surround the skull.
Patrick Wymark also does an excellent job as Marco, a man who rides a fine line between criminality and honor. He’s never sold Maitland anything that wasn’t one-hundred percent authentic, but then again, he doesn’t always acquire these items in the most scrupulous of ways. The skull in fact was stolen from Sir Matthew, though it’s never made clear if he stole it himself, or if someone else stole it and he simply acquired it so that he could sell it to Mr. Maitland.
When I say that Christopher Lee’s character is more of a side character, it’s not that he’s not in it. He’s in it at the beginning, and then more toward the end, but his only real role is to warn Maitland about the skull, and to counsel him to get rid of it before something horrible happens. I also don’t know why he wasn’t more forceful about insisting that he get rid of it immediately, or why he didn’t dispose of it himself when he had it. I guess you’d have to ask whoever wrote the script about that one.
For special features, this new release from Kino Lorber includes audio commentary from film historian Tim Lucas, two featurettes on The Skull with Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman, “Trailers from Hell” with Joe Dante, and other film trailers. It also includes subtitles, which I was delighted to see.
This film can be a bit slow paced at times, but it has a macabre atmosphere to it that sucks you in and holds you until the very end. Any time you can see Cushing and Lee together on the screen, it’s a wondrous sight to behold, so do yourself a favor and add this one to your collection.
If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here: https://www.kinolorber.com/product/view/id/3979