THE SKULL. (1965) AN AMICUS FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

skull april olrich

THE SKULL. (1965) AN AMICUS PRODUCTION. BASED ON THE SHORT STORY ‘THE SKULL OF THE MARQUIS DE SADE’ BY ROBERT BLOCH.

DIRECTED BY FREDDIE FRANCIS. PRODUCED BY MILTON SUBOTSKY AND MAX J. ROSENBERG.

STARRING PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, PATRICK WYMARK, PATRICK MAGEE, NIGEL GREEN, MICHAEL GOUGH, PETER WOODBRIDGE, APRIL OLRICH, MAURICE GOOD, GEORGE COULOURIS AND JILL BENNETT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an utterly gorgeous film, one of my favourites of all the films in which horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared together. THE SKULL isn’t exactly one of their double acts, however, as Peter Cushing is undoubtedly the star of the film and he appears in nearly every scene, unlike the handsome Mr. Lee who appears in just four scenes. I must stress that it’s not a competition, however, as there’s more sexiness and acting talent in Sir Chris’s four scenes than there would be in most actors’ entire Curriculum Vitae, lol.

Peter Cushing does a magnificent job here of playing Professor Christopher Maitland, a writer of books relating to the occult and an obsessive collector of all and any items relating to his passion. Books, skulls, masks, bric-a-brac, you name it and he’s probably got it, stashed away on his shelves or on display in a glass cabinet in his huge sprawling study.

His study is one of the finest Amicus sets I’ve ever seen. It’s been referred to as cluttered and practically ‘unlive-able in’ but I disagree. I could make myself perfectly comfortable in a gaff like that. I live surrounded by books anyway. I’m very much at home in that milieu, although I don’t go a bundle on the old bric-a-brac.

Someone who owns- or hoards!- as many books as I do can’t be seen to be collecting old bits of rubbish as well or else they’d look mad, lol. Like a crazy hoarder, the like of which you’d see on one of those TV shows, IRELAND’S BIGGEST HOARDER or something like that. Still, Peter Cushing’s study here is a marvel of set design, and kudos to the props person too. Wherever they sourced all their materials from, they’ve done an absolutely smashing job.

Professor Maitland is one day offered a book on the life of the Marquis de Sade, that jolly chappie from French history and literature who died in a lunatic asylum in 1814 and incidentally from whom we’ve derived the word ‘sadism.’ A sadist is a person who derives pleasure from giving others pain.

While, yes, the word can technically apply to employees of the Post Office who put up the sign ‘THIS WINDOW IS CLOSED’ just when you reach their counter after queuing for an hour, the word is more correctly applied to pervy types who like to whip or flagellate others during sex or cause pain by dripping hot candle wax onto the private parts of others, and so on.

That’s the pure meaning, I suppose you could say, of the word ‘sadist,’ although the word is frequently applied to people in all manner of other professions too: mean bosses, bitchy teachers who pile on the homework, auditors, employment officers who quiz you on your skill-set and then get you to apply for a job wholly unrelated to your field of expertise just because they can, etc.

Anyway, the book on the life of the Marquis de Sade is ever so beautifully bound… in human skin. It’s a mere snip at two hundred smackers. Maitland snaps it up, as Marco, his unsavoury and maybe even slightly dodgy ‘source’ for such rare materials, knows he will.

Marco, marvellously played by Patrick Wymark (an actor I’m always confusing with Patrick Magee, who’s also in the film, and Patrick McNee and Patrick McGoohan who are not), returns the next night with an item of even more interest to the nutty professor. This time it’s the actual skull of the aforementioned Marquis de Sade. One thousand pounds and it’s Maitland’s to keep. For ever and ever, Amen…

The skull comes with a back-story from Ye Olden Times which is told in a flash-back. The young woman who plays the phrenologist’s mistress, April Olrich, is stunning to look at and her dresses and hats are fabulous. Well, you know how chic the French broads are, lol. I love when she’s nervously clearing the bathroom of her bath oils and skin lotions, careful not to go too near the bath-tub where the phrenologist, her lover, met his lonely, eerie death.

That’s the thing about the Skull, you see. It has a strange effect on the people who possess it, making them suddenly want to destroy themselves and/or others. Christopher Lee’s Sir Matthew Philips, first seen purchasing four statues of occult figures for well over the odds without knowing why he’s doing it, knows full well how evil the Skull can be, and how strong a will you’d need to have to be able to withstand it.

Maitland ignores his old friend Sir Matthew’s advice and dire warnings, however, and decides to keep the Skull. Whatever happens from here on in is pretty much a case of ‘well, on his own head be it, then.’ Will he rue the day he acquired such an oddity for his prized and treasured collection? You might say so…

Michael Gough from the original Hammer DRACULA (1958) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) has a cameo role here as the auctioneer who sells Christopher Lee’s Sir Matthew the occult figurines.

Peter Woodbridge- Zoltan the Hypnotist from Hammer’s THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN- does a brilliant job of playing the sly and sleazy Bert Travers, the landlord or caretaker of Marco’s apartment building. What a sneaky, nasty self-serving little individual Bert Travers is! Just like Zoltan, so.

Nigel Green (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, COUNTESS DRACULA, ZULU) plays Detective Inspector Moustache (my personal nickname for his splendidly moustached person), the copper who comes into the picture to investigate certain Skull-related shenanigans.

Patrick Magee, who stars in one of the vignettes in Amicus’s star vehicle and most famous anthology film, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, is here also as the police surgeon who wonders aloud about who- or what- could have severed this or that jugular.

It’s interesting that he’s here because he once created the role of the Marquis de Sade in the original stage and screen productions of MARAT SADE, otherwise known as: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. Yes, I know, try saying that little lot when you’ve had a skinful.

Jill Bennett (Hammer’s THE NANNY) does a good serviceable job as Maitland’s wife, who worries about her husband’s terrible obsession with the occult and all things supernatural. People do generally say that when you start messing about with all that weird stuff, you never know what bad mojo it’ll lead to. In the case of Professor Maitland, this sadly turns out to be more than apt…

There are some terrific Skull’s-eye-view shots that frame Peter Cushing neatly in the centre of the gaping nose socket, if you get me. Apparently, the director Freddie Francis shot these scenes through a giant replica of the Skull while whizzing about on roller-skates like a mad thing. How cool is that…?

The Skull itself is extremely proactive. It travels around the place with impunity, on strings that you can sometimes see but mostly you can’t. It likes to sit on a certain table marked with the sign of the pentagram and God help you if you’re in its place.

The power it has is quite similar to the eye-power the Creepy Kids have in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. They can ‘make people pitchfork each other and junk,’ according to one Milhouse Van Houten from THE SIMPSONS, and so can the Skull. And I daresay the Skull cost less to feed and house than those pesky child actors and actresses did, lol.

One scene I don’t get in the film is Maitland’s nightmare scene, although other critics enthuse over it. As De Sade was known for his sexual sadism as practised on women, I personally would have replaced Maitland’s sexless nightmare with a nice sexually-charged whipping scene.

A stripped-to-the-waist Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing take turns whipping a stunning topless Hammer Beauty… whoops, Amicus Beauty, I mean, whom they then take turns ravishing, although she’s perfectly willing and ready for their loving. I might even add in a little oral pleasure at this point. I don’t suppose that this scene would have ever gotten past the censors, though. Sigh. Still, I know what’ll be in my dreams tonight…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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A QUARTET OF GRISLY HORROR FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

shrine

THE CABIN AT SORROW CREEK, DARK SILENCE, BOO AND THE SHRINE: A QUARTET OF GRISLY HORROR MOVIE REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I bought all four of these American horror flicks cheaply enough in a second-hand shop during the week and I thoroughly enjoyed watching ’em two-at-a-time over the course of two nights. One was creepy enough and well-made but the ghosties were lame and one had great potential but didn’t really live up to it.

Another one was just baffling and a chaotic mess, but with a fantastic setting. And yet another was so scary and well-made that it gave me freakin’ nightmares. Let’s dive in and see which one is which. Mind you, as I’ve pretty much gone in order, you guys shouldn’t have any difficulty in working it out, lol.

THE CABIN AT SORROW CREEK (2007) started off brilliantly. Four young people are trekking through the woods to find the cabin where two of their number, sisters Kayla and Jesse, used to spend their childhood summers.

It belongs to their grandfather, see? They’re dragging two guys along as well, Kayla’s hot boyfriend Dean and another lad called Tobe who has heart problems. You just know that that’s gonna come into play at some point when things all start kicking off, dontcha…?

Things are okay until Jesse decides to linger in the spooky forest to take a bark rubbing of some trees. She’s the last to reach the cabin, and when she finally arrives, she’s been savagely mauled by person or persons unknown and she tells the others that ‘they’ are coming for her and also, she presumes, for the rest of her party as well…

Things start to disintegrate for the buddies pretty quickly as it emerges that Jesse was telling the truth and the cabin is, in fact, under siege by a couple of strange creatures. This is where an otherwise atmospheric and creepily effective horror film sadly falls apart. The two ghosts are lame and even clichéd and let the film down a good bit. If it wasn’t for this, this movie would be a top-notch little chiller.

DARK SILENCE (2016) is like a lower-budget version of HIDE-AND-SEEK starring Robert DeNiro. It’s about a man called Craig whose young daughter Jennifer has been left unable to talk after the suspicious death of her mother, Craig’s wife, with whom we know (through flashbacks) he had a troubled relationship.

Craig and Jennifer move into a big old house which is quite obviously haunted. The fact that Craig doesn’t immediately work this out shows us just how remiss he is a parent. His sister Susan, who doesn’t seem to like Craig very much and who seems to be blaming him for something pretty major, is the only person from the outside world they ever seem to see.

Jennifer, who communicates now only through her drawings, begins to include a tall, faceless dark-cloaked figure in her pictures. The figure is pictured coming out of her wardrobe and Craig is torn between being afraid for her safety and berating the shit out of the child for her over-active imagination. When Jennifer disappears, Craig knows that she was telling the truth about the sinister black-clothed figure.

Craig has been having nightmares in which the sinister figure also figures. When Craig realises that he himself can get into the missing Jennifer’s dreams as well, he knows that that’s where he needs to go to find her and rescue her from the clutches of Mister Razor-Teeth. That’s the villain, see?

But Craig has a guilty secret or two hanging over him. Will these effect the eventual outcome, and who will come off best in the inevitable showdown, Craig or Mister Razor-Teeth? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by watching the film, dear readers. Or maybe someone who’s already seen the film could tell you what happens. Or you could check on Wikipedia. I guess there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say…

BOO (2005) is a fun bit of nonsense that you needn’t take too seriously. It basically involves two separate groups of people running madly around the same abandoned mental hospital called the Santa Mira Hospital one Halloween night.

One group is, of course, the sexy teens, two of whom are cheating on the pretty blonde lead girl, Jessie Lynn. The other group is a couple-a half-assed cops who are looking for the missing sister of one of them. Why they think she’d be wandering around in an abandoned old mental hospital on Halloween Night of all nights is anybody’s guess, but whatevs.

Anyway, the back-story to the hospital’s being haunted is that a male inmate, a paedophile, once set the third floor on fire while trying to escape and a load of people, himself included and also the nurse in charge of his ward and a little girl on whom he was preying, all burned to death.

Now, his evil spirit needs a living human body to take over and possess, so that he can walk out of the place a free- and living- man. As there are any number of dopes running around the old asylum on this particular night, I’d say that he can have his pick, lol.

A lot of what happens makes no sense whatsoever. Also, why would the ghost of a clown be haunting an old asylum, unless he was doing a show there to entertain the inmates on the day of the fire and burned to death and so became trapped there forever? Some of the stuff that happens in this film is just too bizarre to even attempt to explain.

On the other hand, the film references other classic horror movies like SCREAM (which I hate!) and John Carpenter’s THE THING (which I adore!) and the asylum itself is deliciously creepy. Another horror film might have made better use of such a marvellous setting.

Also, veteran scream queen Dee Wallace Stone is fantastic here as the nurse who refuses to take any shit from the creepy paedophile inmate. Well, taking shit from patients isn’t in her job description, obviously. They have latrines and commodes for that type of thing…

THE SHRINE (2010) is the cream of this crop, the jewel in the crown, the icing on the cake, the bees’ knees, the spiders’ ankles and the cats’ pyjamas, all rolled into one. It was so good that it was the first horror film to give me the major creeps and even nightmares since I saw Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH back in January of this year. Can’t believe it’s bloody well March already. I haven’t even begun to achieve my life goals for last year, never mind this year, fuss fuss.

Anyway, THE SHRINE…! Well, what can I say about such a killer horror flick? A gorgeous brunette journalist called Carmen travels to a remote Polish village to solve the mystery of some disappearances that have been happening there.

Rumours of cult activity and even human sacrifice convince the ambitious Carmen that there’s a story here that could give her flagging career the shot-in-the-arm it badly needs. Her boss doesn’t even know she’s high-tailing it off to Poland, so everything rests on Carmen being able to get her story.

She drags along her unwilling photographer boyfriend Marcus and a journalist intern from her office called Sarah. When they get to the village, peopled mostly by drop-dead sexy Polish guys who attend to their work sans jumpers or shirts, they find a ton of stuff that puts the willies up them big-time.

Firstly, the Polish men are extremely hostile to the three of them and warn them to leave or else. Or else what? Well, threats of violence have been made, that’s what. Serious threats too, unless I miss my mark. The three Americans decide unwisely to continue poking about anyway. First on the must-visit list is the mysterious fog that hangs like a pall over the forest.

Off they go into the fog, or at least the two girls do, leaving a chicken Marcus to hang back. The thing that’s in the fog is mainly what gave me the nightmares. Then the trio find the creepy bunker in the forest that has all the coffins in it.

The occupants of the coffins have had something absolutely appalling done to their bodies and faces. Is this the fate in store for Carmen, Marcus and the timid little Sarah if they stick around? Just what heinously Godless atrocities have these freaky-ass villagers been committing, and why? The answers may surprise you. Carmen will get her story all right. But will she remain alive to write it up, that’s the real question…

I’m off now to batten down the hatches for Storm Emma, due to ravage our snowy shores later on today. Storm Ophelia back in October may have been a damp squib for most of us Dubliners, but we’ve been informed that Storm Emma is the real deal.

Some pretty big shit will be going down later. Our very own Taoiseach has guaranteed it, and would a politician lie to the public? Certainly not. Snuggle up with a few good horror films (THE SHRINE, if you have it!) and stay safe. It’ll all be over by Christmas…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

shrinehttps://twitter.com/SandraAuthor