Long unavailable in any video format, Freddie Francis' full-length movie for Amicus (the studio known for its anthology horror films, like "Tales From the Crypt" and "Asylum") only saw one release on VHS: a poor-looking edition recorded in the "EP" mode, with the worst possible sound and video quality.
In 2008, Legend Films finally made the film available in a widescreen anamorphic format for the first time, putting a lot of EBay bootleggers out of business in the process. The movie has long been sought after, and the Legend release looks great.
As for the movie, it's not the best Amicus film of all time, but it does some good, cheezy scares. And any film that features both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the cast should be worth a watch to any self-respecting horror fan.
The film opens with 19th century graverobbers led by a phrenologist (Maurice Good) digging up the body of the Marquis de Sade, apparently with the noble goal of discovering whether the shape of the skull can indicate the causes of the legendary Frenchman's sadistic madness. After bathing the skull in acid, the phrenologist is horribly murdered. As the skull passes from hand to hand over the years, a similar fate confronts everyone who possesses it, until it finally winds up with a collector (Peter Cushing) in 1965 England.
Cushing has plenty of screen time in this film as the collector tormented with the idea of purchasing (and later stealing) the skull from a shady dealer who offers it to him (Patrick Wymark). When he attempts to confirm the skull's authenticity with a friend and fellow collector (Christopher Lee), he's assured it's genuine as Lee used to own the skull before it was stolen from him. Lee's character, given less screen time, tells stories of otherworldly satan worshipers that use the skull in their rituals.
Needless to say, Cushing's character starts going mad as he becomes obsessed with the skull. In a climax, the skull levitates (with the strings that support it fully visible to DVD viewers) while Cushing goes nuts and nearly kills his wife. The best scene in the film, however, is a dream sequence where Cushing believes he's been arrested only to be put before a judge that forces him to play a game of Russian roulette.
While the film drags in parts and can't be counted as a classic, it's a rock solid Amicus production and a must-see for fans of that studio's work. Director Francis, of course, helmed some of Amicus' finest films, including "Tales From the Crypt" and "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors." Francis, also remembered as an excellent cinematographer ("The Elephant Man," "Dune", "The Innocents"), died March 17, 2007.
This film isn't posted yet on Amazon but it will be made available on Legend Films official site April 1. Click here to order it.