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  • The Skull (1965) Blu-ray Review

    The Skull (1965)

    Director: Freddie Francis

    Starring: Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Jill Bennett, Michael Gough, George Coulouris & Christopher Lee

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a story by Robert Bloch (Psycho), The Skull centers on occult antiquities collector Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing, Horror of Dracula) whose encounter with the skull of the Maquis de Sade proves frightening.  Forewarned of its effects by friend and former owner of the dreaded remains, Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein), Maitland’s livelihood quickly becomes threatened by the skull’s evil forces.

    A supernatural mystery produced by noted Hammer competitor Amicus Productions, The Skull is a stylishly eerie effort from British genre titan Freddie Francis (The Evil of Frankenstein, Tales from the Crypt) that utilizes atmosphere and improvisational knowhow to its advantage.  Following a historically earlier pre-title sequence where a grave robber’s excavation of the Maquis de Sade’s cranium leaves him dead from an unknown presence, The Skull’s modern day London setting introduces occult collector Dr. Christopher Maitland whose pricy offering of the very same specimen by a shady dealer proves far too expensive albeit, very intriguing to the curious researcher.  Learning the item was stolen from a fellow colleague who was glad to be free of it, warnings of its evil capabilities fall on Maitland’s deaf ears, prompting him to retrieve it after the thieving dealer is unexplainably killed.  Casting a spell of madness and nightmarish hallucinations upon on its new owner, Maitland’s terrifying firsthand experience with the skull reveals its true potential to the previously skeptical scholar.  Headlining the feature with expected grace, Peter Cushing sells his descent into terror with a conviction memorably showcased during a particularly nail biting nightmare sequence of forced Russian roulette.  Appearing in a guest starring role, Christopher Lee’s small but welcome inclusion as a rare non-villain gives an added class to the film’s ghoulish festivities while, Francis’ resourceful direction, demonstrated in the film’s frantic and virtually dialogue-free final act, is overwhelmingly suspenseful regardless of the “floating” skull’s noticeably seen wires.  An early chapter in Amicus’ horror history, The Skull remains an effectively strong picture of its creepy caliber with its direction earning the most praise of all.

    KL Studio Classics presents The Skull with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing noticeable signs of scuffs and speckles throughout its runtime, colors also appear occasionally drab while, skin tones and delicate facial features revealing aging lines and acne scars are well-detailed.  Meanwhile, black levels are mediocre yet, costume textures and the many artifacts spotted in Maitland’s library are agreeable.  Although a fresh scan would have been appreciated, the results remain quite adequate.  Equipped with a rather flat but serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handled sufficiently while an early encounter between Maitland and Marco, the sleazy dealer, registers slightly lower.  Scoring cues are decent but lacking oomph with a mild layer of hiss detected.  Special features include, an expertly researched Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, Jonathan Rigby on The Skull (24:14) and Kim Newman on The Skull (27:18), both of which offer encyclopedic insight into Amicus Productions, its founders, Freddie Francis and Robert Bloch’s original short story making each featurette invaluable compliments to the film.  Furthermore, The Skull: “Trailers from Hell” with Joe Dante (2:36) and additional Trailers for Tales of Terror (2:21), The Oblong Box (1:56), Madhouse (1:48), House of the Long Shadows (2:27) and The Crimson Cult (2:03) are also provided alongside Reversible Cover Art.

    A well recommended Amicus offering, The Skull brings some of gothic cinema’s finest faces together for chilling thrills and consummate direction from Freddie Francis making it a technical sight to appreciate given the film’s originally less than solid screenplay.  Possession, death and the black arts reign wildly in this nightmare come to life with a most fascinating selection of supplements making KL Studio Classics’ upgrade of the film an easy choice for fan’s unholy collections.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Skull can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • House of Mortal Sin (1976) Blu-ray Review

    House of Mortal Sin (1976)
    Director: Pete Walker
    Starring: Anthony Sharp, Susan Penhaligon, Stephanie Beacham & Norman Eshley
    Released by: Redemption Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Kino Lorber, under their Redemption Films banner, continues their onslaught of releases from famed British horror maestro, Pete Walker (The Flesh and Blood Show, Frightmare).  Controversial and twisted, House of Mortal Sin casts a dark shadow over the sanctity of religion with a blackmailing, inappropriate priest at center stage.  Co-starring Susan Penhaligon (Patrick), Stephanie Beacham (Schizo), Norman Eshley (See No Evil) and Sheila Keith (House of Long Shadows), Redemption Films proudly presents the film fully uncut.  

    House of Mortal Sin centers on a young woman, Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon), who confesses her most intimate details to Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp).  Unfortunately, Father Meldrum has no tolerance for sinners and records their conversation in a blackmail attempt.  Suspicions are raised as bodies begin turning up, but no one believes that a holy man could possibly be responsible, except Jenny.

    MOVIE:
    The 1970s reigned supreme with religious-themed horror films that rattled the box-office.  House of Mortal Sin is a unique entry in the canon in that it does not hold the devil responsible for evildoings, but instead a respected priest.  Pete Walker’s own resentment towards attending Catholic school resulted in his film that never shies away from exposing the hypocrisies of the institution.  Anthony Sharp (Barry Lyndon) wonderfully captures the aged, yet respected Father Xavier Meldrum who is widely regarded amongst his community.  Shortly after Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon) admits to the seasoned clergyman about her abortion, an unhealthy obsession begins.  Father Meldrum records the intimate information and uses it as a ploy to keep Jenny within his grasp.  Unfortunately, most people find her accusations ridiculous as a servant of the church would never do such wrongdoings.  In this sense, House of Mortal Sin serves as an interesting time capsule where people would not commonly accuse a clergyman of committing any harm.  Of course, today we live in a society where cases of abuse at the hands of priests have become all too common and sadly, unsurprising.  Thankfully, House of Mortal Sin chooses not to be a tale of child abuse at the hands of the church but more in the vein of a slasher film.  Father Meldrum’s obsession with Jenny causes him to lash out at those closest to her resulting in several murders including a grizzly strangulation with a Rosary.  In addition, Meldrum possesses shades of Norman Bates as a man with a mommy complex.  He confides in his elderly mother who can no longer speak but is obviously disturbed by her son’s actions.  Meldrum’s mother is cared for by the equally devilish and one-eyed, Miss Brabazon (Sheila Keith), who takes great pride in abusing the ailing woman when her mad son isn’t watching.

    House of Mortal Sin continues to surprise as the film’s final act doesn’t include the typical final girl and madman showdown.  Nonetheless, Pete Walker’s opus concludes on a satisfyingly, somber note that’s quite effective.  House of Mortal Sin may not have possessed children or projectile pea soup, but still delivers a chilling tale of a disturbed priest hellbent on teaching sinners a lesson.  Headlined by a talented cast that turn in memorable performances, Pete Walker’s exercise in Catholic-horror will surely shock and entertain those brave enough to endure creepy clergymen.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    House of Mortal Sin is presented in a 1080p transfer bearing a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Minor instances of speckles aside, the transfer looks exceptionally clean sporting a healthy layer of grain. In addition, colors translate well with skin tones appearing natural as can be.  In comparison to some of Kino’s previous Walker titles that were slightly more problematic, House of Mortal Sin ranks as one of their finest looking transfers yet.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a LPCM 2.0 mix, House of Mortal Sin has no noticeable issues to speak of with dialogue coming across very clearly.  A very pleasing and modestly effective audio mix make this a pleasurable listening experience.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Pete Walker and Jonathan Rigby:  Rigby, author of English Gothic, moderates this highly informative commentary track that has been kindly ported over from the previous DVD release.

    - Pete Walker: An Eye for Terror Part 2: Elijah Drenner interviews Walker in this 11 minute featurette that finds the director explaining his first interest in filmmaking as well as his own opinions on his films now.

    - Pete Walker Trailers: Includes The Flesh and Blood Show, House of Whipcord, Frightmare, The Comeback and Home Before Midnight.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Kino Lorber’s exciting Redemption banner does a fine service in their continuing efforts to bring Pete Walker’s work to the high-definition realm.  House of Mortal Sin is an effectively creepy take on a disturbed and obsessive priest.  Anthony Sharp steals the show as the twisted Father Meldrum who poisons and strangles his way through victims with no remorse.  Pete Walker’s tale of corruption and religion makes a wonderful leap to Blu-ray with a satisfactory video presentation and an informative array of special features to cut into.  Unquestionably, House of Mortal Sin is a personal favorite of Walker’s many works and one that is screaming to join your collection.
    RATING: 4/5