THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: THE SKULL (1965)
Today on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies, we look at one of my favorite Amicus movies, THE SKULL (1965) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Amicus was the other British company making horror movies in the 1960s and 70s, forever stuck in the shadow of England’s more famous horror studio, Hammer Films. Amicus even used the same directors and stars, including Cushing and Lee. Amicus was most famous for their anthology films, movies which would feature several short horror stories in the same movie. However, THE SKULL is not an anthology movie. It features just one story. Perhaps that’s why I prefer it.
The best scenes in THE SKULL are those that feature both Cushing and Lee, who play rival art collectors in this one. There’s also a neat nightmare sequence involving Cushing, which just might be the most memorable scene in the movie.
Let’s look now at some of Peter Cushing’s memorable lines in THE SKULL, screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the short story “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” by Robert Bloch.
In this early scene in the movie, the shady character Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark) attempts to sell a special novelty item to one of his best customers, an author who writes about demonology, Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing). Let’s listen:
Maitland: What have you got for me?
Marko: Something choice. Very choice.
Maitland: Why don’t you show me?
(Marco hands Maitland a book.)
Marco: The life of the notorious Marquis De Sade.
(Marco goes on to describe De Sade’s experiences with inflicting pain on others, and his worshipping of the devil.)
Marco: A most interesting man. A most interesting book.
Maitland: How much do you want for it?
Marco: Two hundred pounds. Look at the binding.
Maitland: What’s it made of?
Marco: Skin. Human skin.
Maitland buys the book, prompting Marco to return the next night, where he makes Maitland another offer, this time attempting to sell him the actual skull of the Marquis De Sade. Maitland decides he needs time to think about it.
Later, in one of my favorite scenes in the movie, Maitland’s friend and sometimes rival Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) tries to warn Maitland about the skull over a friendly game of pool.
Maitland: I was offered an item last night by a mutual acquaintance, Marco.
Phillips: Yes, a somewhat shady individual, but useful.
Maitland: He offered me a Death’s Head which he said is the skull of the Marquis De Sade. He wanted a thousand but finally came down to five hundred. Naturally, I’d like to have it in my collection if it’s genuine.
Phillips: It’s genuine enough.
Maitland: How could you possibly know that?
Phillips: Because my dear fellow, it was stolen from me.
A few moments later:
Phillips: I’m glad the skull has been stolen. And I advise you to leave it alone.
Phillips: Because it’s dangerous.
Maitland: But how can a mere skull be dangerous? Unless your mind makes it so.
Phillips: De Sade said he wasn’t mad. I believe him. He was far worse than mad. He was possessed- possessed by an evil spirit, a spirit which still inhabits the skull. I kept the skull locked in a glass case in the library. I had the only key. Once a month during the two nights of the new moon, the time of devil worship and black magic, I found in the morning that the skull had been removed.
Maitland: Who removed it?
Phillips: Those who use its power. Invisible beings, spirits from a strange evil world. Sometimes I used to hear them calling me to join in their ceremonies. It took all my powers of will to resist.
Maitland: I wouldn’t resist. Given the opportunity, I’d wait for them. It would make a good chapter for one of my books.
Phillips: Don’t think that I wasn’t tempted. But I knew the moment I set foot in the room I’d be unable to resist the forces of evil. I would do whatever the skull wanted me to do.
Phillips: I never went into the library on the nights of the new moon.
Maitland: You’re a coward.
Phillips: Perhaps sometimes it’s better to be.
And in the film’s most memorable sequence, the dream sequence, two mysterious men burst into Maitland’s home.
Maitland: Who are you? What do you want?
Man: Are you Christopher Maitland?
Man: We have a warrant for your arrest. I must caution you that anything you say will be taken down in writing and will be used in evidence.
Maitland: What is the charge?
Man: You’ll find out. Come along.
Maitland: My wife is out. I must leave a note for her.
Man: You can phone from the station.
Maitland is brought to a mysterious courtroom where he is handed a gun and forced to play a deadly game of Russian roulette. No dialogue here, unless you count Cushing’s screams. It’s a very weird and tense scene.
Okay, that wraps things up for today. I hope you enjoyed this look at THE SKULL, on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING.
See you next time! Thanks for reading!