Monday, December 8, 2008

Great Grindhouse Double Bills: The Skull and The Psychopath

I’m going to estimate the time at 1967. This wasn’t a kiddie matinee and I was about 15 years old. This double bill was playing at The Embassy Theater in Orange NJ. It was released by Paramount and produced by Amicus Productions. Both films were directed by Freddie Francis, who had worked for Hammer Films. Amicus wanted to be the successor to Hammer, the company who put British horror on the map.

Amicus even grabbed two of Hammer’s top stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, to star in the Skull(1965). Based on a story by Robert Bloch, The Skull of the Marquis De Sade, occult collector Dr Christopher Maitland ( Cushing)is offered the chance to buy the Skull from a thief. What he doesn’t know is that everyone who comes in contact with the skull meets a bad end.

The Skull was stolen from his friend Phillips ( Lee) , who is glad to be rid of it. Maitland finds himself under the influence of the Skull . Murder, black magic rituals, and violence occur. The Skull floats around and orders Maitland to murder people. The long end sequence has no dialogue or sound as Cushing is killed by the Skull.

Interesting back then, but too slow for today’s video game oriented audience. The Skull is now available on DVD , courtesy of an excellent restoration by Legendhouse. Serious fans of the genre should check out this underrated little gem

The Psychopath (1966) was the co feature. It’s tag line was “ Don’t Cross the Path of the Psychopath Unless your Tired of it All” . A detective investigates a series of murders where a doll of each victim is found at the scene. The murders are pretty inventive , including one via blow torch. The dolls belong to a crippled woman , who lives in a house full of dolls. Her weird , neurotic son lives with her and is the prime suspect. Unfortunately I had only seen this back then and haven’t seen it since. I remember the red rimed eyes of the son as he had broken his back . I believe that the mother turned out to be the killer. This never got a VHS release , but may have run on late night TV. It was a creepy little film that played well back then, but is probably too tame for today’s audiences.

Amicus films stayed in the game for quite a few years with a bunch of excellent anthology films: Tales from the Crypt, House that Dripped Blood, Torture Garden , Vault of Horror and others were all released by Amicus Productions. Most of these pictures were grindhouse and Drive In Double Bills. More to come.
42nd Street Pete

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