of the Skull
Review by Troy
= Highest Rating
heirs fall victim to a family curse...
hopelessly garbled titles credit the screenplay to Jess Franco
and James P. Johnson (one of Franco's own pseudonyms!), with
the source material given as Edgar Allan Poe's classic story...
The Cat and the Canary (in reality a stage play by John
Willard, adapted numerous times for the cinema, beginning with
Paul Leni's famous 1927 version)! It is hardly surprising, then,
that this atypically conventional Franco title is something
of a mess in the screenplay department. The twist-laden scenario
bears more than a passing similarity to the gialli of Mario
Bava and Dario Argento, but Franco is more interested in recapturing
the drawing room ambience of earlier versions of The
Cat and the Canary than in mimicking the likes of The
Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Twitch
of the Death Nerve (for the record, Franco has gone on record
as saying that while he likes Bava and Riccardo Freda, he's
not fond of most Italian horror). The problem with the film
is that while some of the atmosphere is nicely rendered, the
film is too recklessly made to sustain a proper sense of mood;
this, coupled with a frequently ludicrous scenario, make it
one of Franco's less effective offerings.
As a director, Franco's
strengths do not rest in this kind of drawing room melodrama
a fact already amply illustrated by his problematic adaptation
of Dracula, for example (Count
Dracula, 1970). Franco's best work functions on an
improvisational, perverse and experimental level, wherein his
thematic obsessions and stylistic quirks are given full rein.
Here, the conventions of the genre undercut much of his strength
as a filmmaker
his rough and ready stylistic flourishes simply don't feel proper
in a period piece of this sort, which calls out for a more classical
approach, and the basic lack of sex and perversion gives the
film a curiously muted tone that doesn't really pay off in a
meaningful way. The end result is 'Franco Lite'
a film that displays many of the faults of its eccentric maker
and few of the virtues.
On the plus side,
Franco assembled a strong cast of familiar faces for the film.
Alberto Dalbés (Hunchback
of the Morgue) gives a strong performance as the
master detective called to investigate the murders, while Franco's
muse Lina Romay (Female
Wire Dolls) is effective in a sympathetic role that actually
keeps her clothed much of the time. American actor William Berger
(Five Dolls for an August
Moon, Keoma) doesn't
have a lot to do as one of the heirs, but he brings a nice air
of dissipated sadism to the role. Franco cameos as a notary.
are a mixed bag. The sets and costumes are better than average
for Franco during this time frame, but the Louisiana setting
is never convincing
this is clearly Mediterranean in locale. Carlo Savina contributes
a nice moody soundtrack that recycles elements from Bava's masterpiece
Lisa and the Devil (1972), but
the soundtrack suffers from some awfully edited sound effects
the lightning effects, played on a loop, are particularly awkward.
Javier Perez Zofio's cinematography doesn't compare to the sometimes
picturesque lighting of Manuel Merino (Justine)
or the more interesting and experimental work of Raoul Artigot
(Erotic Rites of Frankenstein),
but Franco often makes good use of the dimensions of the Techniscope
All told, Night
of the Skull is neither fish nor fowl. It never plunges
the depths of Franco's worst films, yet it never attains the
peculiar poetry and personality of his best work. Fans looking
for a decent murder mystery may have a good time with it, but
giallo buffs looking forward to seeing what Franco does in a
similar format needn't get their hopes too high.
release of Night of the Skull is
a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it marks the film's debut on
American video, in any legal form, and it also comes ready with
English subtitles and has been given the widescreen, 16x9 treatment.
Franco buffs who've encountered the film via muddy full screen
editions without the benefit of subtitles are therefore in for
a treat. However, the release is problematic. One of the few films
Franco shot for Spanish producers during a hectic period in France,
it would seem to have been made with more restraint; thus, unlike
the Spanish version of Erotic Rites of Frankenstein
released by Image, it would appear to be uncut, though one can't
help but think that some nudity was trimmed at some point shots
of Romay laying topless in bed, revealing nothing, would seem
to promise a closeup or two. The mono Spanish soundtrack is acceptable,
but the English subtitles are a bit awkward in places a fault
of the original dialogue, perhaps? In terms of image quality,
the print is rather worn and faded. Detail is reasonably sharp,
but there's a fair amount of print damage, some of the shots look
overly dark, and colors have an unnatural brown hue. Extras are
nonexistent, and apart from the title an odd variation of the
onscreen title La Noche Por Los Asesinos ("The Night
Of The Killers") the limited menu options are all in Spanish.