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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Skull [Blu-ray]

 

(Freddie Francis, 1965)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Paramount Pictures - Amicus

Video: Legend Films / Eureka (UK) / Kino Lorber

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! / Region 'B' / Region 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:23:05.021 / 1:23:05.814 / 1:23:06.272

Disc Size: 13,239,917,500 bytes / 38,807,098,248 bytes / 27,479,339,362 bytes

Feature Size: 13,198,854,144 bytes / 24,988,386,432 bytes / 14,382,483,456 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.99 Mbps / 35.98 Mbps / 19.91 Mbps

Chapters: 18 / 18 / 8

Case: Standard Blu-ray case / Transparent Blu-ray case / Standard Blu-ray Case

Release date: May 3rd, 2011 / October 26th, 2015 / March 14th, 2017

 

Video (all three):

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / DN -4dB (both)

LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit

DTS-HD Master Audio English 1555 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1554 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Commentary:

Dolby Digital Audio English 256 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 256 kbps

 

 

Subtitles:

None

English (SDH), none

English, none

 

Extras:

None

 

New video interview with film scholar Jonathan Rigby (24:14)
New video interview with critic & author Kim Newman (27:18)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork
Limited Edition Collector's Booklet, featuring an essay by Vic Pratt

DVD of the feature

 

Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas
Jonathan Rigby on The Skull" featurette (24:14)
Kim Newman on The Skull" featurette (27:18)

The Skull - Trailers From Hell with Joe Dante (2:36)
Trailers - Tales of Terror (2:21), The Oblong Box (1:56), Madhouse (1:48), House of the Long Shadow (2:27) and The Crimson Cult (2:03)

 

Bitrates:

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Description: After making a number of successful Hammer Horrors in the early sixties, Director and Academy Award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis (Paranoiac, Tales From the Crypt, Dr. Terror s House of Horrors) moved to the fledgling Amicus Productions and produced an incredible run of horror titles that would make them the only studio able to rival the ascendant Hammer Pictures during the peak years of British horror filmmaking. Of these films, the most chilling is The Skull.

Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Christopher Maitland, a writer and collector of occult items (with a preference for those with a somewhat macabre history), who is offered the chance to purchase a highly expensive and unusual item the skull of the Marquis de Sade. Warned against obtaining the item by fellow collector (Christopher Lee in a rare non-villainous role), the skull s influence draws Maitland in, madness and death soon follow...

Adapted from a short story by Robert Bloch (Psycho) and featuring a score by avant-garde composer Elisabeth Lutyens, The Skull is one of the most expertly crafted British horror movies of its era. Eureka Entertainment is proud to present The Skull in a special Dual Format edition.

 

 

The Film:

The Skull teams up horror legends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a chilling, supernatural tale of murder from beyond the grave. Based on a short story by Robert Bloch (Psycho), The Skull introduces us to Dr. Christopher Maitland (Cushing), a collector of the occult. When he is given the opportunity to purchase one of the infamous Marquis de Sade, he leaps at the chance. What he doesn't know is that his friend, Matthew Phillips (Lee) is the former owner of the skull - and quite happy to be rid of it. Possession of The Skull leads to a terrifying series of nightmarish events for Dr. Maitland as he tries to keep control of his life, the forces of unspeakable evil bear down upon him.

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Legend Films (notable for their colorization of films-to-DVD like The House on Haunted Hill, The Most Dangerous Game, Corman's The Little Shop of Horrors and even Pasolini's The Gosepl According to St. Matthew) have a new digital gimmick - dual-release bare-bones packages on Blu-ray. We have this U.K. Horror pairing (The Man Who Could Cheat Death / The Skull!) plus they have done Houdini + Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies and not yet reviewed; Student Bodies +Jekyll & Hyde Together Again.  I still think it's a pretty good idea since it is doubtful that many of these films would ever see the HD light of day via Paramount. So, again, this is 2 separate single-layered discs (maybe cheaper that way?) and both seem adeptly transferred with bitrates far in excess of SD.  They are both 1080P and The Man Who Could Cheat Death at 1.66: 1 aspect ratio tends to look weaker but still very watchable with some bright colors. I think it is the more entertaining film. The Skulls is tighter with better detail and some subtle instances of depth. Contrast on both is elevated thank to the HD transfer. There are a few speckles in The Man Who Could Cheat Death but nothing untoward and any weaknesses are the fault of the source as no restoration has been implemented for either film. These Blu-rays both gave me a decent and pleasurable viewing experience - and predictably, not in the league of most modern HD transfer appearances but in definite advance of SD.

 

Just like The Man Who Could Cheat Death - advantage to the darker Eureka, UK, Blu-ray transfer. It's approaching double the bitrate and grain is significantly supported. In fact, it' better, richer colors, superior contrast, more detail and every other visual front. No competition, really - the Eureka wins, hands down.

 

Same, again, as The Man Who Could Cheat Death brighter than the Eureka and not exporting the grain as effectively, but it's still superior to the Legend Blu-ray release. All three are 1080P and the Kino is a notch small behind in visual quality. Still very acceptable in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample

 

1) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

1) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray  TOP

2) Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray Captures

 

 

Audio :

I'd still like to have uncompressed audio but we get the standard Dolby on both films in this package and there are some inconsistencies. Legend are certainly not taking advantage of one of the format's greatest strengths. Perhaps, again, though this is a factor of cost. There are no subtitles offered and my Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

 

The audio also advances going to Eureka with a linear PCM 2.0 channel mono at 2304 kbps in 24-bit. It sounds cleaner and tighter with more notable depth in the effects and screams.  Elisabeth Lutyens' (The Terrornauts, Paranoiac, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger) score certainly benefits from the lossless sounding fairly rich and haunting. Eureka include optional English (SDH) subtitles and the Blu-ray disc is region 'B'-locked. 

 

Kino use a DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel at 1554 kbps (16-bit) - technically inferior to the 24-bit linear PCM Eureka - but not many will hear the disparity. Sounds solid enough in the lossless and there are optional English subtitles (slightly smaller font) and the Blu-ray disc is region 'A' locked.    

 

 

Extras :

None. But the Legend disc is shared with The Skull.

 

Eureka add some new, self-produced, supplements including an excellent new 27-minute video interview with critic and author Kim Newman and a second, 24-minutes, with author and historian Jonathan Rigby. Both are always excellent to listen to - and we can learn some facts about the production, performers and studio. The package contains a full color, liner notes, booklet featuring new essay by Vic Pratt, and archival imagery and, being Dual-format, has a second disc DVD of the feature with the extras.

 

Kino advance here by including a new audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas providing his usual excellent analysis and educational input on the production referencing other films along the way. There are the same two interviews; with critic and novelist Kim Newman and a second with author and historian Jonathan Rigby as found on the Eureka. There is also a Trailers From Hell piece with Joe Dante on The Skull. There are trailers for Tales of Terror, The Oblong Box, Madhouse, House of the Long Shadow and The Crimson Cult.

 

Legend Films - Region FREE - Blu-ray

 

 

Eureka - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

 

Kino - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
The Skull is from Amicus - the next best thing to Hammer but often leaning to the anthologies. It is helmed by Freddie Francis - director of Girly and notable cinematographer of "The Innocents" and "The Elephant Man".

 

Obviously this isn't the height of the format - but we get two films on Blu-ray for a very reasonable price. I endorse. I'm going to check out more and hope Legend Films continues with this trend especially more Hammer films to 1080P. Hopefully we will see both The Man Who Could Cheat Death and The Skull looking and sounding superior... but, right now, at this price it's an easy purchase.

 

It's quite evident that the Eureka is the better package (including better cover) - in every respect - video/audio/extras and most notable attribute of the Legend Films is the price. I can appreciate the film even more in the respectable UK transfer and bone-fide supplements included by Eureka. It is definitely the way to go. Cushing and Lee together in 1080P via a complete package. Absolutely recommended! 

 

Again, I'll stick with the Kino - it's not simply a commentary but a Tim Lucas commentary! The a/v fof Blu-ray goes to Eureka and, as always, its nice to have options. Super Amicus horror/thriller with Lee and Cushing and helmed by the great Freddie Francis. For fans of the genre another must-own... the Lucas commentary tips the scales for Kino, IMO.

Gary Tooze

May 11th, 2011

September 29th, 2015

March 3rd, 2017

 

 
Amicus was another British film production company. They were based out of Shepperton Studios, and produced films from the early 60's  to 1977. They specialized in Horror movies, in a similar vein to Hammer Studios (Peter Cushing often starring) but also made portmanteau films in that genre. They were revived in 2007 with Stuart Gordon's Stuck, Here are a few of their titles available on digital:

The City of the Dead (1960)

The Deadly Bees (1965)

Dr. Terrors House of Horrors (1965)

The Skull (1965)

The Amicus Collection

Torture Garden (1967)

Madhouse (1974)

The Land That Time Forgot (1975)

At the Earth's Core (1976)

The People That Time Forgot (1977)

Tales From The Crypt / Vault Of Horror)


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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