An antique collector named Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) has a particular interest in rare and unusual objects of the occult. He is offered the chance to possess the skull of the Marquis de Sade by the dodgy dealer Marco (Patrick Wymark).
It transpires that the skull was stolen from Maitland’s friend Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee). Phillips was very happy to be rid of it, though, for this dangerous and devilish skull is cursed and seems to spell madness and doom for anyone who dares to come into contact with it.
The film begins in the 1800s with the grave of the Marquis de Sade plundered and the graverobber then meeting a nasty end for his trouble. Once this prologue ends we move to the present day with Cushing’s antiques collector.
Christopher Lee, in a glorified cameo, only has a few scenes in the film but he makes the most of them.
The highlight of the film comes when the curse of the skull starts to have grave consequences for Cushing and exerts a hypnotic trippy effect of bizarre nightmarish imagery.
Maitland is arrested (by patently bogus policemen) and put through a surreal Kafkaesque ordeal full of nightmare fuel. It’s great stuff.
The scene where Cushing is arrested and sits in the back of a car with these sullen heavies who claim to be detectives is very good too.
Michael Gough appears as an auctioneer at the start and Patrick Magee has a small part as a police doctor.
Sir Matthew Phillips