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Jess Franco made a lot of films that are liable to make you want to
claw your eyes out; but then he also made a lot of films that made you
wish he took more care of his overall filmography as the man clearly
had talent. Night of the Skull is firmly in the latter category; as
while the plot is not particularly original and has been done many
times before and since; Franco makes good of it and Night of the Skull
is a very successful thriller overall. The basis for the plot takes
influence from the often used idea of a will reading causing trouble
within a family. The film takes place in England and we focus on the
residents of an old castle. The Lord of the manor, Lord Archibald
Marian, has been murdered. As the family gather for the will reading,
they are shocked to learn of two wills; one to be read in the case that
the Lord was murdered, the other in the case that he died of natural
causes. The family are shocked further when all of his assets are left
to his illegitimate daughter, but there are twists in store before the
will can be executed.
The film gives a writing credit to the great Edgar Allen Poe for his story "The Cat and the Canary", although clear influence is taken from crime writer Edgar Wallace and indeed his novel "The Terror" (which was adapted in 1965 as The Sinister Monk) features basically the same story. The film has some similarities with the Giallo genre also and Giallo fans will no doubt enjoy this one too (genre entries such as The Weekend Murders and Deadly Inheritance also use the same base for a plot). The film is set in England and Franco takes care with his setting and the film does actually have an English feel; despite the fact that all the characters speak Spanish. Franco also creates an effectively creepy atmosphere that benefits the film immensely. The film is of a higher quality than a lot of Franco's stuff also - with the acting from the ensemble cast being well above par. The storyline is interesting for the duration despite the fact that it will be familiar to most genre fans; and the ending does deliver something of a surprise. It's an unlikely way for the tale to end, but at least it sort of makes some sense. Overall, Night of the Skull is a very decent thriller and comes recommended.
This is a rare example of a period giallo, and an interesting one; not
tremendously suspenseful and quite predictable in the long run, but
certainly enjoyable along the way (with welcome touches of humor from
time to time). It was supposedly adapted from John Willard's "The Cat
And The Canary", erroneously attributed to Edgar Allan Poe on the
credit titles (though this was probably done strictly for commercial
The pace is somewhat lethargic but the atmosphere is well enough caught, accentuated by a slightly unnerving score, frenzied cross-cutting and some weird images (the assassin's 'costume' itself and the first claustrophobic murder). The casting is effective, though I wasn't familiar with too many of the actors: from Lina Romay and Antonio Mayans as the young couple to the various conniving members of the family (including William Berger) and various other interlopers (like the Police Chief who always forgets to pick up his sombrero when he leaves, and Franco himself as a drunken 'lawyer'). This is my first Lina Romay film: frankly she seems so young it's hard to believe she would soon be appearing in films that would border on the hardcore (this film's only perverse erotic charge is delivered by the scene where the sleeping Romay, nude of course, is beaten up by her tipsy and jealous step-mother with a belt)!
The concept of a series of murder methods lifted from a passage in the Apocalypse is an interesting one, though the death-by-fire itself is pretty unconvincingly staged. All things considered, a minor Franco but one I wouldn't mind revisiting in future.
With a repertoire of almost 190 films, Jess Franco is probably the most
prolific Exploitation director of all-time. I've personally been a
great fan of the Spanish Exploitation deity for years, and it has to be
said that his films differ in quality immensely. While Franco was
doubtlessly responsible for a vast amount of stinkers, his filmography
also includes several downright brilliant films, such as "Miss Muerte",
"The Awful Dr. Orloff", "Venus In Furs" or "The Nights Of Dracula". And
what could be a bigger treat for a cult-cinema fan than a Franco flick
inspired by none other than the great Edgar Allan Poe? While "La Noche
De Los Asesinos" (aka. "Night Of The Skull"/"Night Of The
Assassins"/"Suspiri", 1976) is not one of the absolute greatest films
in Franco's repertoire, it is definitely one of his better ones, and a
must-see for his fans. "Night Of The Skull" is a creepy and competent
Gothic chiller that begins delightfully cheesy and turns out to much
more convoluted and intelligent than one might think. A family has
gathered in a Louisiana Castle to accept the inheritance of the British
Lord Archibald Marian, who has been murdered in a horrible manner.
While the family members are anxiously waiting for their inheritance,
the killer, who has a weakness for bizarre murder methods, is still on
Franco accomplishes to create a creepy Gothic atmosphere, and he also borrows a lot from the Italian Giallo. This is not the only Franco film that bears many resemblances to 70s Gialli (his ultra-nasty 1981 slasher "Bloody Moon" also has many Giallo aspects), but the inspiration has never been as obvious as in this one. "Night Of The Skull" is also probably Franco's least sleaziest film. Uncommonly for Franco, the film features hardly any nudity (only Evelyne Scott shows some skin) and very little sleaze. Even Franco's future wife, Lina Romay, who is known for being naked for about 90 per cent of her film career, keeps her clothes on in this one. Apart from young Miss Romay, the film features a bunch of other Franco regulars, such as Alberto Dalbés, the creepy-looking Luis Barboo and Antonio Mayans, as well as the great William Berger. There have been greater Poe adaptations than this one, of course. Poe's work has been most brilliantly brought to screen by Roger Corman with his magnificent Poe-films starring Vincent Price, some of which ("Pit And The Pendulum", "The Haunted Palace", "The Masque Of The Red Death") rank among the greatest Horror films ever made. Sergio Martino tied in with the tradition of brilliant Poe-Inspired films with his Giallo masterpiece "Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key" (1974). In case you want to see a true masterpiece inspired by Poe's writing, check out Martino's film or any of Corman's 7 films before this one. Overall, however, "Night Of The Skull" is a more than worthwhile film that features creepiness and delightful cheese in equal measures and provides several compelling twists that cult-cinema fans should enjoy. Highly recommended, especially to Jess Franco fans!
Night of the Assassins (1976) is my second dip into the murky pool of
Jess Franco; a filmmaker noted for his lurid sleaze, vulgar
exploitation and incredibly low-budget style. Unfortunately for me, the
two films of Franco's that I have experienced thus far have been
largely devoid of the sex and depravity that his work is so often noted
for; instead, finding the director attempting more worthy subject
matter with restraint and integrity. My first experience of Franco was
with the film Devil's Island Lovers (1973); a low-key and ultimately
unremarkable treatise on political corruption, dictatorship and the
horrors of the death penalty. Although it is worth noting that that
particular film exists under several alternative titles, such as The
Lover's of Devils Island and Female Quarters - with each version
featuring more gore, sex and sleaze, to the extent that Female Quarters
is essentially a lesbian-themed women in prison film - the version that
I saw was tastefully done, devoid of sex and placed the emphasis
entirely on the characters and the narrative.
Night of the Assassins follows a similar ideology to the film aforementioned, creating the odd notion of an exploitation film without the exploitation, but regardless, presenting Franco as a more competent and intelligent filmmaker than his reputation for more-lurid and sleazy pictures like Vampyros Lesbos (1970), Female Vampire (1973) and Barbed Wire Dolls (1975) would suggest. With this in mind, Franco presents us with a number of interesting characters, an appealing and linear story, some tasteful (though heavily over-dubbed) performances and an overall approach to the direction that is stylish, without becoming entirely laboured. As with Devil's Island Lovers, the budget was obviously at a bare minimum, but despite this, Franco and his crew are still able to inject some impressive style and unforgettable atmosphere into the film, as well as conveying a mostly authentic sense of period detail that is germane to the plot. In keeping with many other Euro exploitation films of this era, the story at hand has literary pretensions, with the initial set up of Night of the Assassins being based partially on the Edgar Wallace novel The Cat and the Canary; though in true exploitation style, the credits cite Edgar Allan Poe as the actual source, no doubt in an attempt to pull in audiences with the obvious macabre connotations that Poe's work would suggest.
Despite the opportunities presented by the story for Franco to wreak bloody mayhem, the presentation of the violence here seems entirely restrained. Whether or not there are other versions out there of this particular film - ala Devil's Island Lovers - is unknown; however, based on the version that I did see, the combination of subtle direction, intelligent plotting and that low-key atmosphere works incredibly well at drawing us deeper into the story and into this hotchpotch of idiosyncratic characters. The emphasis of the narrative is built largely upon the "whodunit" characteristics of detective fiction, with a large cast of characters gathering at a single location, only to be subsequently picked off, one by one, in a manner that recalls the ten little Indians, as the detective tries desperately to solve the central mystery before the last body is found. With this narrative device at work, the shadow of the Italian Giallo genre is also present, with Night of the Assassins recalling elements of Mario Bava's The Evil Eye (1963) and Blood and Black Lace (1964) and most prominently Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971).
Although the film won't be to all tastes, I found it memorable and entertaining despite the obvious technical limitations and budgetary restraints. There are some solid performances, particularly from Alberto Dalbés as the enigmatic Major Brooks, Vincente Roca as the beleaguered Inspector Bore and a reserved turn from Franco's number one girl Lina Romay as the sort of heroine Rita Derian; a woman who may or may not be a suspect herself! Night of the Assassins certainly isn't a masterpiece, and I can understand how some viewers would find it lacking or without interest, but for me, it slips nicely into the sub-genre of the stalk and slash literary thriller, with Franco creating some fine set-pieces, a great atmosphere, memorable images and that iconic skull mask.
Roger Corman apparently isn't the only director who can do Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, even though he undoubtedly remains the reigning king thanks to his SEVEN masterful films during the early 60's starring Vincent Price. The least you can say about this movie is that it's a likable effort. If you compare the oeuvres of exploitation master Jess Franco and early 19th century author Edgar Allen Poe, an amalgamation of their works seems nearly impossible and ridiculous. And yet, "Night of the Skull" is a very compelling and atmospheric Gothic horror film, worthy of Poe's good reputation and a class above the majority of Franco's other movies. The screenplay is based on Poe's "The Cat and the Canary" and revolves on the despicable Marion family as they gather around to hear the will of the murdered patriarch Archibald Percival. Since his death was unnatural, the inheritors all of a sudden get to hear a completely unexpected testament that divides the family fortune differently. Then at night comes a skull-masked killer to eliminate all the family members in gruesome ways, referring to the four basic elements water, wind, earth and fire. Our good old pal Jess manages to create a wondrously sinister Goth atmosphere, complete with dark mansions near the seaside and loud thunderstorms. There's always a certain level of suspense to enjoy and the murders are impressively barbaric. Especially the first murder, that of the family patriarch, is quite creepy. This movie probably contains the smallest amount of sleaze in a Jess Franco movie ever (even Lina Romay keeps her clothes on at all times, which is truly odd), but there's constant hinting at perverted themes, such as incest, voyeurism and adultery. The decors are great, the acting is more than adequate for once and the recent DVD release looks very nice. This film isn't dubbed, which is a real pleasure. Definitely top 3 Franco material, alongside "Faceless" and "The Awful Dr. Orloff".
"Night of the Assassins" is an atmospheric Spanish giallo made by a prolific exploitation filmmaker Jesus Franco.The the film is largely based on a book by famed English crime novelist Edgar Wallace.The plot of John Willard's famous 1922 stage play "The Cat And The Canary" is an inspiration too in which a group of greedy relatives gathered at a spooky old mansion for a will reading are systematically murdered by a masked killer who's concealed identity holds the key to the macabre mystery.The assassin wears a human skull mask and is particularly merciless."Night of the Assassins" is an atmospheric and stylish giallo with very good performances and the aura of creeping mystery.The killings are bloodless and the lack of sleaze may be disappointing for fans of Franco's graphic exploitation,but I enjoyed this little macabre film.8 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Relatives and hired help of murdered aristocrat(..and close to English
Parliament making him quite the important man it seems)converge at his
estate to hear if they receive anything from his inheritance as a
notary is assigned to read his will. But, a killer donning a skull mask
is murdering them one by one using a noted scripture from a book titled
"The Apocalypse"("Earth to bury us. Wind to scourge us. Water to drown
us. Fire to burn us.")as method of execution. A detective from Scotland
Yard, Olive Brooks(Alberto Dalbés), who knows a lot of things about the
murdered Lord Archibald Percival Marion that he shouldn't which in
itself is mysterious, assists Inspector Bore(Vincente Roca)in the case
to find the skull-masked assassin. The film opens the possibility of
relative Mr. Tobias(William Berger)being the possible killer because of
something his wife Marta(Evelyn Scott)says when they are in private.
Lina Romay has the role of plain Rita, supposedly the abused daughter
of the murdered Lord Marion, whose servant mother was his mistress.
Secrets and red herrings abound as characters aren't who they appear and few can be trusted.
Not your prototypical Jesús Franco flick operating as a psycho-thriller murder mystery as he uses lots of rain and noirish darkness to create atmospheric flourishes. He doesn't even use as much zoom lens, although he does often close his camera in on faces tight showing their expressions during key moments in the film. He also, every now and then, likes to implement images of a skull into the film at certain points as the plot thickens. I didn't think the film was mind-blowing or anything, but still fairly entertaining on a basic crime mystery level. You could call this Jesús Franco's Spanish equivalent of the Italian giallo, but I'd say "Night of the Skull" is more akin to Agatha Christie mysteries(..even if the film claims Edgar Allen Poe as it's source). The film doesn't even feature a reliance on nude flesh or sexual sequences ..and surprisingly Franco doesn't even exploit Romay's naked body, something he hardly ever passes up. Despite this being a psycho-thriller, the film isn't very violent..most of the murders are rather tame or occur out of focus(or blanketed in the dark such as when the dead Lord Marion's butler stabs a couple who are about to find out a damning secret). I think real die-hard fans of Jesús Franco will be rather disappointed with this film.
The label "thoroughly average" is borrowed from the Aurum Horror
Encyclopaedia and, for once, describes the movie very well.
That does not imply that the movie is without interest. There are nice decors and several interesting scenes, e.g., a man is buried alive with only his hands, which are tied to the back, sticking out of the ground like a cry for help or a women is tied to the rocks and left to the tides. Of course, the movie features also Franco's usual dilettantism such as badly focussed shots.
All in all, it is worth a try. No suspense or blood, though. So, watch it only if your are fully awake.
The already quoted horror encyclopaedia contains a plot summary which differs slightly from what I have seen. This could mean that, as so often, there exist several different versions of the movie.
Night of the Skull (1973)
*** (out of 4)
Spanish giallo has a family brought together for the reading of a will only soon a maniac wearing a skull mask shows up and starts knocking them off. This is from Jess Franco and this certainly ranks as one of his better made films, technically speaking. Franco creates a very thick atmosphere that helps the film move quite nicely and the mystery is well written and plays out very well. The performances are a lot better than normal especially Lina Romay who's given the chance to act here. The first murder sequence is very well done and the look of the killer is nice. Not your typical Franco film but a good one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This terrific slow-burner is Spanish Director Jess Franco's old dark
house mystery in the style of a giallo a historical one, no less. It
is a spectacularly underrated film consistent, intriguing,
well-played and possessed of some impressive twists.
Lina Romay, in possibly her best role, plays Rita, shamed servant girl. Without the distraction of hubby Franco's predilection for sex and gore, her performance shows what a true talent she was. Rita is humble and subversive, a million miles away from many of the other parts she played. Antonio Mayans, who would star with Romay years later in the notorious 'Mansion of the Living Dead (1984)', is excellent as Alfred, who may or not be Rita's brother. Franco himself, never a hugely impressive actor, also gives what maybe his best performance as drunken old lawyer Andy. Dependable Alberto Dalbés as Major Brooks and Vincente Roca as Inspector Bore (pronounced 'Borey', fortunately) also spice up the 74 minute running time.
The direction is restrained no lingering, graphic sex scenes or manically zooming lenses here and really conveys a classic haunted house thriller. Indeed, Edgar Allen Poe is credited as an inspiration in the opening moments, although there is nothing specifically similar that I can see.
A darkly shot project occasionally too dark this drips with atmosphere, with Franco making the most of his splendidly intimidating location.
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