Night of the Skull

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Cult director Jesus Franco's adaptation of John Willard's oft-filmed The Cat and the Canary is a fairly routine mystery about the residents of a Louisiana castle being murdered by a masked killer. Alberto Dalbes appears in a dual role as Maj. Brooks and the castle's doomed owner, Lord Marion, the first victim. When the family arrives for the reading of Marion's will, his wife is strapped to the face of a cliff and drowned by the tide. More murders follow, and as Inspector Bore (Vicente Roca) investigates, he discovers some dark secrets in the family's past, leading him to suspect that the motive may be revenge for a terrible transgression. Evelyn Scott, William Berger, and Lina Romay co-star in this muddled but passable thriller. Franco appears as Maj. Brooks' alcoholic assistant, and bit players Luis Barboo and Ramon Ardid also appear. ~ Robert Firsching, Rovi


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Audience Reviews for Night of the Skull


When wealthy aristocrat Archibald Marian is brutally murdered by being knocked unconscious and buried alive, the last thing on Inspector Boreâ(TM)s mind is death by natural causes. The first thing on the minds of his friends and relatives, however, is inheritance. As the characters assemble at Marianâ(TM)s mansion to hear the reading of his will, it becomes clear that some of the guestsâ(TM) intentions and true feelings lie deeper than they will let show. And when Marianâ(TM)s illegitimate daughter Rita (played by exploitation queen Lina Romay) is named the heiress of all his fortunes and worldly goods, a chain reaction of murder and betrayal brings Francoâ(TM)s murder mystery on its way to a fast paced and chilling conclusion. A masked stalker meanwhile works his way around the house and grounds, dispatching all of the guests one by one according to the four elements created by God to scourge mankind: earth, fire, wind and water. What becomes apparent, however, is that only at the filmâ(TM)s climax will the true nature of these horrific and macabre events be revealed⦠The first thing to note about the film is the stalkerâ(TM)s typically Franco-esque costume. Dressed all in black, but for a stunningly white skull mask, in many respects the killerâ(TM)s image alone surpasses much of the action or death scenes. The film, in this respect anyway, appears often as a combination of elements from Dario Argentoâ(TM)s killers and Mario Bavaâ(TM)s unequalled eye for scenic majesty. In fact, the film plays out like a Bava-esque giallo within a Cluedo-like framework. More and more, Franco is regarded as a master of horror, and less and less as a sleazy, exploitation porn director. It is easy to see why, given that films like this are become more readily available thanks to the internet. It is a slick masterpiece, filled with unrelenting savagery from its main characters and the blues, blacks, whites and reds which were used so elegantly in Spanish and Italian horror of this period. Lina Romay acquires an unusually innocent role as Rita, the daughter, apparently, of Lord Marian and a black woman. As a result, this micro society considers her a âhalf cast,â� and we learn of the brutality she experienced at the hands of her father and his wife, Lady Cecilia Marian. However, Franco ensures our sympathies lie with her, and by the end of the film, she is the only character who we genuinely want to see survive. Romay plays the innocent maid role well, and often succeeds in carrying the film with her onscreen presence alone. Her humbleness serves to highlight the materialistic and murderous debauchery of the ruling aristocrats. Other notable roles include Major Brooks, played by Franco regular Alberto Dalbà (C)s, and Inspector Bore, played by Vicente Roca. Both play police inspectors working on the case; however, their relationship, and Brooksâ(TM)s true intentions, often appear ambiguous and suspect. This keeps the suspense during the investigative scenes prominent, as the audience continuously suspects that either of them could be the killer. Often with Francoâ(TM)s work, the suspension of disbelief, without question, is absolutely necessary. Here, a British audience will more than likely question why the film is set in Louisiana, why the characters have mostly English sounding names, and why, if it indeed is an Anglo-Victorian setting, they have olive skin, sombreros and speak Spanish. At the end of the day, a lot of Francoâ(TM)s films do require trust and respect for the director; the faith that he is conveying as much as he needs in order to make the film approachable and enjoyable. As a horror thriller, it works very well, and the limit of 79 minutes through which the film begins and concludes ensures the pace and tempo are typically fast. Gore wise, there is not a lot to please splatter fans, to say the least. It is questionable whether or not a drop of blood is actually spilt on screen, but this merely adds to the sense that this is more murder mystery than gory stalk and slash. There is a genuinely good storyline at the heart of this film (a story which, it must be admitted, owes a certain amount to Edgar Allen Poe), and unlike many generic slasher films, it doesnâ(TM)t need to rely on blood and guts to keep viewers entertained. There is an elegance to Francoâ(TM)s work which often stands out on its own, without the need for an overzealous special effects team. The deaths are quick and to the point; however, Night Of The Assassins still remains an intriguing and rewarding film for horror fans.

David Ladd
David Ladd

Super Reviewer

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