Friday, July 29, 2011

Franco Friday #27: Night of the Skull

Franco Friday #27

Hey kids. I am finally past the halfway mark on my Franco Friday project. Honestly, I didn't think I would make it this far. I still don't think that I am what you call a 'Jess Franco kind of guy'. But come on, this is number 27! I don't think I have a choice in the matter. Maybe 25 weeks from now, I'll cut the self-denial bit and just accept my place among the Franco freaks.

Night of the Skull
AKA La Noche de los Asesinos
Directed by Jess Franco
1976 (filmed in 1973)
Alberto Dalbes, Evelyne Scott, William Berger, Maribel Hidalgo, Lina Romay, Vicente Roca, Yelena Samarina, Antonio Mayans, Angel Menendez, Luis Barboo
83 minutes

After Lord Archibald Marian (played by Angel Menendez), the patriarch of a large and affluent family, is murdered by a mysterious killer in a skull-like mask, his family gathers on the family estate for the reading of his will. Inspector Bore (Vicente Roca) and Major Oliver Brooks (Alberto Dalbes) are called in to investigate the murder and get more than they bargained for as the bodies of Lord Archibald’s descendants keep popping up. Things get even more nuts when a second will is discovered and it turns out that someone isn’t who they claim to be.

In Night of the Skull, Franco mixes an Edgar Allen Poe (actually Edgar Wallace) story with elements from the krimi and giallo genres with fairly successful results. On a clunky scale of 1-10, 1 being not very clunky and 10 being very clunky, Night of the Skull rates around 11. The killer’s mask is a dime store rubber cheapie and many of the scenes feel like rushed first takes. Surprisingly, instead of patching over the holes with weirdness and sex*, Franco charges forward, delivering a very different film from his usual fare. It is almost as if this wacked out director decided to just cool it and do a normal movie for a change.

The film’s score by Carlo Savina (Fangs of the Living Dead) is superb and really gives the film a special vibe. The camerawork by Javier Perez Zofio is decent enough. There are some out of focus bits (standard Franco) and it’s a little dark at times (which may just be the substandard Image DVD) but he does make the most of the old architecture and decent sets. Now don’t get me wrong, this movie looks cheap as shit most of the time and hastily thrown together for the rest but I’m not complaining.

What this movie needs is more characters! It seems like every time a scene where a character is being introduced ends, another one begins. I don’t mind so much since I dig this cast and everyone is pretty distinct in their respective roles. Alberto Dalbes is especially spirited in this film and gleefully jumps into his role of the energetic and slightly naughty Major Brooks. In one scene, he talks to a woman on the phone while spying on her through a keyhole, even commenting on how good she looks in her nightgown. And this guy is supposed to solve a crime? It’s also nice to see Yelena Samarina (Werewolf Shadow) as intense as ever. She plays Deborah, the stern and very suspicious maid, and she’s just awesome.

Lina Romay is the only one who gets screwed on this one (zing!). Her character Rita, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Archibald, is cold, somber, and damaged almost beyond repair and she does a great job. But then in a couple of scenes, she suddenly starts sobbing and it’s really awkward and terrible. This is the first time I’ve been disappointed with a performance from Romay. Hell, she even stays mostly clothed in this one! I can’t help but think that some better direction would have helped her. But honestly, Lina could have stepped up to the plate in those moments and not been quite so bad.

While it does take some (read as: a lot of) patience and a good attitude (I happen to have a great attitude!), I really like Night of the Skull a whole, whole lot. The murders aren’t bloody but they are quite sadistic. Even with all of the characters, I enjoyed the twisty story and there’s even a very odd séance sequence which always improves a film in my estimation. The atmosphere is that of an old-fashioned gothic chiller and you know, it’s gonna get dicey when there’s an inheritance involved. Some will call this a slapdash mess but Franco won me over once again.

*I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that this is the Spanish clothed version of Night of the Skull. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if a naughtier version of this film exists somewhere. I really don’t care because all the sex would just fuck up this film’s perfect running time.


  1. I liked this film, too, and recommended it to a Franco-curious friend who likes those Poe-esque b/w movies. He questioned my mental state. As far as I remember there was a Lina-Romay-squirming-nude-in-the-bed-moment, nothing too graphic, but I think it was there. Maybe I'm wrong. I might watch it again. In 50 years.

  2. @MLP - You're right. There was a tiny bit of nudity from Romay and BIG SURPRISE it was sexier than seeing the whole kit and kaboodle.

  3. I've been meaning to watch this one. I'll give it a shot eventually but I'm almost afraid to watch anymore Franco films because he's such an uneven director, haha.

  4. I am not the biggest Jess Franco fan but damn, I admire your persistence in going through the whole collection! A lesser man would be insane by now, haha!

    Michael :)

  5. @Ryan - Ha ha, indeed. The guy has made nearly 200 movies and I've already run into some terrible shit after viewing just 27. One might say it's because most of his stuff isn't readily available. But I wonder...

    @Michael - Thanks! But don't worry, I am NOT going through the whole collection. That would truly destroy me. I went with a very finite 52. I think that is enough brain damage right there.