Anyone watching Amicus Films, THE SKULL starring the grand masters of terror, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would not fail to be impressed by some of pretty nifty camerawork and special effects. Effects and trickery, that one wouldn't expect to see on a film with such a limited budget.
So, just how did they achieve that floating camera effect? This was way before the arrival of the 'Steadicam', a tool so commonly used in films today, one no longer takes notice of those effortless guiding tracking shots. What looked great and was a groundbreaker, on the steps of the city hall, where Sylvester 'Rocky' Stallone runs through the city and leaps up those steps, the camera following him ALL the way, is now taken for granted. But back in 1965, the laying of tracks and hiring of camera cranes took time and money. Money and time that this film, did not have.
Well, take a look at the photograph above. That's director Freddie Francis, award winning cinematographer, who even back then, obviously stood by the old adage of, 'I wouldn't ask you to do anything, that I wasn't prepared to do myself! The camera was required to glide and give us an effortless 'Point-of-View' shot, as if the camera were the 'Skull' floating across the room. For this, to be achieved cheaply and effectively, Francis strapped on a pair of rollerskates, had a simple harness made, which secured the camera to his chest. With a gentle push from an assistant, and another holding him steady, both camera and camera operator as one, glided across the hard studio floor, as if on ice!
If you remember, the camera while floating was actually looking THROUGH the 'Skull's' eye socket! For this, Francis had a simple light weight 'mask' made of paper-mache, bolted onto a framework, that held the sockets, in front of the camera lens. Enabling, the camera to see THROUGH the sockets!
Cheap? Yes. Eccentric looking? Yes. Effective? Certainly. And THE SKULL looks all the better for it. They say, 'Necessity is the mother of invention!'. Indeed, when there is no money in the pot, the script is 30 mins short, skilled technicians like Freddie Francis, found a way.
Amicus films, THE SKULL is a master class in how to get the most from your director and cast, with as little money as possible. Producer, Milton Subotsky made sure his productions that had casts, that some main features, with triple his budget, could only dream of. The secret, was to write characters that only appeared in three or four scenes, before you either kill them off or they leave the action. This is how THE SKULL boasts a cast of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green and Peter Woodthorpe. The wonderful thing about Amicus productions is, they may not have cost much to make, but I suspect every penny, and we may well be talking about pennies here... is up there on the screen!
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