This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Dr Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) and Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) are two upper class pals with a shared interest in collecting occult and anthropological rarities; Maitland has a sideline in research, whilst Phillips collects merely for the pleasure of collecting, and whenever they show up at the same auction they often end up in a friendly rivalry on the bids. Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark) is a man known to both of them – a grubby little purveyor of items of interest to collectors such as themselves, particularly collectors who aren’t too worried about what ends Marco had to go to.
One day, Marco comes to Maitland with a real curiosity – a human skull which he claims to be that of the Marquis de Sade, relevant to Maitland’s interests mostly due to the rumours of de Sade dabbling in the occult when he wasn’t busy writing porn, patenting BDSM, or being in jail. Marco starts off by asking £1000 for it, but eventually drops his price to £500 – something which strikes Maitland as unusual, because he’s dealt with Marco a lot and never known him to budge on price. Later, Maitland raises the matter with Phillips, who amazingly confirms that the skull is genuine – because the skull was stolen from his own collection! Even more incredibly, Phillips asserts that he is glad that the skull was stolen – because he’s convinced it was possessed by the very same dark power that possessed the Marquis de Sade in life, and drew him into dark practices far stranger than those usually attributed to him.
Now properly intrigued, Maitland finds himself more and more obsessed with de Sade, the skull, and the mysterious ticket into an unseen world of diabolical ritual it apparently represents – thinking it would be a fabulous research opportunity for his next book. What extremes will the skull drive Phillips to for the sake of dark knowledge?