Reel Toronto: The Skulls
This "psychological thriller" is set at Yale, but it was shot at the Yale of the North.
Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Wikipedia describes The Skulls as a “psychological thriller,” which implies both that it has something to do with the workings of the human brain and that it is thrilling. Neither of things is particularly true, and the filmography of director Rob Cohen (The auteur behind xXx and Stealth!), lets you know you’re in for something that will surely spawn multiple direct-to-video sequels.
Even Canadian Joshua Jackson, making a post-Pacey move to the big screen, can’t save the movie.
The Skulls is supposed to be (very loosely) based on the notion that Yale’s secret Skull and Bones club is an evil organization bent on world domination (or something) instead of merely the sort of old-boys club that’s produced harmless alumni like George W. Bush and (uh, checking Wikipedia…) former President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft. There you go. But despite implications that it’s all taking place at Yale, the film was shot primarily at the University of Toronto, which makes sense, since U of T is totally the Yale of the North. Or is it Harvard?
Now, this is a movie in which, for realsies, the two baddies are named Caleb and Litten Mandrake. Just rolls off the tongue, don’t it? Feel free to take a moment to say both names out loud just so you can get in the cinematic mood of it all. But if you have an Ivy League movie, you just have to have rowing, and do they ever! (Whether they think it’s clever to have so much sculling in a movie called The Skulls is not clear, but we do think that.) Anyway, the boating was filmed down in St. Catherines, by Henley Island.
But that isn’t the only trip out of town. This imposing mansiony place is actually Singer Castle on Dark Island, which is a few hours east, in the Thousand Islands.
The interior, where this party takes place, is more recognizable: it’s the conservatory at Casa Loma.
You can see the hallway leading towards the main entrance here.
And we’re at U of T! They actually shot in lots of bits and pieces, so you don’t realize how locations are being used and reused. This, for example, is very clearly University College in the day…
…as well as its adjacent Croft Chapter House, though in real life it doesn’t have a scary skull on top.
This is UC’s quad…
…and so is this…
…but plenty of the school stuff was shot across campus at Victoria, like the handsome Burwash Dining Hall…
…and adjacent quad, by day…
This church, which hosts a funeral…
…is Knox College.
Not too far to the south is Osgoode Hall, filmed all scary-like…
…as is its library.
There are a few downtown scenes, but they’re so dark, tightly shot, and quick that they’re hard to pin down. Like this one…
…and this one. That building back there looks like it could be one of these, flanking the Spadina-Adelaide intersection.
And, hey, a Green P!
Late in the movie, a couple of the characters go on the run and end up at the dear, departed Hillcrest Motel.
And this is great: naturally the movie has to end with an old-fashioned duel! How could it not? And shouldn’t said duel be set amidst mysterious classical ruins? Naturally! And will the Mandrakes (the MANDRAKES!) and their friends be wearing tuxedos? Uh, like, yeah!
But of course, this isn’t actually Greece, much less New England. Rather, it’s Scarborough’s Guild Inn. (And the ruins aren’t from Greece or something. They’re just the old Bank of Toronto building, which is actually even more cool.)
The Skulls, according to someone’s estimation, was successful enough to warrant two direct-to-video sequels that even Mnsr. Cohen would not stoop to direct. Apparently those were shot up here too (of course they were) but let’s try to pace ourselves. We’ll save them for another day.