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The Ghoul


By Tom BakerPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 3 min read

The Ghoul is a British film starring Boris Karloff that was thought lost for decades until a scratchy, badly aged and damaged, and just all-around wretched copy was found in Prague. Later, in an old film vault earmarked for termination, a copy was found, a pristine copy, behind a door barricaded with lumber. Holy Vault of Horrors, Batman!

In this case, maybe the Holy Grail of Horrors; but, then again, maybe not. The Ghoul starts promisingly enough: dark, brooding, atmospheric, and dreamlike (or maybe it was just the fact that I was still waking up as I was starting to watch it), but then it kind of dips in the middle and becomes typical pap at the end. Boris Karloff is way underused here, and, as the tile makes clear from the get-go, comes back as a ghoul: here depicted as the living dead (but left rather ambiguous by the film's end).

Ernest "Dr. Pretorius" Thesiger, that walking English cadaver from one of the greatest of all Universal Monster flicks, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), is paired once again with Boris, playing a curiously cowardly sinister manservant with a trilling Scottish brogue, named Laing. He begins the movie by opening the front door to someone whom I can't quite remember and informing said visitor that Master is dying, the dude won't survive the night. All due to his evil, Crowleyish occult dabblings, and profligate lifestyle. Bad, bad man.

We next get an Arab (Harold Huth) on the scene to collect the "Eternal Light," which looks to be some sort of gem much-prized by the dying Karloff, who reaches out pathetically in his death throes, paying his final obeisancies to Anubis before being secured in his tomb.

After that, we're introduced to some working-class English girls (Dorothy Hayson and comic foil Kathleen Harrison) from a 1933 movie (makes sense) who share a flat and would most likely be married today. (I'm reminded of Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts in those old slapstick comedies, and how fascinating the still shot of them in bed together is for those who pick up on the buried subtext there.)

One of them inherits Uncle Boris's vast wealth or something, and she and her girlfriend thus must rush right over to the spooky old mansion in the English fog and night. (That's after she's accosted by a mysterious man who tries to steal a note Laing slips into her purse. I'm confused about all these subplots to say the least, and what everyone is hoping to accomplish by such nefarious goings-on.)

So they go to the old house, and she meets with her cousin Ralph (Anthony Bushell, whose name they keep pronouncing "Rafe") and some suspicious old clergyman, and then meets the Arab (we know he is such because of his turban and beads, natch), and then the whole thing becomes typical for the era "Spooks on the Loose" capers and shenanigans; but Boris does come back as a particularly cadaverous living cadaver. However, then someone mentions the word "catalepsy," and it just blows the whole deal.

There's a fiery conclusion, with an Englishman carrying an English girl across the English graveyard on the English night, wearing quite a fetching doo-rag. Fetching, but odd. Or maybe I'm just remembering all of this wrongly (it has been two days).

Boris gives a good performance, and the film's cinematography and aesthetics (it was partly lensed by Gunther "Nosferatu" Krampf, who had the most German of all German names) are immersive and lead you to believe the rest of the film is going to continue to weave the spell the first ten minutes or so does. No dice. The movie devolves, and Boris may have just been buried alive, due to "catalepsy."

In Mr. Sardonicus, William Castle explains that a ghoul, "exhumes the dead, and eats them!" (Not a proper quote, but you get the idea.) Here, I wish Boris would have stopped graveside for a bit of a nosh. It would have heated up, perhaps, the warmed-over gruel that is the end of this flick.

Four more words.


The Ghoul (1933) Classic Horror movie in HD

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About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.: http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock2 months ago

    Another interesting review of a movie it sounds like is meant for watching in the background while doing something else, lol.

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