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I just watched this jaw-droppingly pristine copy of "The Ghoul"
available on MGM DVD, which is a transfer of a recently discovered
practically unused and complete print of the film found at the British
Film Institute. The image is unbelievably clear and the sound has been
processed (by the engineers at Sonic Solutions) so that it is quite
comparable to recordings made at least 30 years later and possibly even
better since it is engineered to fill up both channels of a stereo
set-up (with no background hiss or grating of any kind). The original
music by Louis Levy (aided by Leighton Lucas) is innovative and
prescient for the time.
The photography and art direction - by two German expressionists of renown, including The Archers' legendary Alfred Junge - are stupendous, especially the London fog scenes and the great details of the interior scenes. I was also pleasantly surprised by the mobility of the camera at all times and the realistic aspect of the action scenes. The atmosphere is suspenseful and chillingly mysterious and all the actors are extremely good (and famous!), including the two "young adorables" acting as principals, shapely Dorothy Hyson and stalwart Anthony Bushell.
The dialog is at least twice as witty as that found in the Universal horror flicks of the same era and the story actually makes sense, although, unfortunately, it is of the "Scooby-Doo" school of old dark house mysteries where everything is neatly tied up with a rational explanation at the end, leaving absolutely no room for belief in the supernatural. But this doesn't distract from the extreme intelligence of the whole, the great fun of watching all those clever actors turning in memorable performances and the extra bonus of watching a relative unknown one (Kathleen Harrison in an amorous Carol Burnett-type of persona) stealing the show from everyone else at the end.
This film has a little bit of everything for everybody but it should be prized at least for having been saved from total disappearance and as a precious time-travel piece that actually shows the viewer what a brand-new horror film looked like on its first day of projection back in 1933. I enjoyed Ralph Richardson (as a country pastor) in every frame he's in and I am still in awe of Cedric Hardwicke's interpretation of an enigmatic solicitor which so closely resembles an impersonation of "Mr. Rat" from "The Wind in the Willows". Karloff is underemployed but effective as usual as Professor Morlant (which sounds like "slow death" - mort lente - in French) but Ernest Thesiger is priceless as a slow-witted butler with a club-foot and a Scottish brogue.
This film has very high entertainment and repeat value for the discriminating viewer and the DVD is being sold for practically no money. After surviving 70 years on the shelf, "The Ghoul" has become a must-have instant classic.
If you can locate a copy of this exceptional talkie you are indeed
fortunate. It took me years to find, yet it was well worth the
The history of this Karloff gem is fascinating. 'The Ghoul' had completely disappeared, not even the trailer survived. Yet in the 1980's (if I remember correctly), a lone nitrate print turned up in Prague, (with Hungarian subtitles) in *appalling* condition. Apparently, the nitrate film had shrunk to a mere third of it's original width, was exceptionally brittle and in a number of pieces yet was effectively restored... albeit not to the quality of it's release. Therefore, I was prepared to overlook the graininess, variable contrast and sound-track distortions.
'The Ghoul' belongs to Karloff. Had the film not vanished it would have become a hardy perennial of late night television horror alongside the Lemalle classics. As for the cast, sets and script (in that order), the film is superior to other horror classics of the period.
The story-line is vaguely reminiscent... an eccentric, terminally ill man (of Egyptian ancestry) decrees that a rare artefact must be entombed with him otherwise trouble will befall. As to be anticipated, the scarab jewel is removed from the hand of his corpse by a tomb robber not long after internment providing the impetus to wreak revenge in the signature fashion.
The quality of the film may distract some viewers, but the atmosphere retains most of it's inaugural impact. Definitely an eight and a half!
On this site there is a criticism which says to stay away from this film because it is incomprehensible. That's correct for the incomplete copies heretofore available. Now MGM Video has released a complete version on VHS and DVD, a very high quality print. The story is very clear now, and this is one of the high end Karloff flicks. If you like vintage horror films, if you're a Karloff fan, if you liked Karloff's "The Mummy," you will like this film.
Most of the other commenters seem to have seen a truncated, blurry version
of this movie. The new DVD certainly kept me entertained! It's true that
the movie is very dark, but the shadowy photography is beautiful and
Germanic -- prime '30s look, fog, candlelight, and all. I just checked,
I see that cinematographer Gunther Krampf also shot NOSFERATU, THE STUDENT
OF PRAGUE, and PANDORA'S BOX. Pretty good resume!
Hoaky old dark house cliches and humor, for sure, but funny if you know the genre. The woman who wants to be the "sheikh's" love slave is a real hoot. Karloff, Thesiger, Hardwick, and Richardson are all very good, as are the romantic couple who spar and then decide they like each other (surprise!). Karloff's self-mutilation scene is brilliantly disturbing. And wait a second, is that a patch of bamboo he stumbles into just in front of the Yorkshire moors? This is all great fun, perhaps best if you check any high expectations at the door.
I disagree wholeheartedly with those who have given this film a bad review. The acting is superb, particularly Ralph Richardson as the 'Vicar', and the character actors, and of course Boris himself. Beautifully shot with wonderful props and set (I'd love to know which house they used!) it could put many a famous cinematic Haunted House to shame! The plot is reasonably clever and well-paced --nobody wants anything too complex in this atmospheric genre-- and the romantic subplot is suitably unsentimental and unobtrusive. Especially wonderful is the moment when the second woman, who had been swooning ridiculously in front of the man who calls himself a Sheik and generally acting silly, turns suddenly brave and holds the baddies at bay with the words (remember this is 1933!) "I don't THINK so!"
This movie is an entertaining tale of Prof. Morlant (Boris Karloff), an
eccentric Egyptologist who is fixated on the powers of the ancient Egyptian
gods. On his deathbed he tells his servant (Ernest Thesinger) to bind the
sacred jewel called "The Eternal Light" to his hand. He warns that if the
jewel is taken, he will return from the grave seeking revenge....
Boris Karloff's presence and a superb cast move this moody, atmospheric classic along at a great pace. This movie has some great dialogue and an interesting plot. It is very rare, but I was lucky enough to find it on video. If you are a fan of the genre, and you happen to find it, I encourage you to rent it, buy it, whatever.
After Boris Karloff starred in The Mummy, he went back to England to
film this eerie followup. In this film, he looks like a combination
Frankenstein monster and the mummy I'm-Ho-Tep - and as grotesque as
The tomb-robbing Ernest Thesiger gets the action going. Karloff stalking through the moldy mansion is as eerie as you can imagine. The end in which Karloff goes back to his tomb has some scenes that are the most hair-raising as you can imagine.
NOTE: Avoid copies that are incomplete or cut. The version that I have is 76 minutes long and some of the others seem to be abridged.
Watch it with your B-movie buddies.
The surprising thing about THE GHOUL is that it features an impressive
background score for a film made in '33, when most soundtracks were
almost completely devoid of music. This is something the other comments
here failed to mention.
The other plus factor is the brilliant B&W photography done in Gothic style to suit the story elements here. An Egyptologist returns from the grave to take revenge on a servant who has stolen a sacred jewel. BORIS KARLOFF is the doctor with his own rules about how to offer sacrifices to Anubis in order to have eternal life.
The pace is slow and there's too much silly banter that features KATHLEEN HARRISON in a role designed to give the audience comedy relief. RALPH RICHARDSON is excellent as a cleric who seems to be a helpful visitor and ERNEST THESIGER is fine as the nervous servant.
The Gothic ambiance is strong with handsome interiors of a house in shadows and the flavor of an "old dark house mystery" is well sustained. Plotwise, there are loopholes and the story only really picks up once Karloff has returned from the grave.
For fans of this genre, this is an interesting film and Karloff's performance is first rate.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS A lack of a compelling story and a resolution that relies on
too many coincidences are the only things that keep "The Ghoul" from
being an unsung classic. I've read that for years it was relatively
obscure, and that might have added to its mystique in the past. Now
that it's been rediscovered and released on a pristine-looking DVD
(courtesy of MGM), one can finally see it uncut and as it was intended.
Karloff is excellent as Professor Morlant, who is quite a fan of Egyptian culture. He keeps a statue of Anubis in his house, and spends his entire fortune on a jewel that, legend has it, will enable him to return from the dead. Unfortunately, his untrustworthy servant Laing (played by the same actor who played Dr. Pretorius in "Bride of Frankenstein") gets greedy at the end. Instead of burying Morlant with the jewel bandaged to his hand, he hides the jewel in a tin of coffee. A group of disparate individuals gather at Morlant's estate after his burial, and soon everyone is looking for the jewel. Meanwhile, Morlant rises from the tomb and seeks out those who would stand in the way of eternal life.
The thing that will forever remain with me about this film is the brilliant way the story was set up. The sets are breathtakingly morbid, a first-rate haunted house production if ever there was one. Even the scenes that are supposed to be taking place outdoors take place at night and in dense fog, as if the sun never shines on these characters. Karloff looks bizarre right from the beginning, as Morlant lies on his deathbed and tries to ensure that his instructions for his burial are carried out to the letter. The makeup on him is very creepy, and even his fingers look inhuman.
The trouble comes with the creaky middle section, in which the characters are rounded up and summoned to Morlant's dusty mansion. The motivations of everybody involved are fanciful, and on hand are two actresses who will give you a headache before the film is over. Dorothy Hyson delivers her lines at a monotonously high volume, as if she's deliberately speaking in falsetto. Kathleen Harrison seems to have been directed to act like a shrieking annoyance. Anthony Bushell is too much of a milquetoast to be an effective hero.
The goods come from Karloff, and his first appearance back from the dead is quite chilling. The camera gives him some great closeups in the ghoul makeup, and the director makes classic use of shadows and lighting. There's a great scene where Karloff sneaks up on Harrison and looms over her while she is unaware of him standing right behind her; one especially creepy shot shows him approaching her from behind while we watch through a window.
The resolution is silly, if not downright ludicrous. I won't reveal it here, but I will mention that someone comes along and gives an explanation that Morlant was buried alive and is not really a ghoul after all. This seems to contradict a few other details in the story, especially the scene where Morlant looms outside of a barred window, then pries the bars apart with his bare hands to gain entrance to the mansion.
Highly recommended for fans of black & white horror films. While the shortcomings of "The Ghoul" are glaringly apparent, they are also easily overlooked when you take into consideration the fine visual craft of the film. Excellent for some lights-out Halloween fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE GHOUL is one of those films that are rediscovered after being
missing for years, and turn out to be worthwhile (something of a
rarity). It has a first rate cast of character actors (including two
future knights) and a good "nest of vipers" plot. And I find it
pleasant for bringing in a favorite topic to me: Egyptian archeology
Boris Karloff is a dying Egyptologist, who tells his butler Theisinger to make sure a valuable talisman is buried with him. It seems this talisman may guarantee Karloff eternal life according to the ancient Egyptian creed he has come to believe in. Karloff dies, and Theisinger steals the talisman to sell it for a small fortune. But he is soon being pursued by someone - he doesn't know whom. Also he has approached Cedric Hardwicke (looking a bit like a Dickensian figure in a egg shaped bald wig and thick glasses) and Hardwicke is just not the type one can trust.
Others soon are interested in the talisman, and willing to kill for it. It drags in Anthony Bushell and his girlfriend, and a would-be vamp seeking her "Sheikh-like" mate among the other men in the story. It also brings in Ralph Richardson, as a clergyman who gets involved (and seemingly disgusted) at the greedy goings-on he sees.
Richardson was at an interesting point in the 1930s. Occasionally he played good guys (like Robert Donat's ill-fated friend in THE CITADEL), but he usually played villains like in BULLDOG JACK or THE SHAPE TO COME or even in THE MAN WHO COULD PERFORM MIRACLES. His Vicar is an interesting character, who really fools us for most of the movie (and participates in one of the most hair-raising effects in it).
Because the talisman should be buried with the deceased, but is stolen and sought by all the villains for their own purposes, the title of the film really should have been "THE GHOULS", because ghouls were grave robbers. Instead, the public who saw the film see Karloff resurrected and chasing after the stolen item that is needed for his final eternal rest - and thought that Boris is the titled monster. He is a danger to the other characters, but most of them deserve it.
His final act of faith is a grim, and visible one. When it is over one hopes his character did achieve eternal peace.
How realistic is this view of Egyptological eccentrics, and the theft of antiquities? Well, read the papers these days, and see how so many museums in the U.S.(including the Metropolitan and the Getty) are returning stolen antiquities to Italy, Egypt, Latin America. The market for such thefts is still there - just look at how they have tried to save the Iraqi museums of valuable Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian tablets and statuary. As for the picture of an Egyptologist going so far off the road as to worship Amon or Ra or Thoth or whoever, if one looks at the initial archaeologists and specialist in Egypt, one finds many eccentrics. Some have weird backgrounds.
The fabled Egyptian antiquities collection at the Brooklyn Museum was collected in the late 19th Century by Charles Wilbour, who spent the last thirty years of his life living on a houseboat on the Nile collecting. Wilbour had an interesting life before 1871. He had been the translator of the novels of Victor Hugo into English. He also ran a prosperous printing business in Brooklyn and New York City. It was that, you may say, that led to his relocating in Egypt. Wilbour made a fortune working hand in glove with Boss William Magear Tweed and Tammany Hall in inflating the cost of paper sales to the city of New York. He decided to leave when the Boss fell from power. New York's loss turned out to be the Brooklyn Museum's gain.
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