Dr. Alfred Morris, a university chemistry professor, rediscovers an ancient Mayan formula for a gas which turns men into pliant, obedient, zombie-like ghouls. After medical student Ted Allison becomes a guinea pig for Morris, the professor imagines that Allison's fiancée, beautiful concert singer Isabel Lewis, wants to break off the engagement because she prefers the professor as a more "mature" lover but n reality loves Eric, her accompanist. In order to bring Ted back from his trance-like states, Morris commands him to perform a cardiectomy on recently deceased or living bodies in order to use serum from their hearts as a temporary antidote. When the serial murders seem to coincide with Isabel's touring schedule, ace reporter "Scoop" McClure gets on the mad scientist's trail. Written by
Evelyn Ankers hoped to do her own singing for the film, but because of the tight production schedule producer Ben Pivar used stock recordings of Lillian Cornell for the scenes in which Ankers' character sings (and the songs are obviously older recordings since their sound quality is inferior to the rest of the soundtrack). See more »
Dr. Alfred Morris:
[Responding to the corpse sitting up and pulling a gun on him]
Reports of your death seem to be greatly exaggerated.
See more »
Curious about the effects of an ancient Mayan nerve gas used in human sacrifices, Dr. Morris (George Zucco) asks one of his eager pupils, Ted (David Bruce), to assist him in his experiments. Morris has managed to put a monkey into a 'dead' state, and Ted manages to revive it by giving it the fluid of another heart. Morris has an ulterior motive however, and plans to put the moves on Ted's musician girlfriend Isabel (Evelyn Ankers), who has grown tired of Ted and longs for someone else who shares her love of music. Afraid of hurting his feelings, Isabel confides in Dr. Morris to help Ted understand, but Morris exposes Ted to the Mayan gas, turning him into a mindless zombie that Morris can control. He has to rely on human hearts to survive, so Morris and Ted leave a trail of murders and grave-robbing behind them, as Morris turns his attention to Isabel's new beau, pianist Eric (Tuhran Bey).
Of all Universal's regular actors, George Zucco was one of their most prolific, but was usually confined to supporting roles. Here he is given the starring role, and his well-spoken, subtly evil performance proves to be one of the few positives in what is a quite dull affair. Universal's gorgeous set-design and high production values are clear to see, but the story is old-fashioned and weak, offering nothing more than a familiar mad scientist storyline, similar in many ways to Universal's own Frankenstein (1931), but lacking the satirical bite. The make-up, which is usually highly iconic, is uninspired and quite basic, involving nothing more than a bit of powder and messy hair, and features no big 'change' scene, and instead Ted simply raises his head from his hands and is transformed.
Running at just 65 minutes, The Mad Ghoul is clearly lacking ideas, and resorts to lazy scenes of exposition as Robert Armstrong's 'Scoop' McClure gets a scent of Dr. Morris, communicating his ideas and intentions with a girl from his office he keeps happening to come across, helping the audience to understand what's going on. The scenes with Armstrong do offer some light comic relief however, taking the attention away from the mundanity of Morris's quest from Isabel. I'm sure this was made merely for the purpose of playing as a second feature to one of Universal's more accomplished films, but it doesn't excuse The Mad Ghoul from being frightfully pedestrian, with the only real saving grace being the performance of Zucco.
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