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
Lovely concert singer Isabel Lewis (Evelyn Ankers) is engaged to marry medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce.) When she unexpectedly falls in love with her pianist Eric Iverson (a very suave Turhan Bey), she turns to Ted's laboratory boss Dr. Morris (George Zucco.) But it happens that Dr. Morris is in love with Isabel himself, and he decides to get rid of his assistant by subjecting him to ancient Mayan gas! Unfortunately for Ted, this gas is of a particularly nasty sort: it transforms him into a zombie-like creature. Under the control of Dr. Morris, Ted then participates in gathering the human hearts he must have for injections that allow him to return, temporarily, to normal.
The idea for this story seems to arise from a number of sources, most particularly the silent classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, the various versions of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, and THE RETURN OF DR. X--the latter a particularly peculiar B-flick featuring an unexpected Humphrey Bogart as a lab-created vampire of sorts. It other hands, the concept might have worked quite well, but although the cast is accomplished and the production values are generally quite good, the make-up effects are hardly up to the Universal standard, the pace is slow, and the script is quite dire.
The film makes no effort to create any sort of "transformation" when actor David Bruce goes from golly-gee lab assistant to shambling zombie; it is a straight cut-away, cut-back-to shot, and the latter finds him in uninspired make-up and with very untidy hair. Director James P. Hogan maintains a pace every bit as leaden-footed as the zombie, and as for the script... well, it is probably this sort of script that Evelyn Ankers, the studio's "Scream Queen" of the 1940s, had in mind when she walked away from Universal a year later. Given the talents of the cast and the overall look of the film, which (make-up effects aside) is handsomely mounted, I find it difficult to give this film less than three stars. All the same, I greatly doubt that THE MAD GHOUL will have any appeal for those outside the circle die-hard Universal horror fans.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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