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Of all the Universal stars and stock character actors, the one that seems to get lost in the shuffle the most is George Zucco. It is a shame as I can never say I saw him give a bad performance despite the lack of depth in the cinematic vehicle he was appearing in. Zucco is the star of Mad Ghoul and does a wonderful job playing a man obsessed with a pretty singer played by Evelyn Ankers. Zucco works with the fiancee of Ankers, both scientists working on what keeps life after death..in a zombie form at least. Ankers, however, is not quite sure she loves David Bruce still, and is having a relationship with the pianist touring with her, Turhan Bey, who has little to do in his role. Zucco somehow induces Bruce to become a zombie/ghoul at times...thus telling his pretty fiancee things that cool down the relationship so old George can have a crack at her..or so he thinks she might be so inclined toward him(not knowing about Bey of course). The Mad Ghoul is a wonderful film because it has some great scenes and dialogue for George Zucco. Zucco shines as a sinister man with a battle between moral conscience losing to his base desires. The rest of the cast is good(look for Robert Armstrong of King Kong fame), the scenes and graveyard sets in particular are very appropriate. Don't forget the Mad Ghoul when catching up with your list of Universal horror films. It is worth seeing if for no other reason than seeing Zucco in one of his finest performances.
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
Another Universal pleasure, spinning out a horror framework behind a story of three men in love with the same woman. Evelyn Ankers is the beauteous object of affection, playing a concert singer engaged to a handsome college student (David Bruce), but she's fallen for her pianist (Turhan Bey), while the student's mad scientist mentor (George Zucco) is hopelessly smitten. The scientist achieves a "living death' syndrome to his unwilling student, eventually using it as a tool to rid the pianist. The stars are great, earnest and engaging, particularly Bruce and Zucco. Grand soundtrack and fog-shrouded, shadowy scenes abound. A fun, time-capsule flick from the masters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"You mean to say that your girl and my ghoul are playing the same
Professor of chemistry, Dr. Alfred Morris(George Zucco), has perfected a type of poison gas derived from a native Mayan culture who used such methods to not only kill but to use the victims after death as slaves for their own diabolical reasons. He includes a student in his research, Ted Allison (David Bruce), a wunderkind with a scalpel, with tragic results for the pupil because of the insidious acts of the professor.
Both men adore a popular soloist, Isabel Lewis( Evelyn Ankers), on the verge of her first country-wide tour and this motivates him to use Ted as a weapon to potentially kill the man she secretly loves, her pianist, Eric Iverson (the debonair Turhan Bey). While following Isabel on tour, Dr. Morris desecrates graves, forcing Ted, a zombie under his hypnotic spell, to despoil corpses for their hearts!
The story is truly depraved if you think about it. I just delight in how fiendish Zucco is. I mean Zucco was just a wiz at depicting sociopathic mad scientists willing to use their brains to terrorize. It's the classic example of using your smarts for malicious intentions instead of contributing to society in a more beneficial manner. The reprehensible actions of Morris certainly adds emphasis on Ted's unfortunate fate as he must obey when induced in the zombie state, which often occurs when he is under extreme duress.
One scene has a reporter, "Scoop" McClure(Robert Armstrong, given the "determined and wisecracking newsman" role), working the ghoul grave desecrations (the story truly heats up when a cemetery guard is killed by a crushing blow to the skull by Morris who, in turn, has Ted mutilate the fresh corpse with the surgical knife, extracting the heart), with a bright ideaworking in concert with a funeral ownerof hiding in a coffin inside a funeral parlor hoping that the culprit will show up so he can catch him in the act, not knowing that Morris had an accomplice, resulting in a grisly demise (not only is the surgical knife used to incapacitate him, but Morris then strangles him!).
The film utilizes the *puppet-puppeteer* angle where Dr. Morris uses Ted for his own twisted purposes, a gifted scientist, abusing his genius in a sordid fashion to, or as he would believe, have Isabel all to himself (an obsessive, delusional desire for a woman who respects him, but doesn't have a single, solitary clue that this well-renowned scientist is the madman behind the grave mutilations). Evelyn Ackers, a Universal beauty used in a lot of the B-movies for the studio, as always, is the woman of interest for all three male stars, her impressive figure once again costumed by those fabulous Vera West dresses. This movie uses the terrific sets Universal Studios always provided, such as foggy graveyards, Morris' laboratory, and lavish apartments (including the noisy newsroom where McClure works).
This movie is all about Zucco; he just had a knack for portraying the cunning, menacing, cerebral maniac, who appears gentlemanly, polite, and cultured, masking a savage, homicidal mind without the moral compass or conscience needed to prevent the events which transpire in THE MAD GHOUL. Bruce effectively convinces as a victim who not only loses the love of his life to a friend (Ted introduced Eric to Isabel), but is unknowingly helping a man he trusts defile the dead of their hearts. The reason for the desecrations is that Morris uses ingredients the heart provides to return Ted to a more human state after each zombie attack.
George Zucco plays University professor Dr. Alfred Morris, who has discovered an ancient Mayan gas that was used to control the human sacrifices made in their rituals. David Bruce plays his student Ted Allison, who is recruited to be his assistant for the summer. Unfortunately for Ted, his professor is quite ruthless, and uses him as an experiment to try his recreation of the Mayan gas on. He succeeds, but Ted turns into the "mad ghoul" who helps the doctor rifle graves to cut out their hearts for more experiments in overcoming the gas, though this won't do poor Ted much good... Evelyn Ankers has a small role as his girlfriend. Good "ghoulish" premise, but film is strangely meandering and unconvincing, not to mention overly talky and dull. Good cast makes it semi-watchable, but film still fails, though does have a poetic final fade-out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie could have been much more effective with less of the Evelyn
Ankers concert scenes to slow things down, but the morbid parts
,showing Zucco and Bruce robbing graves, are very unsettling. The movie
has plenty of atmosphere, if one can sit patiently through the dull
George Zucco gives what is certainly one of his best performances. He plays the sinister professor with a low key, almost amiable quality, suggesting a good man gone bad, rather than a totally evil, cartoon mad scientist. His scene with Evelyn Ankers at the piano, as he subtly insinuates things that she completely fails to pick up on, is a measure of the genuine talent he possessed, so often wasted in forgettable B chillers.
David Bruce is pretty bland and uninteresting as the hapless hero, but his character is meant to be the dupe of the professor, and not much of a strong personality. Turhan Bey basically does nothing but smile and play the piano, with just one good line, when he walks in to a room to find Zucco putting the moves on Ankers, and jokingly says, " Men have been shot for less than holding hands, Professor" and all three laugh at the idea that Zucco could be romantically interested in the younger woman, when we know it to be exactly the case.
One of the lesser Universal horrors is a still enjoyable if decidedly silly outing. The former is due largely to the typical low-budget atmosphere (from intermittent graveyard raids, for plot purposes, down to the recycled music cues), George Zucco's equally reliable presence as the obligatory mad scientist (with this in mind, the title actually referring to the 'human monster' of the piece has always struck me as kind of desperate) and, to a lesser extent, Robert Armstrong ditto as the fast-talking but ill-fated reporter who cracks the case. The 'monster' (afflicted by sudden 'attacks' which transform him, in a matter of seconds, into a scruffy and wizened zombie) is a student in love with a renowned singer (resident Universal scream queen Evelyn Ankers), predictably also desired by the elderly Professor - deluding himself, a' la the Bela Lugosi of THE RAVEN (1935), that she corresponds this affection - but who has herself fallen for the accompanying pianist (the just-as-ubiquitous Turhan Bey) of her concert tour. Obsessed with the Ancient Egyptian ritual of death-in-life (improbably involving a release of poison gas followed by an impromptu heart transplant!), Zucco first experiments with a monkey but soon turns his attentions to a human specimen for which his naive assistant (a surgical genius no less) fits the bill perfectly (however, no attempt is made to explain how he manages to operate repeatedly on himself since, naturally, it transpires the effect of the revivification is only temporary without being fully conscious of the fact!). As I said, this is standard low-grade fare not quite as good as even the minor classics among Universal's second outburst within the genre, though certainly nowhere near as bad as the worst of the lot - THE CAT CREEPS, SHE-WOLF OF London and THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (all 1946).
In between the films with Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the
Wolfman, Universal Pictures occasionally turned out the oddball horror
film not belonging to anyone of the series they did. Such a film is The
Mad Ghoul and it stars a whole lot of players most familiar with the
Gothic horror genre.
Head of the cast is George Zucco who gets control of the mind and soul of David Bruce who was a former medical student of his before Zucco turned to ghoulish experiments. He's discovered an ancient gas used by the Mayans to turn people into mindless and soulless killing machines who obey commands by whomever controls the gas flow.
In this case Zucco has a mad case of ghoul type lust for Bruce's fiancé Evelyn Ankers who is a concert singer on tour with her accompanist Turhan Bey. And Bruce is jealous of Bey being around Ankers and working so close with her.
Later on in the Forties Zucco did some horror films for poverty row Monogram Pictures. This one is far from as bad as those were, but compared to other Universal fright fests it's second rate.
Others in the cast are cops Milburn Stone and Charles McGraw and reporter Robert Armstong whose quest to find the Mad Ghoul ends in tragedy. They all make The Mad Ghoul better than a typical Monogram product, but that's not saying much.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As an horror movie,well,it's pretty silly ,blending zombies stories
with Incas' nice traditions (the excision of the heart of the
unfortunate victim: we "learn" that they did not offer life in
sacrifice to their gods,they had found a way to bring the dead back to
life and vice versa).
The interest lies elsewhere: the love story is rather unusual ,since Ted ,the good boy with a great heart ,is sacrificed and his girlfriend prefers a bland buck who accompanies her on piano .The nasty professor 's motive is more his desire for the girl than the triumph of "science" .
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