Friday, November 2, 2012

The Ghoul

The Ghoul (1933)
Dir. T. Hayes Hunter
Starring Boris Karloff, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Ernest Thesiger

    THE GHOUL starts off with a promisingly unique premise: Karloff is an aged and wealthy Egyptologist who believes that, if buried with a valuable jewel, he will return as an immortal. He also casually mentions to his creepy Scottish butler that if by some bizarre unforeseeable circumstance someone happened to steal the jewel, he would come back as an avenging ghoul, killing anyone who possessed it. As vanishingly unlikely as that seems, he mentions that his tomb opens from the inside, just to be on the safe side. Fortunately the burial goes as planned, Karloff dies happy, and the film ends with a stern lecture about the dangers of judging others on account of their religious beliefs. Just kidding, it’s exactly what you think.
    The beginning of the film --with a dying Karloff giving instructions and a web of no good scoundrels sniffing around for his fortune circling his deathbed-- is real great, full of great gothic shadows, blatant foreshadowing, and bolstered by a commanding performance from Karloff himself as well as a forgettable one from Ralph Richardson (the supreme being in TIME BANDITS in his first film role) as a sulky priest. But then, Karloff dies and the film shifts to his heirs, (Dorothy Hyson and Anthony Bushell) who are the actual stars of the film and seem to think they’re in a screwball comedy. Karloff, of course, does come back, but you’ve got to wait an intolerably long time for it to happen and once he does, he just wanders around silently, occasionally menacing our heroes without them knowing it. He’s got some nice ghoul-y makeup, but its a pretty small part and the movie dissolves into a bunch of listless broad comedy and unfocused whodunit shenanigans. There’s a ton of plot but not much real story, so the whole thing feels insubstantial and fleeting with too many characters that never do anything and not nearly enough horror to balance it out. It does flirt with getting good at the very end, though, when they toy with a “wow, are they really going there?” scenario before backing off into a completely implausible explanation for everything (ironically, the original play from which this was loosely adapted had an equally ridiculous but completely different twist ending).

It’s always nice to see Karloff as a monster, the film is quite stylishly shot, and it’s brisk enough to stave off boredom, but despite it’s busy plot there’s simply not much here. In fact, the story of it’s presumed loss and subsequent recovery is actually much more interesting than the film itself*. Maybe it’s just as well we never did find LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. On the other hand, check out Dan P’s more positive take in ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET THE B-LIST MONSTERS!

*I guess it was also the first British horror film of the sound era, so even if it's no great shakes in itself, it's the first step on the road to bringing us all those Christopher Lee vampire titty movies, thereby making it a gift to all mankind. 


BOOBIES: None, not even Karloff's.
> or = HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS LEVEL GORE: There is a little bit of blood at the end, unusual for 1933. But hardly gore.
OBSCURITY LEVEL: High-Mid. Obviously less well-known than its contemporaries like THE MUMMY or something like that, probably because it was only rediscovered in the 1980s.
SATANISTS: No, definitely an Anubis-believer, though. Don't get that too often.
ZOMBIES: Karloff comes back from his tomb, so I'd say that's fair.
SLASHERS: Strangler only.

No comments:

Post a Comment