THE GHOUL

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE GHOUL / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: T. HAYES HUNTER / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: BORIS KARLOFF, CEDRIC HARDWICKE, ERNEST THESIGER, RALPH RICHARDSON, KATHLEEN HARRISON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

If you read STARBURST #408, you might recall us talking about the curious lack of British horror movies before we became specialists with the advent of Hammer Horror in the late-‘50s. Gothic melodrama we delivered by the bucket-load, but very little actual chills. A very rum state of affairs when you consider how much British talent had been central to the success of Universal’s horror-cycle in the ‘30s. Well that conveniently leads us to the Blu-ray release of one of those rare pre-Hammer British horror outings: The Ghoul.

The Ghoul was actually the Brits first horror-talkie and took the very clever step of getting some of those expats working at Universal to take a trip home for a bit of a working holiday. So not only do we get the wonderful Ernest Thesiger (Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House), we get none other than Boris Karloff himself on his first trip to Blighty in 25 years.  Karloff was huge at this time so this was a bit of a coup. Mind you, somewhat perversely, they did the opposite of Universal and got an American (T. Hayes Hunter) to direct. Then after all this trouble, we did a very British bit of foot-shooting by making it the first film to get an audience-limiting H (for horror) certificate. Oh well.

Egyptologist Professor Morlant (Karloff) is dying but believes the film’s MacGuffin (a diamond) will bring him back to life. Unfortunately his servant (Thesiger) nicks it just before his heirs turn up for the reading of the will. Throw in the local vicar (Richardson) and you’ve got a lot of MacGuffin-chasing, a few scares, and a surprisingly large amount of humour (well it is British). While The Ghoul is essentially an old-dark-house-mystery, with its foggy English setting, resurrection-plot and Egyptian trappings, it’s also a bit of a mummy-flick without an actual mummy. It even has a suspect-looking character in a fez which is pretty much requirement #1 in any mummy movie. This lack of a mummy is far from unique; they’re more optional than you might think.

Even though it was made on a typically Brit-budget, The Ghoul boasts some wonderful gothic sets and the dark fogbound scenes look brilliant on Blu-ray (this disc is vastly superior to this reviewer’s old DVD version). But although Karloff is ostensibly the star, there’s actually rather less of him than you might expect (probably due to fee-related reasons). Nevertheless the rest of the cast make a pretty good fist of it with a Scottish-accent-sporting Thesiger camping it up like no-one’s business as he repeatedly explains his master’s odd burial instructions with “it was one of his queer fancies”.  Even Kathleen Harrison’s comic-relief role is still genuinely funny and Ralph Richardson in his film debut is, well, Ralph Richardson.

If old horror-flicks are your thing or you’re just interested in this rare bit of early Brit-horror then we’d definitely recommend this. Atmospheric and fun.

Special Features: Audio commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones / Image gallery / Commemorative booklet

 


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