The release this August of the elusive Karloff Film THE GHOUL is a major event in the history of classic horror films as it was considered "lost" for the better part of the last century. Like the complete GREED or LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT from the silent era, this was the holy grail of 30s horror.
THE GHOUL was made at the height of Karloff's fame following the actor's triumph in Universal's THE MUMMY and THE OLD DARK HOUSE. The cast is outstanding with a very young Ralph Richardson as a cleric who proves to be much more at the film's end, and of course the eccentric Ernest Thesiger as Karloff's very nervous Scottish manservant. Cedric Hardwicke appears as a shady lawyer right out of Charles Dickens and overacts accordingly.
Having seen mouth-watering stills from this film for the last 40 years, this pristine transfer is a sight to behold. Although in cleaning the print up we do lose some definition in the process but all in all this is a gorgeous transfer from the Golden Age of Horror. After recovering from that, THE GHOUL does fall short in the script department as it is an obvious attempt by Gaumont to capitalize on the success of Karloff's Universal films by making a film that is part mummy with a dash of J.P. Priestley even to the extent of casting Thesiger in yet another old dark house this time filled with Egyptian artifacts.
Karloff's character that, of Professor Moriant, is a grotesque figure from the first shot and really doesn't change that much when he returns from the grave as the title would suggest. If James Whale or Karl Freund had been in the director's chair this might be the masterpiece we all hoped for all these years but time has given this film a place in film history regardless of its shortcomings.
The plot of THE GHOUL is simple Karloff is unhinged by his belief in the afterlife promised by the God Anubis and secures a sacred jewel known as the eternal light to grant him immortality. The gem is buried with him only to be stolen of course and Karloff's resurrection from the tomb and return to the old dark house to reclaim it is the main set piece and for the most part delivers enough atmosphere to make it a must for fans of Karloff and classic Universal horror.
Besides thefascinating cast of British character actors, the role made for Fay Wray is played by Dorothy Hyson with great charm and she might have gone on the bigger things if she hadn't chosen a family over a career. The sets are wonderful and very Germanic thanks to cameraman Günther Krampl and his art director who give the film what director Hunter could not!
One thing that really stands out for this writer is the sequence where Karloff mutilates his chest with a knife to appease Anubis, by carving a mystic symbol on it. Definitely pre-code material to say the least!
MGM has released this classic rediscovery with no fanfare and dreadful cover art that gives little indication of what lies in store for the collector. This film deserves liner notes, a stills gallery and perhaps the vintage poster art for the front cover. In short, treat this film with the proper reverence it is entitled.
This MGM presentation is a must for fans of Karloff despite the packaging and lack of the bells and whistles we come to expect from such a discovery as this. (David Del Valle)
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