Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!
Okay, with The Ghoul, I’m not sure where to start. This is a classic horror movie in the sense that it was released in 1933, but it’s not really connected to any sort of classic monster or well-known story. It’s also a film that has a story that seems like a huge missed opportunity. There’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense, and even though there’s a lot that could be done here. I followed this movie from start to finish, but I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to get from it aside from the fact that ancient religious are apparently bad but still have incredible power and that we should cheer the idea of cousins having sex.
Well, I’ll do my best here. Famous Egyptologist Professor Henry Morlant (Boris Karloff) is dying and will be dead soon. He has something in his corner, though—an ancient jewel called the “Eternal Light” that he believes will bring him back to life, thanks to the power of Anubis. There are certain requirements to make this work, though—primarily being entombed with the gem. His servant (Ernest Thesiger) has other plans, though. He steals the gem despite the warning that Morlant will come back and seek revenge on any guilty when the light of the full moon strikes his tomb.
Honestly, that’s a pretty good set-up. We know what we’re going to get here thanks to that basic pitch. There will naturally be some complicating matters. We’ll have some others who want the gem. Notably, these are Aga Ben Dragore (Harold Huth), who originally sold the gem to Morlant and Nigel Hartley (Ralph Richardson!), who is posing as a clergyman to gain access to the gem. We’re also going to have to deal with Ralph Morlant (Anthony Bushell), the professor’s nephew and heir as well as Betty Harlon (Dorothy Hyson), the professor’s niece and other heir. We’ll also get Miss Kaney (Kathleen Harrison), Betty’s wacky roommate and our comic relief. Ralph and Betty get mixed up in all of this believing that they are to come into some inheritance. Also, it’s important that the two sides of their family are unfriendly.
So you know what’s going to happen, right? The gem has been stolen, Professor Morlant is going to come back from the grave and start attacking people in his quest to get the gem back and there’s going to be all manner of chaos until it all settles down. Based on the era, we can be pretty sure that Ralph and Betty are going to be fine and, despite being cousins, will somehow be each other’s love interest. We can also rest assure that Miss Kaney will make it through to the end. 1933 was not an era the penalized someone for being the comic relief character.
There are some weird disappointments here, though. We as the audience fully expect that Morlant will come back and start mowing through the people who have wronged him, but he does not. He is surprisingly not some mindless revenant, but a creature that is clearly able to reason. In fact, several times he avoids killing someone when he realizes that they are uninvolved in the theft of his property or that they don’t currently have it. Morlant, by the end of things, is less a creature of terror and more a figure to be pitied. He is so clearly pathetic, wanting only for his wishes to be carried out and then being abandoned not only by the people he trusted but by his gods as well.
That’s the other thing that doesn’t really work here. Over and over again we’re told of the terrible pagan gods that Morlant worships with a sort of “how could he?” sense of anger. Everyone who says this apparently fails to realize that those ancient gods clearly have enough power to bring the man back from the dead. Maybe they shouldn’t scoff at the clear proof of their efficacy.
Ultimately, after the initial set-up, the final half of The Ghoul is a chase scene of various people in possession of the gem in question and Morlant trying to track them down and strangle them. It gets old quickly and never seems to get anywhere. And yes, spoiler alert, Ralph and Betty are seen blissfully together by the end of the film, probably planning on a brood of horrid little inbred urchins. The moral of the film may as well be, “Stealing bad, cousin fucking good.”
Needless to say, I was disappointed in this one. Karloff always has potential, but he needs actual material to work with. The man gives it his all, but there’s nothing here.
Why to watch The Ghoul: Boris Karloff in one of his more brutish roles.
Why not to watch: It’s ridiculous.