The Ghoul (11/25/1933) The best little horror film Universal never made. Working from a tried and true formula Gaumont gives us a Gothic horror film that could only have been made in England: one lightless, moldering mansion, five sneaky suspects, two naive bickering heirs, one comic relief in need of a slap, one whackjob undead home owner, a dollop of quasi Egyptian mumbo jumbo, and one magic dingus, all wrapped with some creepy atmosphere, and served with London’s visibility limiting smog.
Frosted with decent cinematography and art direction, not to mention Karloff, Thesiger, Hardwicke and Richardson – one would think it would be perfect, but it does have some things working against it. The acting from the juveniles is simply juvenile, what ARE stage actors looking AT when they stare off into the distance emoting? It also overcomes its slightly convoluted plotline where the dead guy isn’t really dead and the dingus tied to his hand has to magically jump into that of the statute, at least I THINK that’s what’s going on. BTW try to follow the magic dingus being punted from servant to lawyer to niece to Egyptian fanatic to spinster to mock vicar and eventually back to the the undead guy. Karloff’s makeup effect although very effective, is utterly unnecessary, as if they needed the poster to telegraph the entire film using only his face. AND for guy who was JUST on death’s door, undead or no, he is shambling around at a pretty fair clip, strangling people and bending security bars like Charles Atlas. Lifting the Egyptian themes from Universal’s Mummy is at once clever, as at the time many an English Gentleman’s home was being redecorated with pilfered grave goods, yet, with Karloff performing another villain trying to appease a long dead god, seems like pilferage of grave goods of a different sort.
On the bright side Karloff’s self mortification scene locks in the first H is for Horror rating ever employed. And reel one gives us a nice little closeup of an absinthe cocktail being prepared. We also get a playful making coffee sado masochistic sex banter, followed eventually by an excellent skewering of the British-fawning-over-any-sort-of-royalty trope and some really great abuse of organized religion which I could watch all day. Whereas US films patronize the woman over and over ‘you should get some rest’, ‘go to bed’, ‘go back to the hotel’, the Brits have no compunctions about patronizing MEN and women, ‘go to the library’ , ‘yes come along.’ and then they go like little public schoolboy sheep. This film is well worth watching if only to give us our second installment in Thesiger’s horror movie hat trick.