More than anything, The Ghoul is a movie that is famous for being a ‘lost film,’ one of those pictures that were lost to time for whatever reason and of which few are ever found. Surprisingly, not one – but two copies were discovered decades later and now many years after its release, everyone is able to enjoy it if they so choose. Additionally, the film is also famous for starring Boris Karloff in an early role, not to mention being a horror movie and one of British making, not from Universal as many might guess.
The movie has a lot going for it, which will of course, bring up the Universal comparisons. There is the haunting score which only emphasizes the extremely dark photography of Günther Krampf and the very moody direction by T. Hayes Hunter. At times, it is a very eerie and scary picture, in part due to what was just mentioned, but also thanks to Karloff who might have been billed as the star of the whole thing, but who was really only in the picture for a fraction of its running time. Those moments where Karloff was on screen were glorious and you wished that he were in it far more often as the rest of the players could not hope to match his presence or talent.
It was not as if the rest of the cast were essentially bad actors or actresses, they simply did not shine like they should have and that leads into the one main weaknesses of the film, being the story. By the end of the movie, you were left wondering just who the ghoul of the film was supposed to be. Naturally, you would assume that it refers to Karloff who was the star of the whole thing, playing a man who just wanted to pass into the afterlife on his own terms and who would later rise from his tomb. Yet, by the end of the picture, Ralph Richardson would be revealed as the villain of it all and thus a case could be made for him as well or for the man who stole the jewel from Moriant’s supposedly dead hands. That alone leaves you scratching your head because if Karloff truly was just in a coma, it would not be as if his sickness would just disappear and thus making you wonder how he bent those bars on that one window.
Despite any weaknesses the film might ultimately have had, it was still a very effective horror movie with a strong first and third act. The entire mid-section of the movie was forgettable to say the least and almost unneeded and if the writers could have tightened up the story and script, cut out some of the extraneous characters and simply focused more on Karloff and the whole reincarnation bit, it would have been a much stronger film. Suffice it to say, the movie is still well worth watching and it will draw you deep into its macabre world. Karloff could do no wrong in the 1930s and The Ghoul is another example of the man’s phenomenal talent.
3.5 out of 5