Though The Ghoul may never have received the same amount of acclaim that his Hammer films did, Peter Cushing’s performance in the movie was masterful to say the least and while it may have been filmed some years after the passing of his wife, Cushing still grieved for her and gave the role a subtlety not often seen in most of his work. One can understand why and completely empathize with it and yet, because he channeled whatever emotions he had at the time into the role, he commanded every scene he was a part of and ultimately, carried the film.
There are two kinds of horror expressed within by director Freddie Francis, the first being the token monster of the film’s title who was not really so much a monster and the second, the sad existence of Cushing’s character Doctor Lawrence, of which the monster is the end result. Both are done quite well, the latter due to Cushing’s obvious talent, the ability to emote the continued heartache he feels, the anguish and the pain and there are times where it almost seems too real. There were no special effects needed, though the monster who turned out to be a dishevelled cannibal was quite effective in generating a little fright and mainly so as the makers of the picture thought out of the box to deliver something a little different than the usual type of villain. Despite the burly cannibal, there is also a little witchcraft to go along with it and said practitioner as played by Gwen Watford, who helps to perpetuate the evil in the house, is but a servant to the real bad guy – Lawrence, who began the cycle of violence in the first place. Lawrence might have meant well, but the ends do not always justify the means.
Veronica Carlson plays the first hapless victim, as attractive as ever and does so to perfection, though she knows not of her plight. At first her character seems a little flighty, but soon enough she realizes that something is off and it is not too long afterwards that her fate is sealed. Most of the characters in the film are as clichéd as they come, yet the movie would seem incomplete without them including a youngish John Hurt as the creepy groundskeeper. Cushing might have demanded the eyes of the audience upon himself, but it was good to see that he was never overpowering when sharing a scene, allowing his co-stars room to breathe.
Suffice it to say; while The Ghoul was an entertaining movie, it would not have been half as much without the presence of Peter Cushing. The man was an actor’s actor and that ability coupled with his professionalism were on full display. The only drawback of the whole thing were the unanswered questions about Lawrence and the cannibal, yet given the ending, those answers were rendered moot.
4 out of 5