Though Turhan Bey might have gotten top billing in this film, it belonged to George Zucco who would play the mad scientist, enamoured with his student’s girlfriend and turning his pupil into a zombie. It would of course, not be as simple as all that as said zombie-state would consist of David Bruce’s character Ted dying first and then being brought back into a form of un-death, subsisting on the fluids from the hearts of the recently deceased. Zucco’s Dr. Morris would ham it up perfectly as the villain, playing those around him like chess pieces where possible, but in the end, failing to claim that which he wanted most and succumbing to his own machinations.
The Mad Ghoul is not a film that comes to mind when thinking of horror movies from Universal, but this horror outing is ultimately a good one with a gruesome premise and it delivers everything one would expect from a film such as this through atmosphere, cinematography and camera trickery. It is a moody experience only lightened by the appearances of Evelyn Ankers who plays the damsel in distress. It gets even better when the climax of the film hits and the two worlds portrayed within, that of normality depicted by Ankers and Bey collide with that of the supernatural through science as created by Zucco and embodied by Bruce. Like many Universal horror films though, it relies on inference, letting the audience conjure up that which is not shown on the big screen, a lack of budget somewhat common in Universal’s many B films. Directed by James Hogan, the man would do a great job at piecing it all together but it would be the performances that would really be the standout in the movie more than anything else.
As previously stated, this was Zucco’s show, the man seemingly unable to turn in a bad performance though never really getting the credit he was and is due, like Lugosi or Karloff. Having starred in numerous horror movies over the years, the man would almost always play the most diabolical of villains and such would be the case here as well. For his part, Bey would do a good job, the man just naturally good at acting and having the kind of charisma that would make him a film favourite, but he was almost like a bit player in this picture despite the billing. Ankers was a very capable actress as she usually tended to be, putting in another solid performance here, one of many in a string of B pictures that would define her career. As for David Bruce, the mad ghoul’s ghoul, he would do his best with what he was given, splitting his time between lovelorn assistant and monster.
All of this would add up to The Mad Ghoul being a solid picture, though not necessarily a memorable one. Though enjoyable, it would be overshadowed by Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera and Son of Dracula, all released in the same year. Altogether, this is mainly for completionists who love what Universal used to do so well and those that simply find entertainment in the horror films of yore.