The Ghoul

05/04/2023 08:29

Film: The Ghoul

Year: 1933

Director: T. Hayes Hunter

Writers: Frank King, Leonard Hines, Roland Pertwee and John Hastings

Starring: Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke and Ernest Thesiger



This is a movie that I learned about thanks to the Horror Show Guide encyclopedia that I’m working through. It popped up as well when looking for horror from 1933 on Letterboxd. This is one that I found on YouTube and was intrigued as it is another one featuring Boris Karloff that I hadn’t seen.

Synopsis: an Egyptologist returns from the dead to take revenge on those who have violated his tomb.

The man from the synopsis is Prof. Henry Morlant (Karloff). He is on his deathbed and he instructs Laing (Ernest Thesiger), who is his butler, as to what his final wishes are. They are quite interesting though as he wants to be buried in the vein of others from Egypt. His condition draws quite a bit of attention, partially due to having a jewel called Eternal Light. If used properly with a statue of Anubis, it will grant that person immortality.

Wanting this stone back due to it being stolen from Egypt are Aga Ben Dragore (Harold Huth) and Mahmoud (D.A. Clarke-Smith). There is also another man by the name of Broughton (Cedric Hardwicke). The rightful heir in the eyes of the law would be his nephew, Ralph Morlant (Anthony Bushell). He however isn’t notified of the death until Henry has already been interred.

Things all come to a head the night after his death. At least, that is what it seems like. Laing was supposed to have bandaged the jewel to the hand of Henry. He stole it and hid it in his shoe. Laing has a clubfoot that causes him to walk with a limp. Broughton believes this butler has it and keeps an eye on him. Ralph runs into Betty Harlon (Dorothy Hyson), who is his girlfriend. They seem to be on rocky terms though. Laing slipped her a note on her way home. Betty, Ralph and her friend Kaney (Kathleen Harrison) go to the Morlant estate. Aga, Mahmound and a priest by the name of Nigel Hartley (Ralph Richardson) all converge there as well. Not everyone is as they seem and they’ll do whatever they can to get their hands on this jewel, even murder.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that I’m shocked this movie was considered lost for a long time. Part of it is the cast that we have here. This seemed like one that would have more staying power. Upon watching it though, I can see why it is obscure. I did enjoy my time, but I was tired and not feeling well. This is one that I had to skim through the following morning to see what I might have missed as I was lost. I’ll leave this here and come back to it.

I’ll then go to what I’ve already said was the best part, the acting. We got Karloff when he was on the outs with Universal. He returned to England to do this. He’s paired up Hardwicke, Thesiger and Richardson. These are all guys that I’ve seen in at least one other movie. Karloff, Hardwicke and Thesiger all also appeared in Universal movies. Their performances were solid. The story is lacking though so that holds this back. I also thought that Hyson, Bushell, Harrison, Huth and the rest of the cast helped to round this out as well. I do have issues with Huth and Clark-Smith playing people who are supposed to be from the Middle East. From what I could see, neither are descended from there so that is a bummer to not cast someone who was. It was also the era so I understand it.

Now to get to the story. Where I’ll start is that there are good elements. As someone who loved Egyptian history and mythology, I do like that it gets incorporated here. This almost feels like a stripped-down version of a mummy movie. It also made me think of the Bram Stoker novel, The Jewel of the Seven Stars. This seems to be loosely based on a novel, I believe of the same name as this film, so I don’t think it is borrowing from the one I’ve read. It pulled my interest with the statue of Anubis, this jewel called Eternal Light and even a potential ritual to give immortality. We get away from this though and that’s where it falters.

What this does instead though is lead into an almost comedic take. Everyone is looking for this gem. Laing gets ready and doesn’t do what he’s supposed to. Broughton realizes this when he searches the tomb. It then becomes trying to be the last person who is in possession of it before the police show up. This could work, but I’ll be honest in that this got boring. I’ve laid out that I wasn’t feeling well so I missed things. Rewatching it, I still found it to be convoluted and still struggled to hold my attention. It isn’t unwatchable by any stretch. I’ve seen similar movies from the era that worked better. What they elected to focus on wasn’t as interesting to me.

Before moving away from this section, the title is great. A ghoul is a creature that haunts graveyards and tombs. We believe that Henry passed away. He told Laing that when the full moon shines on the door to his tomb, he will rise again. That happens, scaring him nearly to death. Henry then shambles along looking for the jewel to complete the ritual. I questioned if he was dead from the start and came back. There is a quick line that explains the truth and I thought that worked well for sure. Where things end up are good which helps.

All that is left to go into would be filmmaking. I thought that the cinematography was fine. The version I watched was a bit dark at times. Since this was thought to be lost, I’m glad that it isn’t and if this is the only copy, we can all make do. They don’t do anything too out of the ordinary for the era. The make up on Henry was good. It was creepy and made me think that he was dead as well. Other than that, we don’t get a lot in the way of effects. The soundtrack was also fine.

In conclusion, this movie had potential to be better than what it was. We have elements of a mummy movie without this creature. Incorporating the lore and the name of something that haunts tombs and graveyards is good. We have a solid cast of actors. The story and the directions they go does hold this back. I didn’t hate my time, did want to say that again. This was just lacking, which was a disappointment. I’d still recommend it if you are a fan of the era and into the history of horror cinema.


My Rating: 6 out of 10