The Mad Ghoul

07/31/2023 10:07

Film: The Mad Ghoul

Year: 1943

Director: James P. Hogan

Writers: Brenda Weisberg and Paul Gangelin

Starring: David Bruce, Evelyn Ankers and George Zucco



This is a movie that I found when looking for horror films from 1943. This is a lesser talked about Universal film that I owned in a boxset. That made it easy to seek out. Settling in to watch this, I was pleasantly surprised to see Evelyn Ankers, George Zucco and Turhan Bey making appearances here.

Synopsis: A university chemistry professor experiments with an ancient Mayan gas on a medical student, turning the would-be surgeon into a murdering ghoul.

We start with seeing a painting from the past. This is from Central/South America. Dr. Alfred Morris (Zucco) is teaching a class and goes through how the natives who made the painting were the first to discover poison gas. The thought was that they used it for surgery, but it also could be channeling things happening in the Caribbean to create zombies. Human sacrifice also might be included.

When the class ends, Dr. Morris wants his star pupil, Ted Allison (David Bruce), to stay back. Dr. Morris tells him what his plan is for this break. He says that he’s going to recreate the gas he was lecturing on and that requires him to travel to the area it was made in the past. He reveals though that he has already created it and wants Ted to be his assistant in this experiment. Ted is studying to be a surgeon and he could use his skills.

Dr. Morris has assessed this on a monkey. Ted examines the animal to find that it isn’t dead. It is in the form of suspended animation. Together, they revive the monkey. Dr. Morris now wants to evaluate this on a human.

I should point out here that Ted is seeing Isabel Lewis (Ankers). She is studying music and sings on the radio. Eric Iverson (Bey) plays the piano in accompaniment. Isabel is set to go on tour with Eric so Ted is getting his time in with her before she leaves. Dr. Morris secretly has a crush on her and he’s picked up that she no longer loves Ted. He encourages her to break off the engagement. He decides to help by experimenting on Ted.

This turns Ted into a ghoul that he can use for his bidding. The problem is that the monkey reverts to this ghoulish state and the cure isn’t working. Ted is in his state when Isabel leaves. When he comes out of it, he goes to see her on the first stop of her tour. Graverobbing and murder follows her, a clue that the police pick up on. Dr. Morris is upset that Isabel doesn’t love him and will do what he can to get her. Ted also won’t give up on her but must find a cure before it is too late.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that I love the concept of the ‘creature’ here. I wrote a novel with my father called Ghouls. We are using this as an interchange with zombies. Before releasing the book, I discovered that ghouls are creatures that haunt graveyards. Since this film uses graverobbing as a major plot point to obtain an ingredient to revert the condition, I love that Ted as this monster would be ‘haunting’ graveyards. I thought it was clever. It also makes for a different type of ‘zombie’ film as well ahead of Night of the Living Dead.

Where I’ll go to then is that we get a classic idea from this era. We have this mad scientist who loves the main woman character. She just so happens to be engaged to be married to Ted. What I like here is that Isabel doesn’t want to marry him. She cares about him, but she has developed deeper feelings for Eric. I get that she is in a tough spot. I love that this movie has her pursuing the relationship that she wants instead of just marrying Ted, which was more common. This has a solid representation of how a woman she be able to carry herself and her future.

The last bit of the story is going to be with Dr. Morris. He is a mad scientist. He is in love with this younger woman. I’d say you can see a misogynistic angle here that he is leading her to break it off with Ted for his own selfish reasons. It does seem like small goals with the breakthrough that he has, but I also get if you have fallen in love with someone, you’ll do what you can to get them. I’d say that Zucco is great as this villain. He doesn’t play it over the top and it works.

I’ll shift over to the rest of the cast. I thought that Bruce was good as our lead. He is madly in love with Isabel who doesn’t feel the same back anymore. I like the growth of his character as well as how he portrays the ghoul. Ankers is solid as this modern woman. I did like how she was written as well as how she plays this character. I’ve already said what I need on Zucco. I like the small part that Bey has here. Other than that, I’d say that Robert Armstrong, Milburn Stone, Andrew Tombes, Rose Hobart and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

All that is left then would be with filmmaking. I thought that the change that came over Ted was good. We don’t necessarily get a transformation, but how they handle that works. The makeup on his face was good. I was convinced that it was played by Boris Karloff from the poster and was shocked to see that it was Bruce in the makeup. Kudos there. The cinematography is fine. It doesn’t necessarily stand out or hurt. The same could be said for the soundtrack. I will give credit to singing that Isabel does. Ankers wanted to do it, but there was stock music used instead. That classifies this into music as we hear her.

In conclusion, this is a solid early zombie film. It isn’t one in the traditional sense, even for the era. I like borrowing the lore of a ghoul and using it here. There are elements of the ‘mad scientist’ film that would be used much more in the following decade. I thought that the acting from Bruce, Ankers, Zucco and even the small part by Bey drove this. The rest of the cast rounded it out for what was needed. Other than that, this is made well enough. Special credit to the ghoul makeup and Isabel’s singing. Not a great film, but worth a viewing if you’re a fan of the Universal Classic run. This is a non-franchise movie that is solid.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10