Review by Ed Nguyen
Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Richardson, Ernest Thesiger, Dorothy
Hyson, Anthony Bushell, Kathleen Harrison, Harold Huth
Director: T. Hayes Hunter
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Video: Black & white, full-frame 1.37:1
Length: 80 minutes
Release Date: August 26, 2003
the full moon strikes the door of my tomb, I will come back.
You hear? I will come back
1932, legendary horror film icon Boris Karloff portrayed the mummified remains
of Imhotep in the Universal classic The
Mummy. The film was a smash hit
for Universal and launched a series of successful films about the Egyptian movie
monster. Shortly after completing The
Mummy, Karloff returned to England, where he portrayed another undead
creature in a film long considered lost - The
been one of the earliest British horror films of the sound era. In addition to a stellar cast including a young Ralph
Richardson, The Ghoul had also
featured the exceptional cinematography of Günther Krampf, best known for his
exquisite work in German expressionism (most notably, Pandora's
Box and Nosferatu).
Unfortunately, the original film negative eventually succumbed to the
ravages of time and The Ghoul itself became a "lost" film, gradually drifting
out of public awareness.
years, no prints were known to remain. The
film existed solely in the memories of the lingering few who had once seen it.
In time, a subtitled nitrate release print was eventually located in the
Czech National Archives. However,
in a cruel twist of fate, that print was not only incomplete but was in such
poor condition, with horribly grainy and degraded images, that the film itself
was virtually unwatchable. Nevertheless,
with no other available source, all subsequent copies of The Ghoul were struck from this sub-standard print.
likely have remained in this nether-realm of obscurity were it not for the
miraculous discovery of an uncut print at the British Film Institute.
Not only was this print intact, but its picture quality was a significant
improvement over the Czech print. Images
which had previously been washed out or destroyed by nitrate deterioration in
the Czech print were now crystal-clear. Film
composition that had been cropped in prior prints could now be viewed for the
first time in decades, further revealing the beauty of Krampf's cinematography. Thanks to meticulous restorative efforts by MGM, The
Ghoul can be seen once more in all its glory.
film's story is set mainly in the decrepit mansion of an old Egyptologist,
Professor Morlant (Boris Karloff). Morlant
is dying, but he possesses hope for a "cure" in a sacred gemstone -
the "Eternal Light." According to legend, this gemstone will
bestow upon its owner the gift of immortality if offered to the god Anubis after
death. Morlant intends to use the
gemstone and carefully instructs Laing, his fear-stricken manservant (Ernest
Thesiger), on the proper arrangements after his death.
Of course, should the manservant fail to carry out Morlant's exact
orders, the old archaeologist promises to return from the dead to seek his
eventually dies, and like bugs from the woodworks, heirs and fortune-seekers
quickly appear out of the night to lay claim to the Morlant fortune and the
sacred gemstone. One heir is the
stiff and rude Ralph (Anthony Bushell), a chap so despicably unlikable that I
must gleefully report that he gets shot later in the film (but sadly survives
his wound). The second heir, Betty
(Dorothy Hyson), is friendlier but exhibits extreme brain-freeze when she cozies
up to Ralph, who is supposed to be her cousin.
Comic relief is provided by Betty's daffy Gracie Allen-ish roommate Kaney
(Kathleen Harrison) and a local parson (Sir Ralph Richardson).
Other fortune-hunters include Broughton, Morlant's greedy lawyer (Cedric
Hardwicke), and Dagore (Harold Huth), a mysterious Egyptian with a secret agenda
of his own.
uninvited guests and visitors, arriving together at the Morlant mansion, soon
learn that they are not alone. As
it turns out, Laing had disobeyed his former master, neglecting to bury the
"Eternal Light" with Morlant but hiding it away instead.
And so, on an evening of the full moon, in the dead of night, the door to
Morlant's mausoleum slowly swings open and from within, a dark figure emerges
it to say that the evening is not a pleasant one. This creepy ambience is further enhanced by the dreary nature
of the Morlant mansion. A dark and
old manor, it is filled with the prerequisite shadows, long hallways lit by
flickering candlelight, and fluttering curtains swayed by whistling winds.
When Karloff himself finally re-appears, the film resonates with
tremendous atmosphere. As a
classically stage-trained actor, Karloff was an accomplished actor and
demonstrates incredible screen presence in The Ghoul. Karloff's
performance in this film is further justification of his status as one of the
greats of the horror genre.
Ghoul is a
classic remainder of how horror films were once made.
This British film compares quite favorably to its more famous Universal
counterparts, equaling them in atmosphere, cinematography, and style.
The storyline may be a little creaky in typical 1930's fashion, but the
visuals and Karloff's performance help to make this film a classic.
Rarely are "lost" films ever recovered, so the restoration of The
Ghoul is truly a major boon for all fans of classic horror films.
jaw-droppingly good! It is
wonderful to see Krampf's impressive cinematography so stunningly restored.
transfer itself is quite excellent, with good contrast levels and deep black
tones showing no break-up or bleeding. Details
are fine enough to make out the nocturnal swirls of London fog and even the
wrinkles in Karloff's rotting flesh makeup.
Shockingly enough, the transfer shows essentially no hint of dust or
debris! There isn't even a spectre
of nitrate deterioration in this transfer, either. In short, The Ghoul
looks better than most color films half its age! Kudos to MGM for a truly stellar job with this film!
such an old film, made during the infancy of sound technology, one might
reasonably expect fairly primitive audio quality. However, all things considered, The Ghoul sounds fairly decent.
There is no appreciable background hiss to speak of, and the dialogue is
very clean, if occasionally reedy.
none (zero stars)
is a bare bones disc, although the background music for the menu screen is quite
fantastic and moody.
TRIVIA: Another long-lost horror
milestone, Albert Einstein's original 1910 silent Frankenstein, has also recently been released to DVD.
Classic horror enthusiasts and archivists will certainly want to try to
track that film down, too!