|Directed by||T. Hayes Hunter|
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
|Written by||Dr. Frank King (play)
John Hastings Turner
|Music by||Louis Levy
|Edited by||Ian Dalrymple
|Distributed by||Woolf & Freedman Film Service|
|Release date(s)||August 1933 (UK)
January 1934 (US)
|Running time||77 minutes|
|Budget||just under ₤40,000|
Gaumont British borrowed just the vaguest outline from the 1928 source novel by Frank King (and subsequent play by King and Leonard J. Hines). King's novel is sub-par Edgar Wallace in which a master criminal popularly referred to as 'The Ghoul' has been responsible for a London crime wave. Betty inherits an estate on the Yorkshire moors from a mysterious benefactor, Edward Morlant, a dabbler in mysticism who years before had been her mother's paramour. But the will requires Betty to take up residence in the old house, where Morlant's corpse soon appears, walking and talking. Morlant tells her that he is an immortal adept and demands the return of his secret diary. The usual suspects and interlopers converge on the house, and upon Morlant's next appearance his resurrected self is killed anew, unquestionably stabbed through the heart. Morlant is soon perambulating again, as people begin turning up dead. All supernatural trappings are dispelled as 'The Ghoul' is penultimately unmasked as Edward Morlant's twin brother, James, a criminal mastermind whose fictive guises included not only his brother, but a bogus police sergeant and his brother's solicitor, Broughton. In a final act of madness, James torches the mansion.
The film screenplay uses the merest skeleton of the story and characters and blends it with the Egyptian mysticism of The Mummy while capitalizing on the "thunderstorm mystery" mood of The Old Dark House (1932), Karloff's two previous Universal Pictures. Eccentric Egyptologist Professor Morlant believes that if he is buried with a jewel called "The Eternal Light", in a faux Egyptian tomb he has constructed at his English country estate, Anubis will manifest before him, accept his offering of the diamond, and grant him eternal life. Morlant appears to die, but the jewel is snatched by his servant before the interment. No sooner do the heirs arrive for the reading of the will, than Morlant rises from his tomb, finds his bauble gone, and attempts to punish the thieves. The jewel is punted from servant to lawyer to niece to Egyptian fanatic to spinster to mock vicar and eventually back to the revenant Morlant, who makes his blood sacrifice to Anubis before properly expiring. Morlant, it is learned, had merely suffered a cataleptic seizure, and had been buried alive. The mock vicar (Ralph Richardson) is revealed to be the chief villain, and having obtained the Eternal Light sets fire to Morlant's tomb. Betty and her lover manage to escape.
- Boris Karloff as Prof. Morlant
- Cedric Hardwicke as Broughton
- Ernest Thesiger as Laing
- Dorothy Hyson as Betty Harlon
- Anthony Bushell as Ralph Morlant
- Kathleen Harrison as Kaney
- Harold Huth as Aga Ben Dragore
- D. A. Clarke-Smith as Mahmoud
- Ralph Richardson as Nigel Hartley
- Jack Raine as Davis, the chauffeur (uncredited)
- George Relph as Doctor (uncredited)
Release and preservation
The Ghoul was released in the UK in August 1933, in the US in January 1934, and reissued in 1938. The film was popular in the UK but performed disappointingly in the US.
Subsequently, it disappeared and was considered to be a lost film over the next 31 years. In 1969, collector William K. Everson located a murky, virtually inaudible subtitled copy, Běs, behind the iron curtain in then-communist Czechoslovakia. Though missing eight minutes of footage including two violent murder scenes, it was thought to be the only copy left. Everson had a 16mm copy made and for years he showed it exclusively at film societies in England and the United States, memorably at The New School in New York City in 1975 on a Halloween triple bill of Lon Chaney in The Monster, Bela Lugosi in The Gorilla and Boris Karloff in The Ghoul. Subsequently, The Museum of Modern Art and Janus Film made an archival negative of that scruffy Prague print and it went into very limited commercial distribution.
Inadvertently in the early 1980s, a disused and forgotten film vault at Shepperton Studios, its door blocked by stacked lumber, was cleared and yielded the dormant nitrate camera negative in perfect condition. The British Film Institute took in The Ghoul, new prints were made, and the complete version aired on Channel 4 in the UK. Bootleg videotapes of this broadcast filtered among collectors for years, but when an official VHS release arrived from MGM/UA Home Video, it was the virtually unwatchable Czech copy. Audiences were grateful to simply see a major lost Karloff film in the 1970s and 1980s, but the film was disappointing in its battered condition. Finally, in 2003, just as the title was prepared for DVD, MGM/UA obtained the superior material for release. The restored copy has substantially raised critical appreciation of the film in modern times.
Where the original film had comic relief in the person of Kathleen Harrison as the heroine's spinster friend, the 1961 remake, What a Carve Up! (No Place Like Homicide in the US), was a full blown comedy that owed even less to King's story than the earlier film.
- Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 133, 141
- The Ghoul at the Internet Movie Database
- The Ghoul is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- The Ghoul at AllMovie
- Karloff in The Ghoul