Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Ghoul (1933)

The earliest British horror movie to be made with sound gets a new Blu-ray release courtesy of Network. It’s a film I remember reading about a lot when I was young, mainly in Denis Gifford’s books A Pictorial History of Horror Movies and Monster From the Movies. Oddly enough, despite being aware of the film from the mid-1970s, I had never had the chance to actually see it until now. Of course for a long time it wasn’t available, often being considered a ‘lost’ film. Thankfully it isn’t, and this glorious Blu-ray edition is the best way to appreciate the splendid Dickensian gothic style of its photography and production design.

Professor Henry Morlant (Boris Karloff) is dying. Of exactly what is never explained, but presumably it’s one of those horror movie diseases that causes your face to go all wrinkled and lumpy and your eyebrows to become exaggerated to devilish proportions. The professor is obsessed with the ancient Egyptian concept of immortality. He has even seen fit to kit out his bedroom with a statue of Anubis and build an Egyptian tomb for himself close to his country house located somewhere in the north of England. 

He’s also purchased, at a cost of £75 000 (1933 prices) a fabulous jewel that he believes will ensure his safe passage into the afterlife. He instructs his club-footed butler (a barely restrained Ernest Thesiger, whom we would want no other way) to bandage the jewel to his palm so that he will be buried with it when he dies, warning that if it is stolen, he will rise to kill. 

Morlant dies, the jewel is stolen, and pretty soon he’s up and about. Actually no, it feels like quite a long time before he eventually climbs out of his sarcophagus and makes his way back home. Therein lies THE GHOUL’s main failing - there’s a big slump in the middle to allow for all the necessary characters to assemble for what essentially amounts to an old dark house mystery romp, and not enough of the kind of monster on the loose action anyone more familiar with Universal pictures of the era might be expecting.

If you can forgive the movie that, however, there’s a lot to like here. The sets veer from pleasingly gothic to a German expressionist’s version of a Victorian solicitor’s office. There’s plenty of dark and moody photography, and you get the likes of Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN), Ralph Richardson (TALES FROM THE CRYPT) and of course Ernest Thesiger all in a gloomy old mansion together. If like me you’ve seen all the other horror pictures of this era then do yourself a favour and rectify this glaring omission.
Network’s Blu-ray comes with a Stephen Jones / Kim Newman commentary track ported over from a 2009 DVD release. It’s enthusiastically chatty and provides plenty of interesting tidbits about the movie and British film production of the era in general. There’s also an image gallery, as well as a booklet by Stephen Jones with more information on the film. 
        Over the years THE GHOUL has been available in a number of dodgy transfers, as well as a few decent ones. Network’s new Blu-ray, however, has to be the best version of this out there now. 

Network are bringing out THE GHOUL (1933) on Region B Blu-ray on 20th April 2015

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