The Ghoul Review
The FilmFrom a time when horror movies just weren't British, comes The Ghoul. Borrowing heavily from haunted house fare like The Cat and the Canary, this is a British attempt to build on the early Universal success of Boris Karloff. Until recently, this longer version was thought lost and its rediscovery has caused something of a reappraisal of its place in a genre which polite British society has always preferred to ignore.
Despite the very proper clipped tones of its cast and the thematic hypocrisy of being a disguised horror film, what I found most interesting about The Ghoul was how un-British it was. The great Universal horrors which preceded it had a predominance of Blighty based talent with cast and stories coming from these isles, but they were in fact collaborations between American money and European talent. This British production with an all British cast intrigued me because a lot of what makes it remarkable is the contribution of the German/Austrian technicians who worked upon it.
Karloff's performance is rather good, and, even if the film's title proves a misnomer, he creates a macabre impression as he stalks the family retainers and ne'er do wells who turn up to feast on his character's apparent demise. Like most of the memorable monsters he created, there is a certain pathetic and desperate quality to his mostly dead occultist, and some of the close-ups of his face achieve a disturbing yet intimate quality. In fact, his monster is possibly the most sympathetic character in the film because of both how pitiful Karloff makes him and how mercenary and annoying the others seem.
Transfer and SoundThe Ghoul is apparently, according to the commentary, taken from a re-discovered print unearthed in the BFI and the good news is that it is in fine nick. It's a full frame transfer which is sharp and often showing excellent detail. The black levels are on the verge of perfection, and, bar some print damage and one artefact which looks like a dropped or partial frame around the 40 minute mark, this is quite wonderful.
Discs and Special FeaturesKim Newman and Stephen Jones pair up again for another commentary on this region 2 and 4 Network disc. I have to say I enjoyed this track a lot more than their partnership on Carnival of Souls with Jones definitely more engaged in the chat. Here he takes the lead and Newman joins in with what turns out be very interesting stuff about the history of British horror. There are occasional hypothetical and tangential comments, but these are fewer than their other collaboration and the emphasis is on being well researched and factual. It's kind of the nature of horror movie commentaries that they are less seriously researched and more at the mercy of flights of fancy, but my taste is for a more focussed approach, and on this score Newman and Jones succeed admirably.
The remaining extra is a stills gallery and the menu is basic with few options to get lost in.
SummaryThis is a fine transfer of a film that I enjoyed more for its technical virtues than the plot or cast. Those interested in the British horror film need to chase it down, as should fans of Karloff's pathos laden monsters.
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