After turning down the lead in Universal’s The Invisible Man, the studio’s King of Horror, Boris Karloff made a brief return to the UK (which he had left in 1909) to make 1933’s The Ghoul. The story is something of a steal from The Mummy (1932), with Karloff portraying a cataleptic Egyptologist who returns from the dead to reclaim a valuable ring that bestows immortality.
Having already frightened cinema-goers as the original Frankenstein monster, then as Morgan the mute hulking butler in The Old Dark House, and as the high priest Imhotep in The Mummy, Karloff was the obvious choice to star in this fogbound Gothic –the first British movie to try to get onto Hollywood’s horror movie bandwagon.
And if it weren’t for Karloff’s presence, it might well have been just another drawing-room farce. Following his ‘death’, Karloff’s club-footed servant (brilliantly played by Ernest Thesiger) steals the jewel and hides it in a coffee jar. Wild haunted house antics ensue as the dead man’s heirs join in the hunt for the valuable artefact. Kathleen Harrison is genuinely funny as a sex-starved spinster who desires love and domination, and Cedric Hardwicke – grotesquely made up like a Dickensian caricature – is a hoot as the conniving lawyer. Also in the cast is a young Ralph Richardson, in his first screen appearance. The sets are handsome, the camerawork is stylish, and Karloff’s make-up is quite horrific – although it’s never explained why he should look so disfigured.
For years The Ghoul was one of the most elusive of classic horror films. Following its original cinema release, it completely disappeared until a tattered print was found in 1969. In 2009, Network released the film on DVD, based on a print from the BFI archives, digitally-restored to perfect clarity, both in picture and sound. Now it makes its HD debut on Blu-ray, as part of Network’s The British Film collection. The special features include a commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, image galleries and a commemorative booklet.
The Ghoul may not be a classic re-discovery, but as a piece of sheer horror hokum, it makes for a great ironing film and, looking the business on Blu-ray, worth adding to your Karloff/Classic Horror collection.