Sunday, February 13, 2011

#191. The Ghoul (1933)

DVD Synopsis: On his deathbed, famed Egyptologist Professor Morlant (Karloff) instructs his assistant to bury him with an ancient jewel he believes will grant him eternal life. But soon after he’s entombed, the sacred treasure is ripped from his hand by a mysterious grave robber. Now, filled with fury, Morlant rises from his crypt as a grotesquely decaying mummy determined to avenge the theft...and destroy everything in his path!

Released in 1933, The Ghoul was the first British horror film of the sound era, and to make it an especially memorable one, the producers brought in a fellow countryman of theirs, one who had recently risen to superstar status in Hollywood, to serve as the film's star. The countryman of whom I speak is none other than “The Monster” himself, Mr. Boris Karloff! 

Karloff plays Professor Moriant, a dying man who is obsessed with all things Egyptian. Knowing the end is near, Moriant spends a large amount of money on an Egyptian jewel known as The Eternal Light, which he believes will allow him to rise from his grave when the moon is full. He orders his servant, Laing (Ernst Thesiger), to bury the jewel with him, and warns of dire consequences if his wishes are not carried out. Moriant dies shortly after, and is buried in a lavish tomb decked out with Egyptian artifacts, but Laing, who believes his master had gone insane, keeps the priceless jewel and hides it away. Unbeknownst to him, there are others who also want the Eternal Light, and will stop at nothing to possess it. But when the first full moon rises, Laing and all the others experience the surprise of their lives. 

With The Ghoul, director T. Hayes Hunter and his cameraman, Gunther Krampf, went to great lengths to capture the look and feel of Universal's recent string of horror successes (Both Dracula and Frankenstein had been released 2 years earlier). The set pieces are both lavish and large (Moriant's house, where most of the film takes place, seems incredibly huge), not to mention dimly lit, so as to strengthen the film's supernatural aura. I was also impressed with how the filmmakers utilized music in key scenes; "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Wagner's Gotterdammerung plays as Moriant's body is being placed in his tomb, and is used sporadically throughout the movie from that moment on. It is a somber piece, and fits the story quite nicely. 

Karloff was not particularly fond of The Ghoul (for decades, The Ghoul was considered a "lost" film, with no prints or negatives known to be in existence. Upon hearing this, Karloff stated that he hoped it stayed lost forever), and in all honestly, I can't understand why. While his role was admittedly less than demanding (Moriant has very few lines), the legendary actor still made the best of it, creeping through dark hallways and corridors, and scaring the living hell out of everyone he meets. His performance, in conjuncture with the film's impressive use of music, space and shadows, transforms The Ghoul from what otherwise might have been a standard horror film into something truly noteworthy.

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