Back when cinema was in it’s youth, like a lot of young people, it didn’t care much for organising, cataloguing and preserving. In the giddy spirit of the young, it would gleefully throw out film after film without thinking about its lasting legacy. Like a child getting bored with a Christmas present by Boxing Day, once a movie was out the door it was all but forgotten about, the intoxicating scent of the new, the fresh, was sought out instead. In these pre-television days, a film that had finished it’s theatrical run was worthless. Less than worthless in-fact, keeping a film preserved required expensive storage space, and hundreds of films were intentionally destroyed by the studios that made them.

Consequently, a huge proportion of early cinema is lost forever. The Film Preservation Society estimates that about 80 per cent of films from 1894 to 1930 will never be seen again. The Ghoul was long thought to be one such film. Made in Britain, in 1933, The Ghoul was made as a way to cash in on the success of the Universal monster movies, such as Frankenstein, The Mummy and Dracula. It even purloined one of the genre’s biggest stars, Frankenstein’s monster himself, Boris Karloff. After having been lost for centuries, a print turned up in the archives of the BFI like some long forgotten treasure.

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Fittingly, the story of The Ghoul is about an Egyptian jewel that supposedly grants it’s owner eternal life. When that owner happens to be played by monster actor extraordinaire Boris Karloff, there are no prizes for guessing what happens next. Karloff, playing Professor Morlant, promptly dies in the films opening, only to start wandering out of his grave when his estranged family turn up to split their inheritance.

The bickering cousins, played by Cedric Hardwick and Ernest Thesiger, get some entertaining screwball comedy style banter going, and it’s almost a shame when Karloff starts shuffling around in his post-life state. Unfortunately, he hasn’t injected his ghoul with the personality of his other big screen monsters, and he comes across looking like a slightly drunk uncle stumbling round at a wedding, more clumsy corpse than captivating cadaver.

The Ghoul is entertaining enough for what it is, but best left in the vaults if you’re not a Karloff completist. Unfortunately, this is not the lost treasure British horror fans may have been hoping for.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2009
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Professor Morlant's dying wish is to be buried with an Egyptian jewel, which gives the bearer eternal life. Great idea, genius.
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Director: T Hayes Hunter

Writer: Rupert Downing, Leonard Hines, Frank King, Roland Pertwee, John Hastings Turner

Starring: Frank King, Rupert Downing, Leonard Hines, Roland Pertwee, John Hastings Turner

Year: 1933

Runtime: 77 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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