Lost for years (a situation that suited star Boris Karloff), T. Hayes Hunter’s The Ghoul (1933) returned to us in stages. First, a very dark, censored version turned up in Czechoslovakia and that was made available with the Czech subtitles clumsily blacked out. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to be intriguing. Considerably later, a pristine print (the movie looks like it might have been shot yesterday) was found buried under a pile of lumber in the studio—and what was previously intriguing was suddenly catapulted to full-blown genre classic. Prior to this, The Ghoul was thought of as a footnote—something Karloff made in England during a salary dispute with Universal, technically inferior to its Hollywood counterpart etc. It’s no such thing. In fact, it’s one of the most effective of all classic horrors; it’s splendidly made; and its use of a background score (particularly, a chunk of Wagner’s “Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March”) was as sophisticated as anything Universal was doing. Its story of dead Egyptologist Prof. Morlant (Karloff) returning from the dead to retrieve a jewel that was stolen from his corpse—a jewel that was meant to be his passport to the afterlife in the Egyptian underworld—is actually very creepy, and it’s played to the hilt. In fact, the film—especially its climax with Morlant carving symbols into his own chest—is surprisingly gruesome. The cast is perfect, and it’s a treat to see the very young Ralph Richardson in his film debut.
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