Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Horror Of...Halloween Night, The Ghoul (1933)

Five days in and we need to be taking Halloween serious. This is Condition: Candy Corn. So let's temporarily up our game with some classic horror. Let's challenge the mind with a film that doesn't try to dazzle us with more than a two colors. No CGI. No rock songs. ..Is this homework? No! It's classic horror!

So make plans for a fun watch on any stormy night. A film deemed the first of Britain's talking horror movies. A film that brought back a son to his homeland after a quarter century, and a booming American career as the looming start of Universal Horror.

 The mysterious and terrible tale of death, live, and estate planning.

 The Ghoul.

Coming out of Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein, there was growing interest in horror, and in Boris Karloff. After years as a struggling actor in Canada and Hollywood, Karloff found success with Frankenstein. He began receiving more lucrative offers, many in the field of horror.

Gaumont brought Karloff in to be their headline actor in The Ghoul a nice shift from Frankenstein where he was "?" and not invited to the premiere.

I am not clear if Karloff was interested in filming in England, or it was happenstance, but making this movie became his opportunity to return home after 25 years. At the time he had split with his family's line of working as a civil servant, to become an entertainer. Now he was successful and had the means to show them what for. And he did eventually get his surviving siblings to visit the set to see him at work.

The film also was another chance to work with Ernest Thesiger, who he had previously costarred with in The Old Dark House. Two years later they would also be costars in Bride of Frankenstein.

The film opens with two Egyptians sparring over a stolen precious stone, The Eternal Light. It is sacred, and Dragore is seen as a thief by the other, Mahmoud. Dragore admits that he did have the stone, but has sold it. It is now owned by Prof. Morlant, a disreputable grave robber. He, like these two, thinks that the stone is a method to gain eternal life. A magic stone that can win the boon of Anubis himself.

Dragore explains that Morlant is dying. so he is planning to try to gain immortality. So they can wait until his death, and then steal it back.

Meanwhile, Morlant (Boris Karloff) is preparing for death. He is explaining the process his butler, the oious Laing (Ernest Thesiger), will need to enact after he dies. They will bind the precious stone to his hand at death, to keep it safe. Then he will be placed in the tomb he's built on his manor grounds. Then at the appointed time, he will arise and place the gem in the hand of a statue of Anubis. The statue, if Anubis accepts him, will clasp the stone, and Morlant will have eternal life.

But Morlant also vows that he will rise if the stone is taken from him, and he will kill.

Soon Morlant is dead, and the plan goes into effect. But with the death of a wealthy man, many are interested to see what they can scavenge. The lawyer, seeing that a mystery 75,000 pounds was just spent, wants to find the item bought for himself. The local vicar is looking to redeem a lost soul. And, of course, the 2 Egyptians want to access the sealed tomb for their lost Light.

But Laing has complicated things. He, first nows that the lawyer is up to no good. Second, he sees that Morlant is blowing his fortune on his non-Christian mumbo jumbo, and doesn't like the idea that Morlant's kin will see no valued estate left to them. So he quietly pockets the stone, and plots to contact Morlant's closest family to let them know what is happening.

Then you have family. The lawyer is not keen to let them in, eager to have the manor to himself to search. So he tries to keep all at bay, even keeping word from the family of his death as long as he can. So no one comes to his funeral, or knows what happen to Morlant.

But two of the closest family members, who should inherit, shady things are happening. Ralph quickly finds the lawyer and realizes that he is being stonewalled. Betty, gets a letter an anonymous letter from Laing telling her that their is something valuable is at the manor, someone is trying to steal it, and she should come.

The young pair soon meet up. They come from two ends of the family who have long been fighting, and passed it to their kids. So the two are hostile and spar at first. But in time they realize they are about the only people not out to screw them.

So they team up to check out the manor house, and see what all the secrets are. Well, they along with Miss Kaney, Betty's friend and flatmate. She's in the movie as the lovesick comic relief. But by the end she has a tense dramatic moment facing clear peril.

The crossed interest may seem like enough to deal with. But what happens when the dead rise, and learn that they've been robbed. Someone is going to have to die, and maybe someone will have to die again.

"I know what you're thinking, 'You're gonna regret that tattoo some day.'"

Now everyone is sneaking everywhere, through dark and dim hallways, forest, and crypts. All in search of treasure.

"But they said it had a life time warranty...Oh!"

But who will survive The Ghoul?

This film does have it's limitations. The makeup on Karloff is okay, but not up to Jack Pierce standards. It conveyed the ideas, but it would be awhile until we saw more effective work from these studios.

The violence and death in the movie is limited, but that is the British Film Board. With they were making a horror film with supernatural overtones. That was still hard to get passed studios or censors. They were worked within the lines given and made a movie that engages it's audience.

The mood of this film works well. The dark foggy streets of London. The dark shadowy northern forest. The dark and creepy manor house. All of this amped up by music that was reasonably well chosen, for this period.

The film is from those still early years of movie making where sound and other considerations were still being mastered. Appreciate what they accomplished.

Plus the film is aided by having Karloff along for notoriety and his ability to play a tortured creation. Always a plus.

Then there's Thesiger. He is a joy in the later Bride of Frankenstein, and here he makes for a fun annoyed and disbelieving butler. He gets put through the paces. He also has, arguably the best line of the movie.

Lawyer: "You may be putting yourself perilously near dishonesty." 
Laing: (Eyes lawyer.) "I've seen men nearer"
The film deserves it's place in the echelons of classic early horror. And it is a worthwhile addition to any horror marathon. Just be careful, some versions out there are from a very badly edited version found decades back. There is a decent version available.

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