Wealthy Egyptologist Professor Morlant attempts to cheat death by insisting on being buried with a priceless artifact that he believes will appease the god Anubis and bring him eternal life. When Morlant’s servant steals the sacred scarab from his tomb, the Professor rises from the dead to exact a murderous revenge.
THE GHOUL was the first “talkie” horror film produced in Great Britain. Directed by silent film veteran T. Hayes Hunter, it’s an extremely atmospheric blend of crime caper and supernatural thriller, featuring great performances by some notable genre actors. Boris Karloff (fresh off a similar turn in Universal’s THE MUMMY) is typically excellent as the ailing Morlant. Cedric Hardwicke (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME) plays the greedy solicitor Broughton and Ernest Thesiger (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) essays Morlant’s servant Laing. Both are in good form here, while the rest of the able cast holds its own with the sharp dialogue and rapid fire banter.
The film deliberately starts slow and builds to a nice pace, only tapering off a little about 2/3 of the way through when everyone is just milling around the Morlant estate, waiting for the reading of the will. Karloff looks suitably creepy in make-up by Heinrich Heitfeld. The “monster” is an effective mix of Karloff’s mummy and standard cinematic zombie (though it’s worthy of note that the Morlant character doesn’t look much healthier in the scenes when he’s still alive!). One very nice make-up moment comes when Morlant carves a crude, bloody ankh symbol on his chest to please Anubis.
Much of the depth and realism in the characters stems from their motivations. Some are trying to steal the scarab out of pure greed, while others are after it in hopes of saving the Professor’s soul from eternal damnation, and many of the players are not quite what they seem. There are also a few clever twists in the final reel that elevate this above the standard haunted house caper that it easily could have become. While the plot is ultimately too lightweight and straightforward for the film to rival the Universal horror epics of the 30s, the whole affair is so well-executed and enjoyable that it’s a pity more fans of classic horror haven’t embraced THE GHOUL. It’s a worthy addition to any fright film collection.