Running Time: 80 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Region: 1
MSRP: $14.98

Own It!
The Ghoul (1933)

Sometimes, after examining platter upon platter of glittering digital effects and computer-generated imagery, you get a bit tired, a little shell-shocked. Your eyes feel pixellated. Technology is fast approaching the point where we can see exactly what is in the filmmakers' head... but conversely, this make me yearn for the days when movies were as much about what was going on inside our head, the filmgoer's head. When you had to bring a little something to the table, like your imagination. In other words, it was time for something in black and white.

The Ghoul is an interesting case in that it was thought to be a lost movie until a print surfaced in 1969, and it still was not widely released until 2002, and this disc in 2003. That's the sort of rarity that tends to overblow a product's worth, and upon finally seeing the movie, many were disappointed. If the viewer is familiar with horror movies of the early 30's, however, there's still much to like here.

Boris Karloff is Egyptologist Morlant (in some pretty shuddery makeup), who has turned his back on Christianity and openly worships the gods of ancient Egypt, most notably Anubis. On his deathbed, Morlant spends most of his considerable wealth on a jewel known as the Eternal Light, essential for a ritual which will assure his immortality. Morlant entrusts the details of this posthumous ritual to his butler (Ernest Thesinger), with the usual threats to return from the dead for vengeance anyway if his wishes are in any way thwarted. Needless to say, the jewel winds up in the butler's coffee can and soon there's an ambulatory and very annoyed Karloff stalking the old dark house.

The story actually becomes very complicated, with a scheming lawyer, family members (and ditzy best friends), mysterious Egyptians and the parish's new Vicar (a shockingly young Ralph Richardson) cluttering the landscape, but all the threads manage to come together at the end. The movie dutifully hits every Old Dark House trope, and the scenes with a vengeful, silent Karloff do not disappoint.

It is a bit disappointing, however, that a logical explanation is offered for all the creepy goings-on at the end, but as I said: this is how Old Dark House gothic mystery movies worked at the time, and any other conclusion would have been welcome, but extraordinary, given the period.

For a lost film, the print used for this disc is in amazingly good shape. No noticable damage, and the audio is quite clear. The digital resolution works against some of the makeup - witness Thesinger's age makeup and the unfortunate lipstick on our manly hero - but these are churlish complaints - we shouldn't be seeing this movie at all, much less in such fine form.

You're kidding, right?

Given The Ghoul's obscurity, I'm not sure what extras might have been possible. But for a horror fan, in a period when mainstream horror movies have become dreary torturefests, The Ghoul has proven a refreshing tonic.

Dr. Freex, 11/19/2006