“ Genre: Crime & Thriller - Thriller / Theatrical Release: 1975 / Actors: Alexandra Bastedo, Stewart Bevan ... / DVD released 05 December, 2006 at Cheezy Flicks / Features of the DVD: Full Screen, NTSC „
(FILM ONLY REVIEW)
The 1960's and 1970's for many were a golden era for British horror. Most obviously one thinks of the great output of the Hammer studios which achieved great hits and there were many other smaller film studios that tried to replicate this success. One of these was Tyburn and although short lived only producing three movies one of these 'The Ghoul' (US title 'Night Of The Ghoul' ) is noteworthy.
The Hammer connection was particularly strong with this film, it was directed by Hammer stalwart Freddie Francis who had many classics to his name including Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1964), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and its star was Peter Cushing one of the all time Hammer/Horror greats. Tyburn was created by Kevin Francis, the son of Freddie Francis so the Hammer connection is easy to explain.
As well as having an ex Hammer star and director 'The Ghoul' has the feel and look of the earlier Hammer films. It is a period horror like many of the early Hammer films and makes full advantage the vivid Eastman colour which lost favour with filmmakers in the late 70's.
It's England in the carefree 1920's, a group of 'Bright Young Things' socialites with more time and money than sense decide to end the monotony of yet another party by racing each other in their souped up cars from London to Land's End. The two couples are soon separated and run into trouble in the foggy West Country moors. One car runs out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and decide to take refuge in a isolated country house even after being warned by the shifty looking gardener played by a young John Hurt to 'keep away'.
On reaching the house their fears are allayed as they are welcomed by the owner the amiable Dr Lawrence a retired Clergyman returned from being a missionary in India and still mourning the death of his wife.
Like all good horror films the story soon turns to tragedy as murders and gruesome goings on start to take place. To complicate matters (and provide more potential victims) the other hapless couple eventually turn up and the story reaches a gory finale.
What is Dr Lawrence hiding in the locked attic room? Does the strange Indian servant know more than she is letting on? Has Lawrence's interest in Indian cults have anything to do with it? Will the young innocents survive?
Well you can probably answer all those questions without even seeing the film but I'm not going to give any more away.
'The Ghoul' is a fairly enjoyable load of horror hokum. I wouldn't say it is really scary certainly not by today's standards but it does have a sinister feel to it and it does stand out from many other comparable offerings in this genre. It is true to say however that it was not a huge success when it came out, by this time the British horror boom was in its last dying throws and cinema goers were beginning to expect far more US style gore and exploitative shocks from their films after all this film was made after the Exorcist (1973) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). It is true that in the gore stakes the Ghoul can't compete and indeed the special effect and the final denouement are almost laughable but like all the best British films it does have integrity of purpose that makes it watchable and while probably not horrific it is still disturbing.
One advantage that 'The Ghoul' has over its low budget peers is a very good cast. Peter Cushing as always in totally dependable and gives an idiosyncratic performance as the grieving disturbed priest who you realise early on doubts his faith. His performance is made more powerful by the real life death of Cushing's beloved wife a few years earlier. In a well recounted scene form this film his character mourns the loss of his wife holding a photograph of her in his hands, the framed photo use was not a prop but an actual picture of Cushing's late wife so his characters show of grief is real enough. Cushing even maintained that he had fond memories of this film since it is the one time he was able to posthumously act beside his late wife.
The cast also includes a young John Hurt in one of his first more prominent film roles hamming it up as the sinister gardener. Of the rest of the cast some may recognise the lovely Alexandra Bastedo who was well known for her role in the cult TV spy series 'Champions', she doesn't test her acting skills too much it is true but she does look the part in the 20's period clothes. Ian McCulloch playing the stiff upper lip boyfriend also became famous for his later TV role as the lead in the post apocalyptic BBC sci-fi series 'Survivors'.
The pace of the film is rather slow and there is a sense of gloom and dread in every scene. A sense of claustrophobia pervades as the action is limited to the creepy mansion surrounded by the fog filled moors. The horror and suspense is more implied than seen but there is a nod to Hitchcock 'Psycho' in the way our first victim is dispatched. Despite its faults it is still an effective thriller even though the plot is a rather predictable 'monster in the attic' affair.
At the heart of 'The Ghoul' is the well trodden subject which has featured in mystery and horror stories for the last century, the idea that Victorian colonialism of the east brought European into contact with forces and belief that were alien and dangerous to us. Exotic dark Indian cults have been at the centre of many mysteries going back Sherlock Holmes and what is reckoned to be the earliest of the mystery detective stories 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins.
There is an element of patronising xenophobia toward Indian mysticism implied Indian the story line and certainly what is recounted of the Raj is clichéd as is the only Indian character in the film Ayah the servant played with usual vigour by well known character actress Gwen Watford. A feeling that out colonial involvement in India was coming back to haunt us was certainly a preoccupation that began in the 60's and 70's and maybe this type of film was feeding into that underlying sense of communal guilt at a time when the colonial enterprise very much at an end was beginning to be reappraised.
The Ghoul is not a great example of the best of British horror it cam rather to late in the day for that but it does have many elements to be appreciated and the performances by the main cast and especially Peter Cushing raise it above a mere low budget thriller. To be fair it's not that scary anymore but it is an interesting footnote to a period of British cinema that is still fondly remembered by fans.
It is recommended viewing for all fans of the genre and those interested in Hammer films and wanting to find out more about British horror.
THE CAST AND TECHNICAL DETAILS
Peter Cushing ... Dr. Lawrence
John Hurt ... Tom Rawlings
Alexandra Bastedo ... Angela
Gwen Watford ... Ayah
Veronica Carlson ... Daphne Welles Hunter
Don Henderson ... The Ghoul
Ian McCulloch ... Geoffrey
The film is 90mins in length and still carries a UK certificate 18 although I suspect this would be downgraded to 15 if it were re-released. Make sure you don't confuse this with the other film named 'The Ghoul' made in 1933 starring Boris Karloff, which has a completely different story.
Recommended for hammer horror and Peter Cushing fans.
© Mauri 2007