Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Ghoul

A dying man (Boris Karloff) constructs a tomb in which he is to be buried with an Egyptian diamond, which he believes will help grant him eternal life. After his passing, his heirs come to his estate, the diamond is stolen, and Karloff returns from the dead to seek revenge.

The Ghoul is one of the most baldly atmospheric horror films I've seen from the 1930's. More or less the whole film takes places at night, and every shot is a rich tapestry of deep shadows and eerie, almost abstract swathes of light. They lay it on thick, which is just the way I like it. The damn thing almost looks like it was shot in a pitch black cave with only a few candles for light.

Which is why I was surprised that, after a dark and moody opening, it turns much more into a light-on-its-feet comedic adventure/horror film after the heirs are introduced. And not in a bad way. As much as I would have loved it if the film had tried to really go for something nightmarish, the characters are likable, the banter is witty, the set pieces are fun. The only downside is that Karloff is mostly wasted; after he dies early on, he disappears for awhile, and then comes back as a silent, personality-free hulk with nothing to do but kill. I think they were mainly trying to capitalize on his role as Frankenstein's monster, but he's way more of a cypher here and it might as well have been anyone playing the ghoul.

Rating: B

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