An atmospheric dud, but a dud nonetheless, The Ghoul was one of just three feature films produced by wannabe Hammer company Tyburn.

Interestingly, our man Peter Cushing was to star in another of their efforts, 1975’s Legend Of The Werewolf (already covered on these pages), with their only other offering being Lana Turner-starring horror Persecution.

But back to The Ghoul, a sluggishly paced affair that also has an unsavoury whiff of casual racism running throughout.

Things kick off at a decadent high society party sometime in the 1920s, with champagne flowing and plenty of drunken shenanigans.ghoul poster

Out of nowhere, two gents decide to stage a race in their flash cars from the party mansion to Land’s End, some 200 miles away.

For some reason director Freddie Francis then decides to take up about 15 minutes of running time filming this race, which would be all well and good, were it not for the fact that this is meant to be a horror flick called The Ghoul starring Peter Cushing.

Eventually one of the cars comes to a halt in thick fog on the moors, with Daphne (Hammer favourite Veronica Carlson) demanding car owner Billy (Stewart Bevan) trek off to find a garage.

Suddenly out of nowhere pops up creepy local Tom (John Hurt), with Daphne fleeing into the arms of Cushing’s Dr Lawrence, a former missionary now living in a huge mansion on the misty moors.

All seems well, but naturally that does not last long, with Daphne coming to the conclusion that all is not quite right with the Doctor, or the supposed other inhabitants of the house.

All that is established pretty early on, but again Francis shows real issues with tempo in dragging things out for far too long – yes we know Lawrence has a son that he likes to keep locked up in the upper echelons of the mansion, yes we know that the same son was supposedly corrupted by those ‘depraved’ Indians while his father worked as a missionary and yes we know that son has a taste for flesh.

So, why oh why spin out endless scenes of talky chat before cramming in some carnage in a slam-bang finale?

What this pacing does do though is allow Cushing to once again come to the fore and the honest truth is his performance is the only thing dragging The Ghoul into some form or respectability.

Shot just months after the real-life death of his beloved wife, there is plenty of raw emotion on display here from the great man, especially in a handful of scenes in which he has to converse and reminisce about the passing of his character’s wife.

Carlson is as fine as ever, while Hurt hams things up as you would expect.

There are also chunky roles for Gwen Watford as Hindu servant Ayah (who you are clearly meant to find sinister for being Hindu) and a pre-Fulci Ian McCullough as the other driver in the race, who reappears at the climax just in time for some splashy murder scenes.

There are so many questions that you will have, both while watching and after viewing The Ghoul – just what happened to Lawrence’s son to make him this way? Why does the son as he is now come nothing close to resembling the family photo on the fireplace? Why, instead of trying to help his son, does Lawrence instead elect to lock him in a room, nearly naked and fuelling his need for human flesh?

These issues are never answered, probably because the writers could not come up with any suitable answers – after all, why let common sense get in the way of a horror tale?

The Ghoul is certainly worth watching if you fancy a slice of Cushing at his best – just try and ignore everything going on around him.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.