The Ghoul (1975) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January and the “31 Days of British Horror” in March , Jules is at it again in May, treating us to the continuation of his chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.

Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, John Hurt, Ian McCullough, Alexandra Bastedo
Director: Freddie Francis

After a dry run with Tales That Witness Madness, Kevin Francis (son of legendary cinematographer Freddie) formed what he hoped would be a production company that would rival Hammer and Amicus when it came to horror.

In the end though, Tyburn Films would be a mere footnote in the genre, making less than a handful of films, none of which set the heather alight.

The Ghoul is the first ‘proper’ Tyburn horror. Directed by Freddie Francis, written by Hammer mainstay John Elder (aka Anthony Hinds) and starring Peter Cushing. Naturally it looks wonderful and the great man himself gets a lot of screen time, while being backed up by folk like Veronica Carlson, John Hurt, a pre-Zombie Flesh Eaters Ian McCullough and Alexandra Bastedo, star of TV series The Champions.

But my God, it’s slow.

It’s the 1920s and a group of rich young people at stop doing the Charleston long enough to challenge each other to a 200 mile car race to Land’s End.

Billy (Stewart Bevan) and Daphne (Veronica Carlson) get lost in the fog then become separated from each other. Daphne is found by the kindly Dr Lawrence (Peter Cushing) a former priest who lives in a secluded mansion with his Indian servant Ayah and a strange gardener Tom (John Hurt), who he directs to murder Billy under the pretence of looking for him.

Lawrence has spent time in India, where his wife and son were converted to a barbaric cult leading the former to kill herself and for the Dr himself to renounce all religion as a result.

Ayah releases a bloodstained man from the attic who murders Daphne in ritualistic style, with the housekeeper later cooking her flesh for the mysterious killer to eat.

The other couple in the race, Geoffrey (Ian McCullough) and Angela (Alexandra Bastedo) learn of Billy’s death from the local police and set out to find Daphne, unaware that she is already dead and they might be next…

Yes, The Ghoul is pretty much Hinds recycling his (vastly better) screenplay for The Reptile, you know the one where an English gentleman’s family is corrupted by one of those evil Indian sects, leaving him alone and isolated with a murderous offspring? Yeah, that one.

The difference is, The Reptile moves at a fair clip and is fairly enthralling. Hardly anything happens in The Ghoul. At all.

It looks magnificent, its Jazz Era setting smartly reusing sets from The Great Gatsby. The lack of action means we get a lot of Peter Cushing giving a powerfully melancholy performance (given added weight with the fairly recent loss of his real-life wife) and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent.

John Hurt is wonderfully wretched, an army deserter who lives out in a shack with pigeons and a rabbit, he’s a nasty, predatory character, whether trying to assault both women he comes across or his maniacal glee at rolling Billy and his car off a cliff.

Veronica Carlson is especially good here too, playing a very strong and independent woman, one who insists on driving the car over her make friend and who is more than capable of fighting off Tom’s attempted rape. Actually Bastedo gives good strength here too, both women do. It’s refreshing to see and a definite tick in the “pros” box for The Ghoul.

Sadly, that’s about all the positives for it. It’s just so painfully slow and lacking in any real scares, tension of horror. The titular Ghoul gets about 3 minutes of screen time and looks awful when he does.

It takes a special disaster to take so many great ingredients and make something so, so average, but that’s what Tyburn managed here. For their first real horror, it was the most inauspicious of starts.

Rating: 2.5/5.


JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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