Ghoul, The (1975)

The Ghoul (1975)

A former missionary to India keeps his crazed, cannibalistic son locked away in the attic of his country house in order to keep him from killing to eat. When a group of people in a cross-country race stop off at the house, it is only a matter of time before the son escapes to feed.

 

British horror in the 70s was at its lowest point. Hammer and Amicus had been churning out the same horrors for years with dwindling results and a new breed of horror was emerging from America with the likes of Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Audiences didn’t want to keep watching Dracula, Frankenstein or other monsters stalking victims through Gothic settings. Some people foolishly stuck to the formula that had brought about the greatest success in the hope that people would eventually come full circle again but all it did was expose how poor and one-dimensional the films had become.

Tyburn Films was a new studio established by Kevin Francis, son of horror director Freddie Francis, that attempted to replicate the Hammer formula at a time when everyone else was trying not to replicate it. What we got was a handful of competently-made but ultimately weak and feeble horror outings that may have scared people back in the early 60s but looked woefully short of imagination and scares in the mid-70s. The Ghoul is one such outing.

The Ghoul might as well have begun with characters saying “been there, done that and got the t-shirt” because it’s so routine, unimaginative and uneventful. The story itself is very thin and it plods along way too slowly to do anything effective. There’s lots of padding early on with the antics of the racers taking up the bulk of the early running time. Even when they do get to the country house, they spend too much time doing very little of note. Freddie Francis’ direction is competent but so devoid of energy and life. He lets the film play out like an elongated sketch that should have been short and snappy but was dragged out to full feature-length levels.

Whilst the film is well shot, with plenty of fog-drenched moors and remote locations, it just doesn’t do anything with it. There’s no atmosphere, no sense of dread or foreboding or worthwhile build-up to the eventual reveal of the cannibal. Typically of old school horror films, the monster isn’t revealed until the very end of the film and its no surprise to find out that it’s a big let down. The ‘ghoul’ of the title is simply a man with a bit of green paint on his face. It’s hardly going to make you wet your pants, especially as he looks to be wearing a huge nappy and waddles across the floor like he has just done something naughty in it.

It’s a shame because it’s got good pedigree with the cast and crew: director Freddie Francis is a British horror legend, helming some of Amicus’ most popular anthology films as well as a few Hammer films; writer Anthony Hinds produced some of Hammer’s best early outings; both Peter Cushing (no introduction needed!) and Veronica Carlson starred in their fair share of Hammer horrors; John Hurt would shoot to fame when an alien burst out of his chest a few years later in Alien; and Ian McCullough starred in his fair share of late 70s/early 80s Italian exploitation horrors. Cushing does what he does best and that is improve the watchability of any rubbish film simply by his performance. This was three years on from the death of his wife, from which he never really recovered, and apparently he broke down a few times during filming. It’s not one of his best performances, if you can call it that, as he seems to be portraying himself – a heartbroken man full of grief and mourning. He chose the right character to play but probably at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. John Hurt pops up as the crazy gardener.

 

The Ghoul isn’t going to win any horror awards with its pedestrian, lifeless formula being about ten years out of date. It’s harmless enough but just a chore to sit through the same old, same old time and time again.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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