Title: The Ghoul (Night of the Ghoul – U.S.)
Distributor: Tyburn Films
Writer: Anthony Hinds
Director: Freddie Francis
Producer: Kevin Francis
Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, John Hurt, Don Henderson, Alexandra Bastedo
Released: May 1975
After two of Hammer Film Studios psychological thrillers, I thought I’d switch gears a bit, and spotlight some of the films that Tyburn Studios added to the crowded horror movie scene of the 1970’s. The first one I chose is called “The Ghoul“, and it stars Peter Cushing, and Veronica Carlson, two Hammer Studio staples from the previous decade.
This film was an interesting contrast to the earlier film by the same name (starring Boris Karloff and Cedric Hardwicke, 1933). A bit low-budget, perhaps, but when you get Cushing, and Carlson in the same film, it can’t be all that terrible. Alright, enough nonsense, let’s get to the movie!
The film begins with some people having a party at a mansion (sometime in the Roaring ’20s). There’s a scene where a beautiful woman is making her way through a dark house, and being called out to. She enters a room upstairs, and finds a man with a hook through his neck, hanging and in his death throes (image below). The woman doesn’t scream, and then we’re shown that it was a game, and bets were made if the girl would scream or not. One woman in particular stands out from the crowd. Her name is Daphne (Veronica Carlson), and she seems to have quite an attitude. She acts as if she’s interested in a man named Geoffrey (Ian McCulloch), and the two make a plan to drive to Lands End. Before they can leave, another man, Billy (Stewart Bevan), approaches them and asks where they are going. He also tells Geoffrey that his car is inferior to his, and Daphne knows a way to settle the dispute. She challenges Billy to a race, his car against Geoffrey’s. They race to Lands End, and whoever gets there first is the winner. They go back inside and tell the other guests that they’ll begin with the race as soon as all the champagne is gone.
Later, after everyone is good and drunk, Daphne decides she wants to go with Billy instead of Geoffrey, and another woman, Angela (Alexandra Bastedo), jumps into Geoffrey’s car, to go with him (there seems to be a bit of a rivalry between the two women). A man counts down, and the race is on. Daphne has not only orchestrated this entire ordeal, but also jumped in the driver’s seat of Billy’s car, and zooms down the road. Geoffrey is shocked at well she can drive a car, and at first he has trouble just keeping up with her. He eventually overtakes her, but his passenger, Angela, gets ill, and he must pull over. Daphne uses this opportunity to pass them out, and Billy is shocked that she didn’t stop to help them.
After a short while, Daphne runs into a thick fog bank, loses control of the car, and then pulls over, running out of gas. She urges Billy to take the spare container and go find some fuel so they can get going. After some bickering, he does leave with the can to look for some fuel, leaving Daphne alone. Suddenly, we see a hand stroking the fur coat that Daphne is wearing (while she naps), and as she wakes, the hand disappears. A man watches her from the forest, and she writes a note on the windshield for Billy, explaining that she didn’t want to keep waiting for him, so she wanders off on her own. She quickly runs into the man, Tom (John Hurt), who was watching her, but he tells her that there is no fuel anywhere near here, so she leaves. He follows her, and she finds a house with an old iron gate. He tells her that it’s abandoned, but she’s frightened of him, so she runs toward the house anyway. He grabs a rock, and bounces it off of her head, knocking her unconscious.
The next scene we see is that of a small cabin or room, and Daphne is on the floor, just waking up. She’s surprised by Tom, who’s watching her, creepy-style from a shadowy corner. He tells her that he had to do what he did, because he didn’t want her going up to the house. He tells her that something sinister is up there, but not exactly who or what. She doesn’t believe him, and tries to get by him. He pushes her down, and when she attempts it again, he pimp slaps her to the ground. She seems unfazed though, and gets up, knees him in the family jewels, and runs outside. He chases after her, but before either of them can do anything, a man pops out of nowhere. She explains to this man who another man attacked her. Dr. Lawrence (Peter Cushing), is this man, and he tells Daphne that she’d better come with him. She explains to him the circumstances of her situation, and he invites her to stay for a while, and rest. An Indian woman comes into the room, and she’s apparently the servant of Dr. Lawrence. He instructs Aya to get some tea, and to prepare a room for Daphne.
She falls asleep, and when she wakes up, she realizes poor Billy must still be lost on the moors. Dr. Lawrence tells her that he’ll tells his gardener (Tom), to investigate her friend’s whereabouts. Tom finds him back at the car sleeping, and murders him by pushing the car off the ledge with him in it! Tom laughs like an insane person, and steals something from pocket of the dead man. Back at the house, Aya enters the room, and tells Dr. Lawrence that Tom is back, and then Tom tells them that there was no sign of Billy, but there was a note. Dr. Lawrence reads the note and tells her that it says he went home. Daphne is more at ease then, and settles in as a guest. She begins to get quite chummy with Dr. Lawrence.
In the kitchen Aya is making lunch, and we can then hear some Phantom of the Opera style music coming from somewhere in the house. Daphne is drawn to it, and investigates. As she does, Dr. Lawrence is praying by an altar. Daphne walks in on him, and he invites her inside. They then dine together, and then Daphne goes to her room for some rest. As she rests, Aya is doing some sort of ritualistic ceremony, and Dr. Lawrence is playing his violin. Tom is hanging out in the garden, looking creepier than ever. As Daphne begins to awaken, Aya is still up to something, and she unlocks a door near the attic. We only see feet, but it’s implied something horrific came out, and is making its way down to Daphne’s room. We see this shape, enter her room, and stab her to death.
The next scene shows the kitchen, and it seems that Aya is going to cook Daphne for a meal. Tom watches in horror as Aya cuts the corpse to ribbons. Aya leaves the room, and Tom removes something from the body, and takes it back to his cabin. Then Aya takes some “food” to the resident in the attic to eat. The beast reaches out for the meal, and its hand is hideous. Meanwhile, Dr. Lawrence is weeping in his prayer room, but that doesn’t stop Aya from doing her prep work for more “meals”.
The following part shows Angela and Geoffrey, as they’ve been informed that the body of Billy has been found. The police show them the location of the car, but Geoffrey is unconvinced that this was an accident,and that Daphne was lost in the moors (quicksand?). Geoffrey then sets out on foot to try to find some answers. Angela waits in the car, and we see a familiar cycle ready to begin anew.
OK, here are my thoughts:
This is my first viewing of this film, and my initial thoughts are that I enjoyed it. Many feel the acting wasn’t up to snuff, but I disagree. Was it the best performance of Cushing’s career? Certainly not, but it’s far from bad acting. Seeing Veronica Carlson is this type of role was actually quite refreshing. She usually plays the woman in distress, and gets tossed around. She was actually very tough in this film, and could hold her own. Ian McCulloch was good too, and made a good hero. John Hurt played a good psycho, and really dialed up the creep factor.
The “ghoul” was just okay, with nothing extremely frightening about him. The Indian woman was pretty evil and scary though, and helped move things along nicely. There have been comparisons to Hammer Studios “The Reptile”, and rightly so, because that film and this one have similar plots. They both have a cult-type angle as well (snakes/zombies). Maybe that’s why I liked this film too, because I love The Reptile! Give this film a look and decide for yourself if it’s worthy!