The Ghoul – UK, 1974

The Ghoul is a 1974 British horror film directed by Freddie Francis from a screenplay by John Elder [Anthony Hinds] and produced by his son, Kevin Francis for Tyburn Film productions (Persecution; Legend of the Werewolf).

The strident score was by Harry Robinson, supervised by Philip Martel.

The movie stars Peter Cushing, John Hurt (10 Rillington PlaceAlien), Alexandra Bastedo (The Blood Spattered Bride), Gwen Watford, Veronica Carlson (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed), Stewart Bevan, Ian McCulloch (Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie Holocaust), John D. Collins, Dan Meaden “and introducing” Don Henderson as The Ghoul.

In 1920s England, a group of champagne-fuelled upper-class people take part in a drunken automobile race to Land’s End Cornwall. However, due to fog, a lack of petrol and an accident along the way, they end up on a rural estate owned by a tortured former priest played by Peter Cushing.

Initially menaced by sadistic groundskeeper Tom (John Hurt), they eventually discover the priest has a horrific secret linked to his former experiences in India…

Many critics have pointed out that the plot of The Ghoul is remarkably similar to Hammer’s The Reptile, with the theme of a father protecting his murderous offspring who has been corrupted by Indian cults, and who is in turn both protected and enslaved by a sinister Indian servant. Was this post-colonial British angst, or unintentionally typical 1970s racism?

Read this Carfax Abbey interview with producer Kevin Francis

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The Ghoul was novelised by Guy N. Smith (as Guy Smith) and published by Sphere. Smith brought his usual no-nonsense approach to the story and expanded the graphic violence (barely seen on screen) considerably.

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Buy novelisation: Amazon.co.uk

Reviews:

Jitterbugging British toffs who get squiffy and go on a jolly race can hardly have been the focus for the average horror fan’s sympathy in mid-70s economically depressed Britain; indeed, there is a class conflict that’s played out towards the climax.

On the acting front, John Hurt, Veronica Carlson, Alexandra Bastedo and Peter Cushing are all splendid. In a touching moment, Cushing says:”my wife is dead” and he had clearly suffered in real life.

However, good thesping aside, there were more dynamic, visceral modern horror films, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Shivers lurking around to shock jaded audiences.

Regretfully, Gwen Watford was ‘browned up’ to play the obsessed Indian spouse, as if there were no Indian actresses who could have been cast in the role. And when Cushing’s character rants that he found only “filth and degradation” in the sub-Continent the viewer is left to wonder where the filmmaker’s sympathies lay? Xenophobia does seem to be the sub-text.

Adrian J Smith, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“One is really glad when the whole slow charade is over. To think that such dated and hackneyed films are still being made is a sad reflection on the British film industry” Little Shoppe of Horrors (1978)

“While set in the 1920’s, this has less of a period feel than the Hammer films and aligns itself closer to contemporary horror with a variety of shock tactics and a far stronger heroine than Hammer usually managed. Veronica Carlson’s character was relatively soppy in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, but here she’s braver and more independent.” Black Hole Reviews

“Beautifully shot, with fog-shrouded moors, a lovely period setting and a racist “white-woman-blacked-up-to-play-an-Indian” bit of casting, The Ghoul is a top-notch Gothic horror in the Hammer tradition, which unfortunately by the time it was made was woefully out of whack with the trends at the time. Still, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s a cracker”. BritishHorrorFilms.co.uk

“Numerous Hammer alumni, such as Cushing, Carlson, Hinds and Francis, contributed to The Ghoul, but it still feels like the cheap imitation it is, a feeling that’s exacerbated by the fairly underwhelming sets and locations … The Ghoul is more interesting than it is good, but parts of it are a treat for devotees of Peter Cushing and Veronica Carlson.” Mistlake’s Blog

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‘The film breaks the mold of the Hammer Gothic drama in choosing a an Edwardian rather than Victorian setting. Unfortunately, the plot is irritating – not much is ever explained about Don Henderson’s cannibalistic creature, how he ended up that way, for instance, nor the need for the sacrifices and Eastern religious trappings’. Moria.co.nz

Release:

The Ghoul was originally certified by the UK BBFC on 29/07/1974 at 92m 42s, following cuts to (a) remove the third close-up of the knife embedded in Geoffrey’s face (b) remove a knee to the groin delivered by Veronica Carlson to John Hurt. However, the subsequent theatrical version was only 87m following some last minute snipping by the distributors. It was released in May 1975.

The full version, with BBFC cuts restored, was subsequently released on UK video on the Taste of Fear label. The differences are as follows:

The opening party sequence is extended by about 2m 30s via several additional dialogue extensions that largely serve to explain Carlson’s character. In particular the conversation between her and Ian McCulloch when she is sitting in the car is nearly a minute longer and the subsequent three way conversation by another car involving Stewart Bevan is extended by about 40s.

About 35m into the film, directly after Peter Cushing asks Carlson whether there is anything she would like before dinner, the extended version has a new sequence lasting about 2m 30s in which Carlson is escorted upstairs to her bedroom and takes a bath (fans of the lady should note that her left breast is briefly visible). This sequence is missing entirely from the theatrical print.

After Bach’s tocatta and fugue strikes up on the soundtrack the extended version has an extra 1m showing Carlson emerge from the bedroom, clothed again, and go down the stairs where she then peeks in on Cushing in his chapel. In the theatrical version it’s a bit odd that Cushing is surprised by her given that in the previous scene they’d been together in his drawing room.


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This Turkish poster uses artwork from The Bloodstained Shadow 

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Cast and characters:

  • Peter Cushing … Doctor Lawrence
  • John Hurt … Tom Rawlings
  • Alexandra Bastedo … Angela
  • Gwen Watford … Ayah
  • Veronica Carlson … Daphne Wells Hunter
  • Don Henderson … The Ghoul
  • Ian McCulloch … Geoffrey
  • Stewart Bevan … Billy
  • John D. Collins … “Young Man”
  • Dan Meaden … The Police Sergeant

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Filming locations:

Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. Shooting began 4 March 1974.

Thanks to Museu do VHS for the Brazilian video image and Electric Warrior on the Brit Movie forum for details of BBFC cuts.

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One Comment on “The Ghoul – UK, 1974”

  1. This movie may not be the best, but it’s better than it gets credit for. It gives a nice look at the anything goes, party atmosphere of the roaring 20s, a typically strong turn by Cushing, and John Hurt as a real scum. I’ve always had a soft spot for the small subgenre of “The colonies get back at Great Britain.”

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