Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Ghoul, The (1933)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Ghoul, The (1933)
DirectorT. Hayes Hunter
Production CompanyGaumont-British Picture Corporation
ByLeonard Hines
 Frank King
AdaptationRupert Downing
Director of PhotographyGunther Krampf

Cast: Boris Karloff (Professor Henry Morlant); Cedric Hardwicke (Broughton); Ernest Thesiger (Laing); Dorothy Hyson (Betty Harlon); Anthony Bushell (Ralph Morlant)

Show full cast and credits

Professor Morlant is buried with an Egyptian jewel, which is reputed to give the owner eternal life. When his servant steals it, Morlant returns from the grave to reclaim his possession.

Show full synopsis

The Ghoul's fame rests predominantly on it being the first British film to receive an 'H' certificate (for 'Horrific') from the British Board of Film Censors. However, the fairly innocuous events in the film don't appear to justify the concern, except perhaps for the graphic ritual scene in which Boris Karloff's Professor Morlant slices open his chest with a knife. As the reviewer of the New York Times commented, "A newsreel of a Sunday school picnic would have been more thrilling".

This reception was a great disappointment to Gaumont-British, which had seen the film as a prestige picture, allocating it a budget of just over £30,000. Due to the excessive demands of the crew's two German nationals, Günther Krampf (cinematographer) and Alfred Junge (art designer), the film came in at just under £40,000 (a typical Hollywood production of the period would have cost between £40-60,000). Their work shows - particularly in the funeral procession and the interior of Broughton's office - and it is these visual achievements that are the film's major point of interest today.

Most contemporary reviewers noticed its striking similarity to Universal's The Mummy (US, d. Karl Freund, 1933), and its trappings of Egyptian myth and expressionist visual style certainly attest to this. The visual likenesses, and the fact that both films starred Boris Karloff, support this view, but it could also be argued that Gaumont were drawing on a story of national interest - the British archaeologist Howard Carter had unearthed Tutankhamun's tomb only ten years previously (and excavation work had continued right up until 1931).

Karloff himself is poorly used, and despite a brief speech his appearances are relegated to mute, lumbering walks, without the subtlety of his portrayal of the monster in Frankenstein (US, d. James Whale, 1931). Of the remaining performances, Ernest Thesiger stands out as the Scottish servant Laing, and Ralph Richardson impresses in what was his first screen role.

The failure of the film lies in its relentless attempt to imitate Universal Studios' horror films of the time. This is not to say that it is a bad film; it just attempts to do too much. A clear-cut villain with more screen time and a trimming down of some of the subsidiary characters would have made it a worthy contemporary to the Universal films - rather than just a pale imitation.

Paul Moody

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Dark Eyes of London, The (1939)
Dead of Night (1945)
Face at the Window, The (1939)
Halfway House, The (1944)
Man Who Changed His Mind, The (1936)
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936)
They Drive By Night (1939)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Junge, Alfred (1886-1964)
Karloff, Boris (1887-1969)
Kemplen, Ralph (1912-2004)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Thesiger, Ernest (1879-1961)
Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Horror Before Hammer