‘A new sensation in horror!’
The Mad Ghoul is a 1943 American science fiction horror film directed by James P. Hogan (his last film, before he died of a heart attack, aged 53) from a screenplay by Paul Gangelin and Brenda Weisberg.
Doctor Alfred Morris (Zucco) is curious about the effects of an ancient nerve gas, used by the Mayans during rituals of human dissection to appease their gods. He takes medical student Ted Allison (Bruce) under his wing to assist him with his experiments in using the gas on modern animals.
However, despite Ted’s enthusiasm for the success of their effort to revive Morris’ dead monkey Choco (who was earlier exposed to the gas and died) by using a fluid from the heart of another creature, Ted also has on his mind his girlfriend Isabel Lewis (Ankers), of whom Morris has also become enamoured…
Later, on the night of the duo’s first experiment, Ted brings Isabel to Morris’ house, where Morris notices Isabel’s discomfort about her relationship with Ted. He confers with Isabel, saying that she does indeed need a man more involved with her love of music, secretly meaning himself. Isabel, however, is afraid of hurting Ted’s feelings and getting him to understand what she wants, but Morris promises to take care of the situation himself.
Unbeknownst to Isabel, Morris’ evil plan involves destroying Ted by exposing him to the lethal Mayan gas the next day, and in effect, making him a mindless ghoul who, like Choco, must continually rely on the fluid of human hearts, in this case, to survive, obtained by performing cardioectomies on freshly dead people…
“Of all Universal’s regular actors, George Zucco was one of their most prolific but was usually confined to supporting roles. Here he is given the starring role, and his well-spoken, subtly evil performance proves to be one of the few positives in what is a quite dull affair. Universal’s gorgeous set-design and high production values are clear to see, but the story is old-fashioned and weak, offering nothing more than a familiar mad scientist storyline… ” Tom Gillespie, The Wrath of Blog
“The Mad Ghoul is the best PRC horror movie that Universal ever made. It’s every bit as strange and oddly engaging as any Poverty Row monster movie of the 1940s that you can name, but it’s got all the brand-name (B-unit) trappings of Universal Studios to give it that little bit extra and deliver a lasting, satisfying, and fun film.” Shock!
“There is a mildly effective scene near the end that stirs some bathos where George Zucco becomes infected and crawls towards an open grave, at the same time as David Bruce has been commanded to kill and stumbles out onto the stage during Evelyn Ankers’ performance but ends up conflicted between his orders and feelings. George Zucco livens the show up playing to form with a wonderfully mad intensity.” Richard Scheib, Moria
“With good performances and some minor directorial flourishes, Hogan’s film is a neat programmer, even if its central monster is a bit bland. Perhaps a bit slow in its set-up (even if it’s only just over an hour), The Mad Ghoul delivers enough thrills, within 1940s Production Code limits, to make it worth reviving.” Brian J. Robb, Sci-Fi Bulletin
“The Mad Ghoul is whole lot of fun and has its roots in 1930s serials and screwball comedies. It also gives popular supporting actor George Zucco one of his few starring roles. In fact, he’s at his unctuous best playing the subtly evil Doctor Morris that makes this otherwise mediocre affair worth checking out. The final shot of Zucco’s mad doctor frantically scratching at the dirt in the cemetery gives the film its biggest – and only real – chill.” Peter Fuller, Kultguy’s Keep
Doctor Alfred Morris [George Zucco]: “Reports of your death seem to have been grossly exaggerated”.
The film is also known as Mystery of the Ghoul
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Cast and characters:
- George Zucco as Doctor Alfred Morris
- David Bruce as Ted Allison / The Mad Ghoul
- Evelyn Ankers as Isabel Lewis
- Robert Armstrong as Ken McClure
- Turhan Bey as Eric Iversen
- Milburn Stone as Macklin
- Andrew Tombes as Eagan
- Rose Hobart as Della
- Addison Richards as Gavigan
- Charles McGraw as Garrity
- Gus Glassmire as Caretaker
- Lillian Cornell as singing for Evelyn Ankers (voice) (uncredited)
- Bess Flowers as Woman in Audience (uncredited)
- Hans Herbert as Attendant (uncredited)
- Lew Kelly as Stagehand (uncredited)
- Isabel La Mal as Maid (uncredited)
- Mike Lally as Reporter (uncredited)
- Gene O’Donnell as Radio Reporter (uncredited)
Buy Women in Horror Films, 1940s book from Amazon.com