Monday, November 11, 2013
I met THE GHOUL in a bookstore, not at the the movies. Guy Smith's novelization caught my attention for obvious reasons, and Smith was already a big part of my life thanks to his numerous killer crab books and 'The Sucking Pit', one of the greatest pulp titles ever.
At only 128 pages, THE GHOUL is a short read, and its tale of two British couples who race their jalopies to Land's End, an obscure coastal region of Cornwall, and end up tangling with a creature kept prisoner in an creaky old inn, is a modest winner.
As good novels do, this tale evokes much in the mind of the reader, so doesn't suffer the fallout of expectations that the film does. At some point, films must show the horror, and if the horror isn't up to scratch, the disappointment sinks in.
THE GHOUL film, which stars Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson (she of the ample cleavage), and John Hurt, is a stodgy affair under Freddie Francis's direction. Although atmospheric and nicely shot, it never truly meshes its elements, and lacks forward momentum. With its coastal setting, it feels a little like a Brit STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP, with the mutant son of a preacher (Cushing) replacing the aforementioned STRANGLER, but it lacks that film's deep dread. Francis pipes in plenty of fog and keeps Hurt, Cushing, and Ian McCulloch (!) busy, but he mishandles the reveal of THE GHOUL (Don Henderson) in a case of too little too late.
Guy Smith provides more GHOUL action in the novel and threads in some additional backstory about the creature's origins. Although the cinema GHOUL is on the book's cover, the creature still works better when suggested and not seen. Horror's dilemma is that it risks being absolute on the screen, while the novel doesn't risk that problem.
Plotwise, there are similarities here to Richard Laymon's first novel, THE CELLAR ('80).