Film (1943; vt Mystery of the Ghoul). Universal Pictures. Produced by Ben Pivar. Directed by James P Hogan. Written by Paul Gangelin and Brenda Wiseberg from a story by Hanns Kraly (credited as Hans Kraly). Cast includes Evelyn Ankers, Robert Armstrong, Turhan Bey, David Bruce and George Zucco. 65 minutes. Black and white.
University chemistry Professor Alfred Morris (Zucco) has re-created a nerve gas used by ancient Mayans in human sacrifice rituals. With medical student Ted (Bruce) as assistant, he experiments on a small monkey killed by the gas and discovers that fluids from fresh hearts can keep victims alive. He meets and become infatuated with Ted's girlfriend, concert singer Isabel Lewis (Ankers), who no longer loves Ted and wants to end the relationship without hurting him. In typical Mad Scientist fashion, Morris exposes Ted to the Mayan gas. Ted becomes intermittently a Zombie-like "ghoul" who does evil deeds at Morris's command, but needs a steady supply of fresh heart-fluids from the recently deceased.
A trail of desecrated graves soon follows Isabel's current concert tour, plus outright murder starting with a cemetery caretaker who discovers Morris and Ted at work one evening. Morris realizes Isabel's love is for her pianist Eric Iverson (Bey) rather than himself, and has ghoul-Ted attempt to kill Eric; this fails. Reporter McClure (Armstrong) realizes the "ghoul-killings" and grave robberies are following the route of Isabel's tour. He sets a trap at a funeral parlour and nearly captures the pair but is killed by Ted's surgical scalpel. The police make the same connection and question Isabel, who knows Ted and Morris are the only people in her circle with the skill to perform cardiectomies, but cannot understand why. At her next performance, Morris plans to have Ted shoot Eric and then himself; but Ted realizes what has been happening and while still human writes a confession explaining Morris's guilt. He also sets a trap which exposes Morris to the gas; Morris makes for a cemetery for the sake of his own survival. Ghoul-Ted goes on stage but is shot dead by police in the audience. Isabel and Eric read the confession; meanwhile Morris has found a fresh grave and tries to dig it up by hand, dying there at the fade-out.
Like most of Universal sf films from this era, The Mad Ghoul occupies the Horror in SF subgenre. Zucco plays the mad scientist with considerable relish. Some good atmospheric touches help out a somewhat leaden script. [GFi]
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