Nazi Science Invades America

Part of Universal’s World War II output, The Mad Ghoul deals in creaky – if relevant – science. George Zucco stars as the mad scientist archetype, experimenting with gases akin to the Nazis considering the use of Sarin, and of course the use of gas in concentration camps.

Mad Ghoul uses the comfortable tropes of this genre. Grave robberies, foggy nights, broken romance; the script is plucked from cliché, re-purposed for a different time. It’s suitable. Zucco’s UK origins give him that European feel, enough to pass as a German-born character to suit the idea. “I’m a scientist. There is no good or evil,” he spouts, suggestive of the Nazi regime’s lack of morality.

There’s a softer, secondary theme too. Mad Ghoul uses David Bruce as a swooning romantic, adoring co-star Evelyn Ankers until she falls for an Austrian piano player. Afflicted by Zucco’s gas, Bruce begins passing out each time he thinks of Ankers. And each time, he needs a new heart to restore his former self. It’s literal and different from the rushed love subplots often crammed into these films, plus cleverly romantic in the grossest of horror movie ways.

Although missing iconic monsters, Mad Ghoul sits on the same bones as those classics

Under the gas’ effect, Bruce follows Zucco’s orders, a way for Zucco to keep his hands ethically clean of grave robbing and corpse defiling even as the mania grows. Of course, he experiments for what he sees as greater good, freed from pesky ethics. How Nazi of him.

The resurrection angle wasn’t new for Universal (Dracula started the undead fixation) although Mad Ghoul is the only true zombie tale in their classic litter. Uncomplicated and brisk, everything in Mad Ghoul comes from stock, not only the story beats. The score culls the classic studio library, and Ankers’ few singing scenes also play from older recordings. Although missing iconic monsters, Mad Ghoul sits on the same bones as those classics.

As such, this small but undervalued genre piece carries merit. More of that is overdue. Mad Ghoul’s wartime nature allows for the same-y elements, luring people in and preying on their (then) contemporary fears. Maybe Mad Ghoul isn’t timeless; it was a movie of the day, and now rests as a reminder of wartime cinema’s covered reality. Mad Ghoul’s fantasy engaged in a dialog and sent a careful warning of Germany’s cruelty. Zucco’s performance makes that clear.

Video

Of the four films in Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Collection 2, Mad Ghoul looks the best. This is sensational vintage video, sporting ridiculously sharp imagery. This carries the look of a recent scan, done at a high resolution. While specks and occasional scratches remain, nothing approaches severe.

High-grade grain replication keeps things pure and film-like. No compression bothers here with Mad Ghoul sitting on its own disc with a short runtime. Even a foggy cemetery scene holds together with the slightest of banding notable only for videophiles.

Fidelity in the source pops out, with facial texture exquisite for this period. Likewise, costume work on Ankers with sequins galore bring out the full potential in this presentation. Some rotting flesh make-up shows the work in full.

Gifted with awesome gray scale, depth stays pure and consistent. Highlights enrich each scene, and where needed, deep shadows add to the horror. Mad Ghoul is an exemplary display of vintage video.

Audio

Sadly, the same does not go for the audio. Ironically, the DTS-HD track is the weakest of the four films in this set. A lot of this is likely caused by the reused music, old and crotchety. During the opening credits, there’s no definition to speak of in terms of treble; it’s a mass of instruments playing through a distorted speaker. Ankers’ musical acts likewise come from a failing source, with rotten lyrics and painfully bright piano keys.

Under dialog persists a static. While lines sound harsh, they at least hold audibility.

Extras

Historian Thomas Reeder offers a commentary track to go along with the always fun press kit and image gallery.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Mad Ghoul
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

George Zucco leads the wartime horror story The Mad Ghoul with successful, direct connections to Nazi experiments.

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