Tim (Nolan Gould), Doug (Jacob Bila), and Barry (Trevor Harker) are three friends growing up in a typical small town in 1984. They long to escape their individual issues and have decided to hang out at a local cemetery rumored to contain an ancient creature who feeds on rotting flesh. As they build their underground hideout, Doug must deal with his sexually abusive mom while Barry constantly hangs out and works in the graveyard to get away from his physically and psychologically abusive dad. All three must also contend with a group of older bullies who constantly harass them. When a couple of teens turn up missing, the boys believe that the ghoul actually exists. Then more people disappeare. Unfortunately, their perverted parents appear to be hiding the truth from their children, and in the end, secrets and lies linger as the body count grows higher and higher.
Here's the problem with Ghoul: it's not a typical horror film. Oh, it offers up spooky cemeteries, supposed subterranean monsters, and all the atmosphere of an edge of your seat boy's adventure tale. But the traumas go deeper here, and for the most part, these terrors play it way too close to home. Unlike The Exorcist, which hid its generation gap jerrymander behind religion and demonic possession (let's face it - that classic is really nothing more than the typical "parent doesn't understand their rebellious teen" diatribe...with Satanic pea soup vomit), this movie takes sideways subplot diversions into child abuse, molestation, dysfunction, and any number of numbing familial issues. On the one hand, it's a brave choice. Like Stephen King's It, the traumas of childhood definitely help define our darkest nightmares as adults. But in Ghoul, these abrupt detours into decidedly uncomfortable material derails the potential dread. Instead of feeling scared, we're often sick.
It's not director Gregory Wilson's fault, though he did show a similar kind of repugnant exploitative fascination with identical subject matter when he helmed the awful Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. It's also not screenwriter William M. Miller's fault. He is merely working from Brian Keene's novel which uses abuse as a kind of novelty, a means of making an otherwise ordinary tale of a creature and his human counterparts into something beyond schlock. Indeed, it must be hard to bring something new to the horror genre. Because the films can be made cheaply, and often result in a decent profit, the turnaround is titanic. In fact, when something hits (the slasher, torture porn), all manner of imitators come sprinting out of the woodwork looking to cash in. So kudos to Ghoul for trying a different approach. At the same time, jeers for letting the underlying themes take over and totally dominate the other fright flick elements.
Overall, at least Chiller TV isn't taking the SyFy way out when it comes to made for cable fare. For every ridiculous mockbuster knock-off and adolescent boy's Trapper Keeper scribbles (Sharknado? Really?) the third tier terror archive (behind Fear.net) is at least staying somewhat true to its tenets. Granted, there is nothing wrong with a little cheese, but putting anacondas and donkeys together to create Aspasses (copyrighted by yours truly) just won't cut it. So it's nice to see Chiller choosing a different route. Of course, that doesn't make Ghoul a good film, just an unusual one, and the limits of what a basic cable channel can show definitely undermine some of the film's more potent possibilities. In the end, this plays like the version of Jeepers Creepers where director Victor Salva actually exposes his pedophilic past and makes it a main plot point. Ghoul is decent, but gets bogged down in its outside elements a bit too often.
As we continue the move to a wholly HD home video experience, the tech specs of something like Ghoul feel a bit old fashioned. Sure, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks good (this is a professional production made for a legitimate TV outlet) with a nice control of light levels (this is a very dark movie, and not just surrounding the subject matter) and crisp colors. Yes, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix is atmospheric and loaded with multi-speaker shifts (especially during the underground exploration sequences). And there is a nice Behind the Scenes featurette which feels like an EPK created for the network to air in between repeats of Dark Shadows (the 1991 update). But in these days of dynamic transfers, abundant extras, and Blu-ray interactivity, this all feels decidedly old school.
If you can bear the bountiful infers to the seedier, sleazier side of growing up in an abusive environment, you may enjoy Ghoul. Otherwise, be warned - this is a horror movie where the real terror isn't supernatural...it's parental.Rent it.
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