John Bruni reviews Ghoul

Ghoul 80 min., 2012
Written by William M. Miller
Directed by Gregory Wilson
Language: English
My rating: ★★★

A horror movie that would be better off without the monster.

* * *

Brian Keene is a prolific writer, and it’s shocking that more of his books haven’t been turned into movies. Sadly, the weakest of his novels, GHOUL, has made it to film. Not to say the book is bad, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as the others. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from a lot of the same problems the book did.

Timmy, Doug, and Barry are middle-schoolers and the best of friends. They live in a small town where the majority of their time is taken up with comic books, hanging out at the Dugout (their clubhouse, which is really a huge pit dug into the ground by the cemetery), and trying to overcome the demons of their early lives. Barry’s father is an abusive alcoholic, and Doug’s mother is sexually abusing him at night. Timmy seems to have it the best of them, but he’s still emotionally crushed by his strict father. However, he does have one salvation: his loving, open-minded grandfather (played expertly by Barry Corbin).

Unfortunately for this group of kids, their problems are about to get worse. Men have been turning up dead, and women have been going missing. While most people in the community are thinking along rational lines, looking for a maniac, the kids start wondering if maybe the local legend of the Ghoul, a monster who lives in the tunnels under the graveyard, is real and has been committing these murders and kidnappings.

You see, the main problem with this movie (and the book, as well), is that the Ghoul is completely unnecessary. This story is horrific enough without it, so much so that the monster just seems shoehorned in. To watch Barry’s father (played to perfect scumbaggishness by Dane Rhodes) in action, ruthlessly beating his family, is pretty jarring. To see Doug’s mother sneaking into his bed at night is just nasty. And when Timmy’s beloved grandfather dies early in the movie, crushing his only hopes for a fun home life, it all makes for raw, emotional horror. Horror that can really happen. Not only that, but this small town is haunted by a horrible mining accident that happened when Barry’s father was a young man and has had a huge impact on him and the community.

It just seems that the Ghoul was thrown in just for the sake of having it. Even worse, since the budget was so low (this being a made-for-TV movie), the Ghoul looks cheap and completely not scary. (There is a slight reason for this, and it is one way that the book and movie part ways. In the book, the Ghoul is a part of Keene’s Labyrinth mythos. In the movie, they have another explanation for it, which is revealed at the end. It is very easy to see why this change was made. Much like the HEARTS IN ATLANTIS adaptation from Stephen King had to do away with the Dark Tower connection, screenwriter William M. Miller had to cut out the Labyrinth connection, so as not to muddy the waters for viewers unfamiliar with the source material.)

The small budget also hurt the production in other ways. While Wilson has a good eye for beauty and horror, it all just looks too cheap to be believable on the screen. It all looks plastic and cold. Not only that, but the garish music intrudes too much on scenes that should bear a lot more emotion than they do.

The kids do surprisingly well as their characters, but casting Nolan Gould as Timmy seems a bit odd. Doug and Barry are clearly older than Timmy, but they’re all supposed to be the same age. Gould holds his own, though, which is hard to do with Trevor Harker, who plays an intense Barry.

This is a strongly personal book for Keene, considering how much of himself he put into it, and except for the reveal about the Ghoul in the end, the movie is remarkably faithful. There are two parts of the book, however, that did not make it to the screen, and they probably would have earned this movie a third star. First, there is a scene in which Timmy’s father, pissed off that his son isn’t growing up quickly enough to suit him, rips up the kid’s comic book collection. This would have put Timmy a bit more closer to his friends, since he doesn’t suffer as much as they do. Secondly, there is a scene at the very end of the book, which takes place many years later. It would have solidified the theme, and it would have brought a lot of things full circle.

This movie isn’t a waste of time, but it could have been so much better. Yet there is some good Keene news: DARK HOLLOW, one of his strongest books, is in production now. Expect great things to come.

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at www.talesofquestionabletaste.com and www.talesofunspeakabletaste.blogspot.com.
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