"The fear within Daphne was mounting by the second."
And with that, we're off on the thrillride of a lunchtime. At 128 pages of generously proportioned print, this could almost qualify as an 'easy reader'. My kind of book!
I won't spend too much time going through the plot of this because you've probably seen the film anyway and if you haven't, well, there's really not that much of a plot anyway. Basically it's sometime after the First World War and we've got four bright young things; Billy and Geoffrey, who are fairly ineffectual; Billy's sister, Angela, who's headstrong and whiney; and the aforementioned Daphne, who's also headstrong but less whiney. In fact, the girl has spirit! Which, before too long, is going to get them all into trouble. If not eaten. Their troubles begin when Daphne has the bright idea of driving to Land's End, in the middle of the night, after the best part of a case of Champagne. Before long, Angela's being sick in a ditch and Daphne and Billy are lost on Dartmoor in the fog.
Things move along briskly enough for the first 20 or so pages, but it's with the appearance of John Hurt in chapter 3 that things really start to pick up. I say John Hurt because The Ghoul really is a 'book of the film' if ever I read one. Smith rarely strays too far away from the script and makes no real effort to flesh out the characters, so you're left with little choice but to imagine the film playing out in your head. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing, I was just a bit disappointed that it took 3 chapters to dawn on me, when I could have been spending the previous 20 pages imagining Veronica Carlson and Alexandra Bastedo.
Billy wanders vaguely off to look for petrol and only appears one more time, in a brief altercation with a steep precipice. This leaves Daphne alone and at the mercy of John Hurt, and provides us with the book's first real 'trash fiction' moment. You couldn't accuse Guy of trying to 'sex up' this one (the most erotic moment is Daphne loosening her coat) but he does approach the intermittent blood-letting with a certain amount of gusto;
"The bloody mangled pulp that had once been a living human being."
This is what we want - bloody mangled pulp.
Meanwhile, daring Daphne has met Peter Cushing, a lapsed clergyman who's lost his wife and son to a blasphemous Indian cult and does a bit of violining in his spare time. Cushing's character, Mr. Lawrence, doesn't have a great deal about him but it's a solid enough performance, as you might expect from an imaginary Peter Cushing. Perhaps the strongest character - apart from John Hurt's turn as the fuck-witted Tom Rawlings - is Lawrence's housekeeper, referred to only as the Ayah (it means 'nurse' in Hindi. Come on, even Daphne knew that!). The Ayah pretty much dominates the proceedings, moreso than Lawrence or Tom Hurt or even Don Henderson's titular Ghoul when he finally puts in an appearance, although she rarely speaks and most of what she does say is in Hindi (and so apparently not important). It's a particularly impressive performance, all the more impressive because I couldn't even remember who played her in the film.
Anyway Daphne gets stabbed to death and eaten. Which is no bad thing if you ask me because she was starting to get on my nerves a bit, if I'm honest. Actually this is another good part;
"He continued to mutilate her, hacking at the tender flesh, cutting through the bones with ease. Only when she was a heap of partially dismembered bloody joints did he stop."
(That reminds me, I must buy some chops)
Eventually Geoffrey and Angela turn up and the whole palaver starts all over again. Except Geoffrey is made of somewhat sterner stuff than Billy, and it takes him most of the rest of the book to end up with a ceremonial dagger embedded in his forehead. Angela Bastedo even lives to whine another day, but it can't have been easy for the poor girl having to witness the last few pages when it all kicks off and the bodies start piling up like some Shakespearean tragedy set around Tesco's meat counter;
"Blood and brains spilled out on to the floor. The knife was plunged down into the corpse yet again, this time twisting and squelching in the soft abdominal area. The ghoul paused... slowly, purposefully, the dagger dripping with blood and entrails, he began to shuffle towards Angela..."
The writing is serviceable for the most part, some of it very promising, but much of it might have been written by anyone. There are only a few occasions where it's unmistakably the Guy Smith writing this. Most of these involve descriptions of wildlife. Some work well while others, such as the bluebottle's eye view of events we get sometimes, are less succesful;
"It didn't like that woman at all. She was evil! She enjoyed death almost as much as the buzz-fly itself did."
The other dead giveaway is the odd 'Smithism' of the "There could be no doubt whatsoever. She had given birth to the son of the werewolf!" variety, although nothing really approaching that sort of quality;
"She must get away, in the opposite direction..." (Usually the best approach to getting away, I've found.)
"Daphne clutched at her throat. God! To what inhuman creature did those feet belong?"
The Ghoul is a perfectly good read. It's pretty much what it says it is; a novelisation "from the film 'The Ghoul', a Tyburn production", except that the copy of the script they sent to Guy seems to have been previously used to wrap mince because I don't remember there being quite so much blood everywhere.
Classic stuff, Mr. S - thank you for sharing! "Daphne clutched at her throat. God! To what inhuman creature did those feet belong?" has to be the most chilling line i've read in my life. You might have given us a scary warning!
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.