'Night of the Ghoul' is a Spooky, Spooky Movie Celebration
We review Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla's latest collaboration and find a rich, provocative fright.
Of the promised Comixology/Best Jackett Press originals, Night of the Ghoul was easily my most anticipated. Scott Snyder plunges back into the horror genre, this time smashing World War I imagery with fabled Hollywood history. Francesco Francavilla, a spooky movie obsessive himself, leans heavily into his passion, delivering some of his finest nostalgia-dipped terrors. Together, these two gave us one of the best Batman stories ever (The Black Mirror, please read if you haven't), not to mention a killer Swamp Thing single ("Arcane's Lullaby"). With such eagerness motivating my first page-turn, a nervous energy rushed through me. Anticipation is the fun-killer and a horrible, unfair way to meet a new narrative.
No need to worry. Night of the Ghoul slays. The comic is a slow stroll into a demented set-up that's doomed to destroy the poor fools trapped within its panels. Snyder and Francavilla seemingly have the time of their lives, layering dread as thick as battle-soaked mud.
Forest Inman pushes his son into a car, and down a dirt road, they travel. They're on the hunt for the infamous filmmaker, T.F. Merritt, and they believe they've found the decrepit old man locked away in a nursing home. Years ago, Merritt directed "Night of the Ghoul," a film that was tragically lost during a storage fire, but its legend only grew with its destruction. Think London After Midnight.
The movie depicts a squad of soldiers and their encounter with a ravenous creature. Inman has uncovered snippets, and he wants to use these frames to convince the bedridden man to give up the ghost. Clearly, the movie was a masterpiece, and its titular monster deserves to stand iconically alongside Dracula and Frankenstein's abomination.
Inman's adoration is cute. Merritt, and we, know his fanboy wants are about to be rewarded in blood. Night of the Ghoul is just getting started with its grotesque history lesson. Whatever knowledge gained will drip from a meaty maw, a mouth belonging to a beast that inspired vampires, werewolves, zombies, and more.
Snyder delights in twisting mythology. Look at his three most recent single issues. We Have Demons splashes in the deep end of religious horror. Clear pokes and prods at both sci-fi futurism and film noir. And Night of the Ghoul celebrates Universal horror movies, the madmen who made them, and the Victorian demons that inspired them. Snyder is crafting a critter for the ages, something that probably won't nab the reverence shared by The Wolf Man or The Creature of the Black Lagoon but could reach the heights of Pumpkinhead. And those that have seen that beautiful beastie know what an incredible compliment that is.
In the first issue, we see the ghoul in shadow, interpreted through cinematic imagination. It's a creepy-crawly for sure, but the comic's true horror rests in Merritt's shriveled glare that contains both fright and anger. Francavilla is a master of EC Comics shock. He absolutely accomplishes the gnarlier creature feature terrors, but it's in the expressions of those watching where the artist truly levels up the scares. In Merrit's blazing scowl, we read the tea leaves. Inman and his son are in trouble, undone by curiosity.
Where Clear and We Have Demons felt like mighty meals, setting a massive spread for the series to devour later, Night of the Ghoul is but a taste. Snyder and Francavilla are just getting started, and I have the impression that this first issue is an appetizer, and a more profound satiation will occur in the upcoming dishes. This comic is not fast food; we're in for a sit. Our journey is like Inman and his son's; we have only a hint of what's to come.
Quickie Review: Night of the Ghoul is another exceptional smash from Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla, and it's exhilarating to ponder where they're going from here. The comic is right at home in the Halloween season and will no doubt send me to my Blu-ray shelves. Maybe James Whale, Tod Browning, and Vincent Price can tide me over until we get the next issue. 9/10
Night of the Ghoul #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist and Colorist: Francesco Francavilla
Letterer: AndWorld Design
On Sale: Now!
Synopsis: Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla have entertained and terrified comic book fans, now these two modern masters of horror collaborate for the first time ever on Night of The Ghoul, a bloody reimagining of horror monsters that celebrates classic creature features, while creating a contemporary new kind of horror story. Shot in 1936, “Night of the Ghoul” by director T.F. Merritt was meant to sit beside “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” as an instant classic. But the legendary film never made it to the silver screen. A mysterious studio fire destroyed the footage and killed the cast and crew at the wrap-party. No footage was ever recovered…until now. When Forest Inman, a horror film obsessive, stumbles across a forgotten canister of footage, he just might have discovered the remnants of “Night of the Ghoul.” This discovery sends Forest on a dark odyssey to the California desert, where he’s warned by a mysterious old man that the film’s ghoul is far more than a work of fiction: it’s a very real monster who plans to kill him. Night of The Ghoul is a dazzling work of horror, intercutting between the present-day narrative and the story of the lost film (drawn by Francavilla in stunning black and white).