Netflix’s Ghoul and Demons of Islamic and Hindu Lore
Do Ghouls, Demons and Sin Eaters Exist? After watching Netflix’s miniseries Ghoul I had to find out.
Earlier this week I recommended Netflix’s horror miniseries Ghoul produced by Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions because the other India/Netflix collaboration Sacred Games was so well done I had very high hopes. Their next foray together a horror miniseries got great early buzz and starred Radhika Apte also of Sacred Games. She was underused but excellent in Sacred Games but was mesmerizing in Ghoul. The trailer looked really promising and the story was interesting. What I got was five billion times better than I expected.
From here on be forewarned there will be spoilers. This series has some serious chops. The setting is wet(dripping, bloody, greasy, slimy-wet), dirty, grimy, and disgusting. The acting, particularly by Apte is fantastic. The demon is effective. The music and sound design bring a real sense of dread to each episode. The story was so much more than just a simple tale of possession. This is a sociopolitical story with literal teeth. The horrors of a government machine left unchecked and our own guilt are just as terrifying as the actual demon. No one gets away unscathed including our protagonist(if you can call her that). The camera and light work is phenomenal. So many shots are pointed directly at a garish light source and the first person POV put you in the seedy Indian Guantanamo Bay. This is a very personal story and it feels that way. Just as everyone is forced to confront their guilt you too will be forced to uncomfortably turn your focus inward.This demon who is never actually named outside of “Ghul” is basically therapist, judge, executioner, and cleaner. He roots out your sins, drives you mad with them, kills you and then eats you. He’s a quadruple threat.
A demon that is summoned to identify guilt and eat the flesh of the guilty is an intriguing idea. Fox’s Sleepy Hollow in season one episode six introduced us to their version in the form of the gloriously creepy John Noble. His was a very cerebral connoisseur where Netflix’s Ghoul is both wily and brutal. The late Heath Ledger snoozer The Order is another take of evil sin eating. Skip this movie as it supremely let down it’s stellar cast. Ghoul’s demon is a successful mashup of The Exorcist’s Mr. Howdy and the vampires from 30 Days of Night. He is crafty, omniscient, shape-shifting, and physically imposing.
Dating prior to the Islamic religion this is a VERY old entity. There is recorded evidence of ghouls in the Arabian religion, early Persia, and Jewish religions. It is derived from Arabic “Ghul” and means monster or demon. This is why the cleric who is brought in early in episode two is so surprised when he begins to translate. The prisoner is speaking an ancient Arabic language. This is an ancient language that the terrorist should not know much less anyone other than a scholar. This flesh eating monster is thought to have derived from Sumeria and Akkadian mythology where they were called Gallus and hid in darkened alleys, cellars, and corners to follow people home, torture them, and then eat their bodies. In addition they were so awful to look at they caused nightmares when around even if not directly looked upon. The series demon caused all sorts of nightmares including ones featuring patricide and dream paralysis. A Jinn of sorts this demon was known to affect children and the weak. Blumhouse is not content with just a simple Jin however, and adds a eerie creep factor with the concept of sin eating. Netflix’s Ghoul is an amalgamation of all the most deadly attributes of these ancient of monsters.
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Sin Eaters have been around in many cultures since the early 1800’s. The first recorded instance is in Southern England. Many believe this tradition is a bastardization of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur and that Jesus Christ himself was the first Sin Eater. Regardless of the true origin this popular last act persisted until the early twentieth century. It was a terrible job. The pay was horrible, the stigma was great, and the perks were nada, but every town had a dedicated Sin Eater and the ritual was fiercely adhered to. Upon a person’s death the Sin Eater was summoned to eat bread and drink beer that had been resting on the deceased absorbing their sins. Once eaten by the official the dead soul could move comfortably into the afterlife unsullied with their lifetime of misdeeds. The poor Sin Eater was effectively shunned until someone else died however, as it was believed once they consumed the sins they also consumed the evil required to do the sinning, in another words they just became worse and worse people the more times they helped the dead. This act was absolutely essential in the journey to Heaven however as without it the deceased was doomed to walk the earth as the undead. Each time the demon is seen divulging guilty secrets and then eating flesh he is sin eating, and he does a lot of eating in this series. The people in Ghoul are all pretty reprehensible and kind of deserve what they get.
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Ghoul was a masterpiece in series horror. It was thought-provoking, scary, timely and well produced. The story although is fairly standard fair feels fresh and creative. The mystery of the elusive and destructive ghoul remains. There has been a bounty of ghouls gone wild (careful in your google searches) sightings caught on tape, and a simple You Tube search will produce hours of grainy content. The series is much greater than its provocative demon however. With an inventive creature leading the charge and a major cliffhanger ending the series the real question is not whether these demons exist but whether or not a season two will happen. With the success of both Sacred Games and now Ghoul and Jason Blum at the helm all signs point to a resounding yes. We will keep you posted, until then if you like demons be sure and watch for our study of The Nuns demon Valak.
As the Television Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.