Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Erle C. Kenton
1932 • 70 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • Paramount

Cast: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Kathleen Burke
Screenplay: Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie based on the novel by H.G. Wells
Cinematography: Karl Struss

Mr. Parker, do you know what it means to feel like God?


Island of Lost Souls is the first, and best, cinematic interpretation of HG Wells' classic 1896 novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. The film was remade several times, notably in 1977 with Burt Lancaster in the title role and again in 1996 with Marlon Brando headlining in an infamously notorious adaptation.  The story follows the shipwrecked Edward Parker who finds himself on a mysterious uncharted island. Parker soon learns that the island is owned Dr. Moreau, a twisted geneticist who has created half-men, half-beasts for his own amusement and desire to play God. Parker is disgusted by Moreau's lack of humanity and desperately wants to return home, while also conflicted about leaving the "beast men" to be tortured at the hands of their sick creator.  The climax of the film sees a revolt against Moreau in one of Horror cinema's more memorable scenes.

Charles Laughton is the star of the picture here, as the villainous Dr. Moreau.  Laughton at the time was an A-list actor, not far from winning his Academy Award for The Private Life of Henry VIII, so perhaps it is strange to see him in what could be considered a "B-Movie."  However, Laughton's penchant for chewing scenery works to the film's benefit as Dr. Moreau is truly one of the screen's most despicable villains. Like most good villains, Moreau's character does't know he's evil... he's following his own path of righteousness. As the creator of these half-men/half-animals, he sees himself as their just and powerful God. The inhabitants fear him and his House of Pain, the laboratory where he performs his hideous experiments.  When they finally revolt and kill Moreau, they are really killing God. While the film is excellent as is, it would have been fascinating to see the filmmakers tackle the aftermath of the decision of a group of beings killing their creator.

While tame by today's standards, the film was considered graphic in nature in 1932. In fact, the film was banned several times in the United Kingdom, specifically for scenes of the vivisection of the beast men. It was also not very well-received by Wells himself, who objected to the horror elements overshadowing the intent of his story, which was the cruelty to animals and moral responsibility. 

However, the film has been very influential in horror circles, especially in the world of make-up effects.  The film was ahead of its tim in terms of monster make-up, and even 80 years later, the effects remain at a high standard.  Bela Lugosi, in particular, is completely unrecognizable in his role as the "Sayer of Law."

Island of Lost Souls is an essential sci-fi/horror classic with ahead-of-its-time make-up effects and a deliciously twisted movie villain.  

You made us... things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man... part beast! Things!

Watch the complete film below: