GORE IN THE STORE
REVIEWS BY FANS FOR FANS
5 STAR FAB - 1 STAR RUBBISH
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS - ****
However at the time though the BBFC were hard pushed to find anything to admire about ISLAND OF LOST SOULS rejecting it outright upon its original release stating its content was ‘against nature’. In response to this Laughton’s wife, the original BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Elsa Lanchester stated "Of course it's against nature. So's Mickey Mouse!"
The film remained banned in the UK until July 1958 when it was finally released with cuts and awarded an X certificate. Around the time that the travesty that was John Frankenheimer version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU was released in 1996 the cuts made to ISLAND OF LOST SOULS was restored and the film awarded a 12 certificate.
And yet jump forward sixteen years and the once taboo-breaking movie sits nicely in the PG rating category. And the reason for the BBFC’s reluctance to award the movie with a certificate for years was that “There are themes to do with vivisection, animal experimentation and animal hybrids and it looks as though that was regarded as completely beyond the pale in 1933."
If any version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU should be considered ‘against nature’ it would be the aforementioned 1996 movie of the same name that sees the once great Marlon Brando sat with a bucket on his head as the titular doctor and the rampant ego of the never great Val Kilmer putting a further nail in his career coffin.
Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) ends up unceremoniously dumped onto a boat belonging to Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) rather than his expected port of call after being rescued from a shipwreck. Parker soon finds himself a guest of Moreau after being taken to a remote island in the South Seas controlled by the doctor and inhabited by half-man/half animal creatures. Although Parker is promised a boat home the sinister doctor has other plans and intends to keep Parker captive in order to impregnate Lota (Kathleen Burke), a panther woman, and effectively breed the remaining animal out of her.
Parker, and the viewer, soon learns of the horrific scientific experiments the mad doctor is carrying out and in doing so finds an explanation for the man-beasts, led by the Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) that roam the island’s jungles. But wouldn’t you just know it Edward’s fiancée Ruth (Leila Hyams) just has to come along and ruin the diabolical doctor’s plans and possibly an end to those awful experiments that take place in the aptly monikered House of Pain.
Laughton steals this movie; in fact he IS the movie. Well-spoken, genial and impeccably dressed Laughton’s Moreau is a perfect movie monster. Under the surface charm and evident intellect this is one twisted doctor barbaric in his treatment of his ‘subjects’ and fuelled purely by selfish ego. Laughton’s performance is complex and layered his eyes conveying darker thoughts in quieter moments that also give a nod to the violent temperament lurking beneath the veneer. Even when he’s not present on screen Laughton’s presence is felt throughout.
It’s just as well Laughton is on fire as the central coupling of Richard Arlen and Leila Hyams is fairly standard for the Thirties - solid but unremarkable. Hyams plays second fiddle in the female stakes to Kathleen Burke’s Lota, the Panther Woman, whom Moreau is keen to see pair up with Arlen’s character. Found after a national search, the producers wanted an unknown actress in the role. Whilst Burke manages to capture the uncertainty of her character’s situation it again feels like a performance of the time rather than the flash and bombast that Laughton brings elsewhere.
Lugosi, as the Sayer of the Law, was never an actor known for turning in subtle performances and here he speaks in a voice that reminds of one of the funny voices comedian Spike Milligan used many years later. Fact is he never was a particular good actor, he just happened to land the role in Universal’s smash DRACULA and become immortalised in the process. He wasn’t even particularly good in that either.
The make-up work is effective and Moreau’s beasts still freak you out a little. In fact as a whole ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is still damn creepy and aside from the odd creaky performance it completely enthrals and retains some power to shock. It retains an atmosphere of unease and freakiness throughout that belies its age even for those familiar with the story.
In terms of extras there’s a decent retrospective of Laughton from our very own Simon Callow as well as horror critic and historian Jonathan Rigby whom compares the movie to Tod Browning’s FREAKS and underlines the sexual undertones prevalent in the narrative and vibe. Dr. Moreau talks about being God and creating human beings by conducting surgical experiments on animals. What Moreau’s warped mind has failed to grasp is that human being already have a means of replicating without having to crudely alter jungle animals to do so. It’s called sex.
Eureka! Have done their best to present ISLAND OF LOST SOULS in pristine high-definition for the movie’s first ever release on Blu Ray, (it never ever received a UK DVD release), however the age of the print is still apparent and can’t be helped given the age of the movie. Rest assured the occasional blurriness and lack of sharpness to the image does not ruin the viewing experience in fact it enhances the atmosphere and dark shadows that make ISLAND OF LOST SOULS a gothic treat.