DAY 5 OF 31: ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

Published October 5, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Based on H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is about a mad scientists who performs horrifying surgical experiments to transform animals into man-like creatures, with varying degrees of success.

Moreau is played by Charles Laughton with a wicked gleam in his eye, like a devilish schoolboy who can’t hide his pleasure at his own cruelty. There’s something unwholesome and transgressive about Laughton’s Moreau, setting him apart from other mad doctor portrayals.

The Paramount release, a gruesome challange to Universal’s more tasteful horrors, becomes increasingly disturbing as we are afforded glimpses of the pathetic pseudo humans created in Moreau’s “House of Pain” who lurk in the jungle foliage.

Bela Lugosi, heavily made-up and relegated to a supporting role so soon after his starring turn in DRACULA, plays the Sayer of the Law, who leads the other manbeasts in answering the Godlike Moreau as they recite the credo he has taught them.

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MOREAU: What is the Law?

SAYER: Not to run on all fours. That is the law. Are we not men?

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MOREAU: What is the Law?

SAYER: Not to spill blood. That is the law. Are we not men?

A horrified visitor to the island, played by Richard Arlen, falls in love with Lota, the Panther Woman, played by Kathleen Burke. She may be Moreau’s most successful experiment, but the romance is doomed nonetheless.

When Moreau defies his own law by killing one of the man beasts, he is set upon by those he has tortured and maimed. In a climax as horrifying as the one in Todd Browning’s FREAKS, the pathetic creatures drag him into the House of Pain for off-screen poetic justice via impromptu surgery.

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ISLAND OF LOST SOULS was too grim for most viewers, and banned outright in the UK for decades. It stands today as the finest adaptation of Wells’ novel, although Wells himself was horrified at the time of its release and disowned the film. There’s a Criterion Collection Blu Ray/DVD that’s well worth checking out.

UP NEXT:

“Look! He’s all eaten away!”

2 comments on “DAY 5 OF 31: ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

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