Island of Lost Souls


1h 10m 1932
Island of Lost Souls

Brief Synopsis

On a remote island, a mad scientist turns wild animals into human monsters.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Adventure
Horror
Adaptation
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Dec 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (London, 1896).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 10m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

Edward Parker, the sole survivor of the S.S. Lady Vain , is rescued by Montgomery on the trading ship S.S. Covena and taken to a South Sea island. There, Captain Davies deposits Edward, along with his shipment of wild animals, at the experimental station of Dr. Moreau, a mad scientist involved in "bio-anthropological research." Moreau's island is inhabited by half-man, half-beasts, who are products of genetic engineering that is meant to alter the evolutionary process of animals through ions, whereby they become men. Moreau has made only one woman, Lota, from a panther, and hopes to mate her with Edward. When Edward discovers Moreau performing an operation on what appears to be a man in his torture chamber, the House of Pain, he tries to escape with Lota. As the couple fends off Moreau's beasts, Moreau strikes a gong and the beasts recite the law of the island, which forbids running on all fours, eating meat, or spilling blood and exonerates Moreau as their maker. Meanwhile, at the seaport of Apia, Edward's fiancée, Ruth Thomas, discovers him missing from the S.S. Covena . The American consul then sends her and Captain Donahue to find him. At Moreau's island, Edward discovers Lota's origins when he kisses her and sees that her fingers have begun degenerating into claws. Moreau then threatens Lota with the House of Pain, in which he previously tortured her to keep her from reverting to a panther; but Montgomery, who heretofore has assisted Moreau as an alternative to jail, refuses to torture Lota. Donahue and Ruth then arrive, and that night, Ouran, one of the beasts, tries to attack her. Forced to leave the island, Donahue braves the jungle of beasts to collect his crew and, at the orders of Moreau, is killed by Ouran. Having broken the law of the man-beasts that forbids the spilling of blood, Moreau is attacked by them and tortured in his own House of Pain. With the help of Montgomery, Ruth and Edward escape, but Lota is killed by a man-beast.

Videos

Movie Clip

Island Of Lost Souls (1932) -- (Movie Clip) Are We Not Men? Accidental guest Parker (Richard Arlen) and Lota (Kathleen Burke), whom he doesn't know is an experimental animal-human hybrid, think they're escaping when they're waylaid by gangs of half-beasts (Bela Lugosi their leader), and Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) arrives to restore order, in Universal's Island Of Lost Souls, 1932.
Island Of Lost Souls (1932) -- (Movie Clip) A Laughing Jackass Paul Hurst as Donahue has the unlucky assignment of escorting Ruth (Leila Hyams), come to find her fiancè Parker (Richard Arlen), on the south sea island where he’s been taken in by mad Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), knowing nothing as yet about his freaky man-beasts and “bio-anthropological research,” in Island Of Lost Souls, 1932.
Island Of Lost Souls (1932) -- (Movie Clip) You Lost A Man South Seas freighter Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) delivering his cargo of animals, contrives to drop off rescued Parker (Richard Allen), whom he dislikes, with his mysterious customer Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) and his strange looking crew, in Universal's Island Of Lost Souls, 1932.
Island Of Lost Souls (1932) -- (Movie Clip) A Man Has Come From The Sea We're only just finding out what Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) is up to on his secret South Seas island, telling crony Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) why he wants his experimental part-ape female Lota (Kathleen Burke) to meet his new captive-guest Parker (Richard Arlen), in Island Of Lost Souls, 1932. from H.G. Wells' The Island Of Dr. Moreau
Island Of Lost Souls (1932) -- (Movie Clip) Strange Looking Natives For now, scientist Moreau (Charles Laughton) is the polite host, forced by circumstances beyond his control to welcome shipwrecked Parker (Richard Arlen), to his private South Seas island, so his comments are circumspect, in Universal’s Island Of Lost Souls, 1932, from an H.G. Wells novel.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Adventure
Horror
Adaptation
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Dec 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (London, 1896).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 10m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Articles

Island of Lost Souls


Banned in England when it first appeared in 1932, Island of Lost Souls is one of the Pre-Code horror films, along with Murders in the Zoo (1933) and Freaks (1933), that helped hasten the creation of Hollywood's self-censorship board headed by Joseph Ignatius Breen and strictly enforced by 1934. It wasn't well received by most film reviewers at the time either - many were repulsed by its disturbing imagery - but today it is generally considered the best screen adaptation of the H.G. Wells' novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Wells hated the movie because it changed Moreau from a well-intentioned visionary to a sadistic tyrant but the thematic concept of man playing God and trying to alter the course of nature was strikingly presented in the guise of a mad scientist thriller.

Filmed on location on Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, the film opens as Edward Parker (Richard Arlen), the sole survivor of a shipwreck, is deposited along with a shipment of wild animals on the private island of Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), where he will catch the next freighter out. The island is inhabited by strange creatures, half man, half beast, the results of Moreau's "bio-anthropological research." It is the doctor's theory that just as man evolved from a lower species, animals can evolve into humans, through experimental skin grafting. Moreau's attempts to speed up the evolution process, however, are anything but humane and rendered through painful surgical procedures on the animals. It is also a way to control and dominate their savage impulses which are kept in check by group recitations of Moreau's commandments led by the "Sayer of the Law" (Bela Lugosi). Moreau also has an ulterior motive for wanting to keep Parker on the island. He plans to "mate" him with the exotic Lota (Kathleen Burke), a female panther in human form, and produce the first animal-human offspring. But Moreau's reign of cruelty, already on the verge of collapse, starts to unravel with the arrival of Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) and Parker's fiancée Ruth (Leila Hyams) who have arrived to bring the missing seaman home.

The pre-production on Island of Lost Souls included a talent search contest for the role of "The Panther Woman." The winner, Kathleen Burke, also received a free five-week stay at the glamorous Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. For the role of Moreau, however, no contest was needed. Charles Laughton, the brilliant and versatile British actor, had already made his mark in Hollywood as Nero in Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932) and Island of Lost Souls, made the same year, was his fifth U.S. production. As Moreau, Laughton created one of the great horror film archetypes, which as the Herald Tribune later described it, was "an engaging combination of child, madman and genius," but his actual appearance was inspired by an unlikely source, according to writer Arthur Lennig. "With his little turf of beard, thin mustache, and soft, almost infantile face, Laughton modeled his makeup on an eye specialist he had visited several times." (from The Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi). As for Moreau's skill at handling a whip, that came from Laughton's training with a London street performer for a previous stage play.

Wally Westmore's extraordinary makeup for the half-human creatures was the talk of the Paramount lot and created quite a stir among the studio personnel during the early stages of production when the extras would take breaks and stroll around in all of their hairy glory. "I remember each horror and monster had more hair than the one before," Laughton recalled. "Hair was all over the place. I was dreaming of hair. I even thought I had hair in my food." Hiding underneath the mounds of hair were up-and-coming actors Alan Ladd and Randolph Scott though Bela Lugosi in the pivotal role of the "Sayer of the Law" is much more recognizable. His scenes with Moreau and his fellow creatures feature the film's most memorable dialogue, as emblematic and unforgettable as the chanting chorus of freaks - "One of us, one of us" - in the wedding party sequence from Tod Browning's 1932 classic. It was obviously an inspiration for Devo's first album as well - "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!" (1976) - but was, in fact, not completely original. Wells was actually paraphrasing the song of the Bandarlog, the monkey people who figure prominently in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling:

The Sayer: Not to run on all fours. That is the law. Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
Chorus: Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
The Sayer: Not to spill blood. That is the law. Are we not men?
Chorus: Are we not men?

Other than the time-consuming task of applying makeup to the actors, the actual filming of Island of Lost Souls went smoothly though there was one near-tragic accident when one of the man-beasts (stuntman Joe Bonomo who was Lon Chaney's stunt double in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1923) fell into a water tank and his foam rubber costume quickly absorbed a lot of liquid, almost drowning him in the process.

During the theatrical release of Island of Lost Souls, horror film fans enthusiastically endorsed the movie. Variety, in its distinctive showbiz lingo, predicted a hit: "Paramount will make money with this picture, and so will every exhibitor, including the first big runs, who pays some attention to its exploitation. Literally the proper title is "Island of Lost Freaks." It is decidedly a freak picture. But it is not in the class of freaks which have lost money." As previously noted though, most reviewers were hesitant to recommend the film due to its disturbing sexual undertones in the Lota-Parker relationship and the unrelenting sadism which is recurrent in the vivisection experiments. The horrific climax, in which Moreau is captured and dragged off to the "House of Pain" by his vengeful creations, welding surgical tools, has the intensity of a nightmare and retains its full power even today.

Many have since tried to remake the Wells novel on film but no one has yet to improve upon this 1932 version directed by Erle C. Kenton and photographed by the great Karl Struss, who shared an Oscar® with Charles Rosher for their work on Sunrise in 1927. Among the many versions are a 1913 silent French film, lle d'Epouvante (The Island of Terror), the 1959 Philippine horror Terror Is a Man (aka Blood Creature), Don Taylor's 1977 version The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Burt Lancaster, Michael York and featuring the makeup effects of John Chambers (Planet of the Apes, 1968), and the disastrous 1996 remake by John Frankenheimer which was plagued by behind-the-scenes difficulties, some of them caused by Marlon Brando and his co-star Val Kilmer. And, of course, other horror/sci-fi films have borrowed liberally from the Wells story such as the loopy 1973 Twilight People, directed by Eddie Romero with Pam Grier as the panther woman, and Sergio Martino's Island of Mutations (1979), starring Barbara Bach and Richard Johnson, which was later re-edited with new footage added and released as Screamers in the U.S.

Director: Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay: Waldemar Young, Philip Wylie, H.G. Wells (novel)
Cinematography: Karl Struss
Art Direction: Hans Dreier
Music: Arthur Johnston, Sigmund Krumgold
Cast: Charles Laughton (Dr. Moreau), Richard Arlen (Edward Parker), Leila Hyams (Ruth Thomas), Bela Lugosi (Sayer of the Law), Kathleen Burke (Lota the Panther Woman), Arthur Hohl (Montgomery).
BW-71m.

by Jeff Stafford

Sources:
The Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi by Arthur Lennig
www.afi.com
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies by Phil Hardy

Island Of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls

Banned in England when it first appeared in 1932, Island of Lost Souls is one of the Pre-Code horror films, along with Murders in the Zoo (1933) and Freaks (1933), that helped hasten the creation of Hollywood's self-censorship board headed by Joseph Ignatius Breen and strictly enforced by 1934. It wasn't well received by most film reviewers at the time either - many were repulsed by its disturbing imagery - but today it is generally considered the best screen adaptation of the H.G. Wells' novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Wells hated the movie because it changed Moreau from a well-intentioned visionary to a sadistic tyrant but the thematic concept of man playing God and trying to alter the course of nature was strikingly presented in the guise of a mad scientist thriller. Filmed on location on Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, the film opens as Edward Parker (Richard Arlen), the sole survivor of a shipwreck, is deposited along with a shipment of wild animals on the private island of Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), where he will catch the next freighter out. The island is inhabited by strange creatures, half man, half beast, the results of Moreau's "bio-anthropological research." It is the doctor's theory that just as man evolved from a lower species, animals can evolve into humans, through experimental skin grafting. Moreau's attempts to speed up the evolution process, however, are anything but humane and rendered through painful surgical procedures on the animals. It is also a way to control and dominate their savage impulses which are kept in check by group recitations of Moreau's commandments led by the "Sayer of the Law" (Bela Lugosi). Moreau also has an ulterior motive for wanting to keep Parker on the island. He plans to "mate" him with the exotic Lota (Kathleen Burke), a female panther in human form, and produce the first animal-human offspring. But Moreau's reign of cruelty, already on the verge of collapse, starts to unravel with the arrival of Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) and Parker's fiancée Ruth (Leila Hyams) who have arrived to bring the missing seaman home. The pre-production on Island of Lost Souls included a talent search contest for the role of "The Panther Woman." The winner, Kathleen Burke, also received a free five-week stay at the glamorous Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. For the role of Moreau, however, no contest was needed. Charles Laughton, the brilliant and versatile British actor, had already made his mark in Hollywood as Nero in Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932) and Island of Lost Souls, made the same year, was his fifth U.S. production. As Moreau, Laughton created one of the great horror film archetypes, which as the Herald Tribune later described it, was "an engaging combination of child, madman and genius," but his actual appearance was inspired by an unlikely source, according to writer Arthur Lennig. "With his little turf of beard, thin mustache, and soft, almost infantile face, Laughton modeled his makeup on an eye specialist he had visited several times." (from The Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi). As for Moreau's skill at handling a whip, that came from Laughton's training with a London street performer for a previous stage play. Wally Westmore's extraordinary makeup for the half-human creatures was the talk of the Paramount lot and created quite a stir among the studio personnel during the early stages of production when the extras would take breaks and stroll around in all of their hairy glory. "I remember each horror and monster had more hair than the one before," Laughton recalled. "Hair was all over the place. I was dreaming of hair. I even thought I had hair in my food." Hiding underneath the mounds of hair were up-and-coming actors Alan Ladd and Randolph Scott though Bela Lugosi in the pivotal role of the "Sayer of the Law" is much more recognizable. His scenes with Moreau and his fellow creatures feature the film's most memorable dialogue, as emblematic and unforgettable as the chanting chorus of freaks - "One of us, one of us" - in the wedding party sequence from Tod Browning's 1932 classic. It was obviously an inspiration for Devo's first album as well - "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!" (1976) - but was, in fact, not completely original. Wells was actually paraphrasing the song of the Bandarlog, the monkey people who figure prominently in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: The Sayer: Not to run on all fours. That is the law. Are we not men? Moreau: What is the law?

Island of Lost Souls - Charles Laughton in the 1932 Horror Classic, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS


Horror movies flourished in the brief Pre-Code era, before the enforcement of the Production Code strictly forbade filmic content outside a narrow range of public taste. Just the same, Hollywood's horrors faced stiff censorship on the local level. Frankenstein was considered by many to be high blasphemy, and Dracula was criticized as encouraging an unhealthy interest in the occult. MGM misjudged the public with Tod Browning's Freaks, which dared to place on the silver screen human oddities viewable at any carnival.

The most intellectually disturbing taboo-breaker of the Pre-Code horrors is Paramount's Island of Lost Souls, from H.G. Wells' "scientific romance" novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Wells' darkly satirical story imagines the ideas of Charles Darwin applied to a truly monstrous project: the surgical conversion of animals into humans. Wells' fanciful extrapolation presumes that all species are evolving toward the human form. Dr. Moreau accelerates the process by vivisecting animals in his horrifying "House of Pain."

Writer Waldemar Young had scripted some of Tod Browning's most disturbing Lon Chaney Pictures. The prolific, opinionated Philip Wylie wrote the supremely sadistic horror film Murders in the Zoo and co-authored the apocalyptic novel When Worlds Collide. Their screen adaptation retains H.G. Wells' narrative setup of a marooned shipwreck survivor who encounters an island populated by frightening "beast folk". What's more, it expands on the book's mix of sex and horror. Paramount's spine-chiller must have given the puritans at the Code Office apoplexy.

Somewhere in the South Seas, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) runs afoul of a belligerent sea captain (Stanley Fields) and is dumped on the island doorstep of the reclusive Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). Alarmed by the strangely misshapen islanders and the screams echoing from Moreau's operating theater, Parker soon discovers that the natives are all former animals -- dogs, pigs, lions -- that have been scientifically "evolved". Wandering into the jungle, Parker hears The Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) lead the beast men in wailing chants about the Doctor's fearful House of Pain. Aided by his alcoholic assistant Mr. Montgomery (Arthur Hohl), Moreau must repeat his surgical horror sessions to prevent his creations from reverting to their original forms. The latest addition to the grotesque menagerie is Lota, a Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke). The Doctor obsesses over the idea of mating her with the handsome new arrival, to determine if Lota is indeed "fully a woman". While Parker tries to make sense of the unnatural happenings all around him, his fiancée Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams of Freaks) prevails upon the authorities to send a rescue ship. What will Moreau do when they arrive?

The nightmarish Island of Lost Souls packs a surfeit of delirious, dangerous ideas into its seventy minutes. Charles Laughton's haughty, self-satisfied Moreau is a horror unto himself, a monstrous egotist so enamored of his talents that he proudly claims to be beating God at his own game. His creations lurk and loiter silently in the background at all times. Some are monstrous, with grossly distorted features. M'ling (Tetsu Komai) is described as a faithful dog, while the hulking, grinning Ouran (originally an orangutan?) eagerly obeys Moreau's instructions to kill: "I want you to lay your hands on that man." Charles Laughton's skill with a bullwhip lends gravity to the scenes in which he intimidates his miserable creations, presenting himself as a white-suited unforgiving deity.

The uncanny beast men are doubly unnerving. They express the obsolete but persistent racist notion that people from dominant Anglo cultures are fully developed, and that "natives" are something lower on the evolutionary scale. The creatures in Moreau's monstrous kingdom are a horrid reflection of the colonial attitude. They are accepted only to the extent that they grovel at the feet of their white master and obey his hypocritical laws. Although relegated to the brief role of the Sayer, Bela Lugosi's powerful performance conveys the agony of the downtrodden, the unworthy subjected to Hell on Earth. "What are we?" he wails, "Not men... not beasts... Things!" Like the key Depression fantasy King Kong, Island of Lost Souls suggests that the abused and exploited Third World will rise up to strike back at guilty colonial masters.

Almost every scene introduces a new outrage to the Production Code. We learn that Mr. Montgomery was a doctor expelled from decent society for unnamed "indiscretions". Lota the Panther Woman follows the convention of the darkly exotic tropical maiden that offers herself to the white hero, only to sacrifice herself to prove her love. Moreau's perverse matchmaking flirts with the taboo notion of bestiality. Is Lota's demure interest in Parker a human quality, or is it a mask for the animalistic desires of a feral jungle cat? The writers must have gotten a chuckle out of their play with the recurring theme in pre-feminist fiction, that defines women as unknowable, mysterious beings ruled by instinctual emotions. Moreau interrupts the love scene, dragging Lota to the window to examine her claw-like fingernails: "It's that stubborn beast-flesh creeping back again!" If that's not enough to shock the bluenoses, the screenplay then has Moreau encourage the swarthy monster Ouran to rape Miss Thomas. Moreau will conclude his scandalous crossbreeding experiment one way or another.

Erle C. Kenton's sensitive direction handles the film's weirdness in fine style, juggling mordant comedy and extremes of terror. Although the movie is thankfully free of overt comedy relief, Laughton's impishly eccentric performance is certainly amusing, and sea captain Paul Hurst occasionally sounds as if he's doing a W.C. Fields impression. The suspense scenes make the biggest impression, as when Ouran breaks into Ruth's bedroom by slowly, silently loosening a window bar. Kenton's cinematographer is the superb Karl Struss, the cameraman of Murnau's Sunrise and Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The moody shipboard scenes were filmed in the open sea, and the main set doubles as an actual zoo, with real jungle cats in their cages. As they contemplate escape, Parker and Ruth are framed by expressionistic shadows on the compound wall. The scenes at the beast men's encampment are edited to give quick impressions of horrifying make-ups. A montage of monsters chanting as they approach the camera still causes some viewers to recoil. Wally Westmore's remarkably effective makeup for the Sayer of the Law has the appearance of a crazed wolf man, but those wild eyes and contorted hands could only be Bela Lugosi's.

Technically, the Mad Moreau's genetic experiments categorize this show as science fiction. Moreau is neither an alchemist nor a mere transplanter of brains, although we do hear some hurried exposition about a radium ray that "accelerates the process of evolution". The Doctor regards his tortured beast men as laboratory specimens existing only to prove his theories. The final frenzy of Island of Lost Souls is pure medical horror. Bestial claws and paws smash a gleaming glass case, seize Moreau's chromium scalpels, and prepare to give him a dose of his own medicine. Charles Laughton's moan of shocked disbelief, rising to a strangled scream, is unforgettable. Once upon a time, screen horror was high art.

Criterion's Blu-ray of Island of Lost Souls is a welcome surprise, as the Collection has gone to great pains to restore what was almost a lost film. When Paramount sold its pre-1948 library to MCA in the late 1950s, the vault inventory was pared down to just one or two duplicate copies per title, sometimes only in versions censored for reissue. Island was considered unprintable. Criterion patched the film together using several sources, including an uncut nitrate screening print held by the UCLA Archives. A couple of Richard Arlen's dialogue lines appear in this presentation for the first time on home video.

The resulting HD transfer and digital restoration is very good, with clear audio and an image that retains the look of nitrate original prints. Some scratches are present and a few scenes have more grain than others, especially those filmed in thick fog. Karl Struss used heavy diffusion filters for the bright day scenes, while the jungle nights in Moreau's compound reflect Paramount's "house style" influenced by the glamorous visuals of Joseph von Sternberg. The clarity of HD gives us an excellent opportunity to examine the marvelous Westmore makeup designs. No two of the beast men look alike but all are recognizably human, making them sympathetic as well as repulsive: "What is the Law?" " Are we not men!?"

The absence of an overall music score adds immeasurably to the film's impact: without a soundtrack to cue conventional responses, we must formulate our own reactions to the disturbing action on screen.

Criterion's disc producer Susan Arosteguy lines up qualified horror experts for the disc extras. Historian and author Gregory William Mank's commentary goes into exacting detail on the production, citing actor salaries and the woes that befell the film in distribution. Many individual state and city censor boards ordered extensive cuts, and the movie broke a record for the number of foreign countries where it was banned. In a new featurette director John Landis, makeup man Rick Baker and monster-maker and collector Bob Burns evaluate the film's unique creature-creations. Burns and Baker also remark on the career of Charles Gemora, a legendary gorilla and monster suit specialist. Author David J. Skall offers his thoughts and theories in another interview featurette, and director Richard Stanley discusses his troubled experience working on the dismal 1996 remake starring Marlon Brando. Music fans may be amused by interviews with two founding members of the rock group Devo, which fashioned a signature identity around Island's beast man chants. A short 1976 film by Devo is included as well.

An original trailer captures the film's highpoints, reminding us how shocking it must have seemed to audiences of 1932. The stills section contains an interesting alternate makeup for Bela Lugosi, and a selection of beast man portraits. One disturbing horror-face not seen in the movie resembles a scrambled Picasso portrait. The insert booklet offers an insightful essay by writer Christine Smallwood. Criterion's Island of Lost Souls is a godsend to horror fans and a significant restoration of an underappreciated classic. It's the most exotic vintage disc release of the year so far.

For more information about Island of Lost Souls, visit Criterion Collection. To order Island of Lost Souls, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Island of Lost Souls - Charles Laughton in the 1932 Horror Classic, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS

Horror movies flourished in the brief Pre-Code era, before the enforcement of the Production Code strictly forbade filmic content outside a narrow range of public taste. Just the same, Hollywood's horrors faced stiff censorship on the local level. Frankenstein was considered by many to be high blasphemy, and Dracula was criticized as encouraging an unhealthy interest in the occult. MGM misjudged the public with Tod Browning's Freaks, which dared to place on the silver screen human oddities viewable at any carnival. The most intellectually disturbing taboo-breaker of the Pre-Code horrors is Paramount's Island of Lost Souls, from H.G. Wells' "scientific romance" novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Wells' darkly satirical story imagines the ideas of Charles Darwin applied to a truly monstrous project: the surgical conversion of animals into humans. Wells' fanciful extrapolation presumes that all species are evolving toward the human form. Dr. Moreau accelerates the process by vivisecting animals in his horrifying "House of Pain." Writer Waldemar Young had scripted some of Tod Browning's most disturbing Lon Chaney Pictures. The prolific, opinionated Philip Wylie wrote the supremely sadistic horror film Murders in the Zoo and co-authored the apocalyptic novel When Worlds Collide. Their screen adaptation retains H.G. Wells' narrative setup of a marooned shipwreck survivor who encounters an island populated by frightening "beast folk". What's more, it expands on the book's mix of sex and horror. Paramount's spine-chiller must have given the puritans at the Code Office apoplexy. Somewhere in the South Seas, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) runs afoul of a belligerent sea captain (Stanley Fields) and is dumped on the island doorstep of the reclusive Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). Alarmed by the strangely misshapen islanders and the screams echoing from Moreau's operating theater, Parker soon discovers that the natives are all former animals -- dogs, pigs, lions -- that have been scientifically "evolved". Wandering into the jungle, Parker hears The Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) lead the beast men in wailing chants about the Doctor's fearful House of Pain. Aided by his alcoholic assistant Mr. Montgomery (Arthur Hohl), Moreau must repeat his surgical horror sessions to prevent his creations from reverting to their original forms. The latest addition to the grotesque menagerie is Lota, a Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke). The Doctor obsesses over the idea of mating her with the handsome new arrival, to determine if Lota is indeed "fully a woman". While Parker tries to make sense of the unnatural happenings all around him, his fiancée Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams of Freaks) prevails upon the authorities to send a rescue ship. What will Moreau do when they arrive? The nightmarish Island of Lost Souls packs a surfeit of delirious, dangerous ideas into its seventy minutes. Charles Laughton's haughty, self-satisfied Moreau is a horror unto himself, a monstrous egotist so enamored of his talents that he proudly claims to be beating God at his own game. His creations lurk and loiter silently in the background at all times. Some are monstrous, with grossly distorted features. M'ling (Tetsu Komai) is described as a faithful dog, while the hulking, grinning Ouran (originally an orangutan?) eagerly obeys Moreau's instructions to kill: "I want you to lay your hands on that man." Charles Laughton's skill with a bullwhip lends gravity to the scenes in which he intimidates his miserable creations, presenting himself as a white-suited unforgiving deity. The uncanny beast men are doubly unnerving. They express the obsolete but persistent racist notion that people from dominant Anglo cultures are fully developed, and that "natives" are something lower on the evolutionary scale. The creatures in Moreau's monstrous kingdom are a horrid reflection of the colonial attitude. They are accepted only to the extent that they grovel at the feet of their white master and obey his hypocritical laws. Although relegated to the brief role of the Sayer, Bela Lugosi's powerful performance conveys the agony of the downtrodden, the unworthy subjected to Hell on Earth. "What are we?" he wails, "Not men... not beasts... Things!" Like the key Depression fantasy King Kong, Island of Lost Souls suggests that the abused and exploited Third World will rise up to strike back at guilty colonial masters. Almost every scene introduces a new outrage to the Production Code. We learn that Mr. Montgomery was a doctor expelled from decent society for unnamed "indiscretions". Lota the Panther Woman follows the convention of the darkly exotic tropical maiden that offers herself to the white hero, only to sacrifice herself to prove her love. Moreau's perverse matchmaking flirts with the taboo notion of bestiality. Is Lota's demure interest in Parker a human quality, or is it a mask for the animalistic desires of a feral jungle cat? The writers must have gotten a chuckle out of their play with the recurring theme in pre-feminist fiction, that defines women as unknowable, mysterious beings ruled by instinctual emotions. Moreau interrupts the love scene, dragging Lota to the window to examine her claw-like fingernails: "It's that stubborn beast-flesh creeping back again!" If that's not enough to shock the bluenoses, the screenplay then has Moreau encourage the swarthy monster Ouran to rape Miss Thomas. Moreau will conclude his scandalous crossbreeding experiment one way or another. Erle C. Kenton's sensitive direction handles the film's weirdness in fine style, juggling mordant comedy and extremes of terror. Although the movie is thankfully free of overt comedy relief, Laughton's impishly eccentric performance is certainly amusing, and sea captain Paul Hurst occasionally sounds as if he's doing a W.C. Fields impression. The suspense scenes make the biggest impression, as when Ouran breaks into Ruth's bedroom by slowly, silently loosening a window bar. Kenton's cinematographer is the superb Karl Struss, the cameraman of Murnau's Sunrise and Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The moody shipboard scenes were filmed in the open sea, and the main set doubles as an actual zoo, with real jungle cats in their cages. As they contemplate escape, Parker and Ruth are framed by expressionistic shadows on the compound wall. The scenes at the beast men's encampment are edited to give quick impressions of horrifying make-ups. A montage of monsters chanting as they approach the camera still causes some viewers to recoil. Wally Westmore's remarkably effective makeup for the Sayer of the Law has the appearance of a crazed wolf man, but those wild eyes and contorted hands could only be Bela Lugosi's. Technically, the Mad Moreau's genetic experiments categorize this show as science fiction. Moreau is neither an alchemist nor a mere transplanter of brains, although we do hear some hurried exposition about a radium ray that "accelerates the process of evolution". The Doctor regards his tortured beast men as laboratory specimens existing only to prove his theories. The final frenzy of Island of Lost Souls is pure medical horror. Bestial claws and paws smash a gleaming glass case, seize Moreau's chromium scalpels, and prepare to give him a dose of his own medicine. Charles Laughton's moan of shocked disbelief, rising to a strangled scream, is unforgettable. Once upon a time, screen horror was high art. Criterion's Blu-ray of Island of Lost Souls is a welcome surprise, as the Collection has gone to great pains to restore what was almost a lost film. When Paramount sold its pre-1948 library to MCA in the late 1950s, the vault inventory was pared down to just one or two duplicate copies per title, sometimes only in versions censored for reissue. Island was considered unprintable. Criterion patched the film together using several sources, including an uncut nitrate screening print held by the UCLA Archives. A couple of Richard Arlen's dialogue lines appear in this presentation for the first time on home video. The resulting HD transfer and digital restoration is very good, with clear audio and an image that retains the look of nitrate original prints. Some scratches are present and a few scenes have more grain than others, especially those filmed in thick fog. Karl Struss used heavy diffusion filters for the bright day scenes, while the jungle nights in Moreau's compound reflect Paramount's "house style" influenced by the glamorous visuals of Joseph von Sternberg. The clarity of HD gives us an excellent opportunity to examine the marvelous Westmore makeup designs. No two of the beast men look alike but all are recognizably human, making them sympathetic as well as repulsive: "What is the Law?" " Are we not men!?" The absence of an overall music score adds immeasurably to the film's impact: without a soundtrack to cue conventional responses, we must formulate our own reactions to the disturbing action on screen. Criterion's disc producer Susan Arosteguy lines up qualified horror experts for the disc extras. Historian and author Gregory William Mank's commentary goes into exacting detail on the production, citing actor salaries and the woes that befell the film in distribution. Many individual state and city censor boards ordered extensive cuts, and the movie broke a record for the number of foreign countries where it was banned. In a new featurette director John Landis, makeup man Rick Baker and monster-maker and collector Bob Burns evaluate the film's unique creature-creations. Burns and Baker also remark on the career of Charles Gemora, a legendary gorilla and monster suit specialist. Author David J. Skall offers his thoughts and theories in another interview featurette, and director Richard Stanley discusses his troubled experience working on the dismal 1996 remake starring Marlon Brando. Music fans may be amused by interviews with two founding members of the rock group Devo, which fashioned a signature identity around Island's beast man chants. A short 1976 film by Devo is included as well. An original trailer captures the film's highpoints, reminding us how shocking it must have seemed to audiences of 1932. The stills section contains an interesting alternate makeup for Bela Lugosi, and a selection of beast man portraits. One disturbing horror-face not seen in the movie resembles a scrambled Picasso portrait. The insert booklet offers an insightful essay by writer Christine Smallwood. Criterion's Island of Lost Souls is a godsend to horror fans and a significant restoration of an underappreciated classic. It's the most exotic vintage disc release of the year so far. For more information about Island of Lost Souls, visit Criterion Collection. To order Island of Lost Souls, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

What is the law?
- Dr. Moreau
Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
- Sayer of the Law
Are we not men?
- Beasts (in unison)
What is the law?
- Dr. Moreau
Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?
- Sayer of the Law

Trivia

One of the film's uncredited actors, Joe Bonomo, nearly drowned during filming. He fell into a water tank and the foam rubber in his costume soaked up water, causing him to sink.

Joe Bonomo who starred as one of the man-beasts was also Lon Chaney's stunt double in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923).

This was Charles Laughton's first starring role in a U.S. film.

Charles Laughton claimed that he based his Dr. Moreau appearance on that of his dentist.

Charles Laughton already knew how to use a whip. He learned to use one for a previous stage role. His teacher was a London street performer.

Notes

On the opening title card, the following cast credits appear: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi "and The Panther Woman." A later cast list in the opening credits includes actress Kathleen Burke's name following Lugosi's. In the end credits, Burke is identified as "The Panther Woman." According to a October 1, 1932 Hollywood Reporter news item, Burke won the Paramount "Panther Woman" contest and was awarded a role in this film, as well as five weeks' accommodations at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
       The Island of Lost Souls was shot on location on Catalina Island, CA. The opening titles for this film were cleared from the screen by ocean waves. According to modern sources, the film was officially banned in England for being "against the laws of nature." A modern source credits Wally Westmore with makeup. H. G. Wells' story was the basis of the 1913 silent French film Ile d'Epouvante (The Island of Terror), and the 1959 New Realm film Terror Is a Man (also known as Blood Creature), directed by Gerry DeLeon and starring Francis Lederer and Greta Thyssen. There was a 1977 by American International Pictures adaptation released under the title The Island of Dr. Moreau, directed by Don Taylor and starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York. A 1996 New Line version, released under the same title, was directed by John Frankenheimer and starred Marlon Brando as "Dr. Moreau" and Val Kilmer as "Montgomery."

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1933

Released in United States April 1981

Released in United States March 1975

Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Scared to Death": Horror Movie Marathon) April 2-23, 1981.)

Released in United States 1933

Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)