Wednesday, January 16, 2013


(December 1932, U.S.)

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, the first film version of H.G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau" is not only widely considered the best version of the original tale (not by me, though), but it also falls perfectly into the category of those great Universal horror films of the Great Depression era. And although the Wells' character of Dr. Moreau himself was never intended to be a rather bloated sort (see Marlon Brando in the horrible 1996 version!), actor Charles Laughton plays him with an irresistible perfection of English charm and diabolical evil.

There is much to be said for classic black and white cinematography here, because it's how the horror of the creatures-gone-wrong and the monsters truly shine and make the film a perfect late night scarefest. Take particular note of Bela Lugosi as the "Sayer of the Law". The makeup looks cheap, of course, by today's 21st Century CGI standards, but open your mind and put yourself in the audience movie seat in the year 1932 and imagine the fright they must have experienced watching the horrors come alive on the screen. Listen with close ears as the entire community of creatures practically chants the phrase, "Back to the House of Pain!" and tell me you don't feel a slight chill up your spine.

I did read Wells' original novel some time ago, but for the life of me, without going back and re-reading it, I honestly can't remember if the character of Lola the Panther Woman (played by Kathleen Burke) exists or not. In this film, she's a very sexy woman who we're meant to believe was once a panther before Dr. Moreau performed his evil experiments on it. In the 1977 film version, the woman Maria exists and isn't indicated in any way to have once been an animal, though anyone with general knowledge of the original story may choose to presume it. In this film, we're not only given the evidence but we even witness Lola's slow conversion back to that of animal when her finger nails begin to grow to an astounding length. When you allow your movie imagination to get the better of you, this is animalistic horror at its finest because there's really no telling what this panther-woman will do to any man who desires her sexually (talk about getting eaten alive by a woman during sex!!).

It's interesting to know that H.G. Wells was still alive when this film was released and was outspoken in his dislike fo the film, claiming the overt horror elements overshadowed the orginal story's deeper philosophies. Author Stephen King expressed a very similar gripe with Stanley Kubrick's 1980 version of THE SHINING. Not that such complaints are not without merit, but just think of at least two great horror films we might not have had if visionary film directors hadn't put in their own two cents.

Favorite line or dialogue:

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

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