Monday, October 31, 2011

#441. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Directed By: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen

Tag line: "TERROR! Stalked the Brush-Choked Island...Where Men Who Were Animals Sought the Girl Who Was All-Human!"

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

Based on H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of Lost Souls is a fascinating motion picture, released at a time when the horror genre was taking Hollywood by storm. While it is similar in some ways to the classic Universal monster movies of this era, Island of Lost Souls still manages to stand apart from the rest. 

Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is the only survivor of a shipwreck. Rescued by a passing freighter, Parker eventually angers the ship's captain (Paul Hurst), who, instead of taking him to the nearest port, drops Parker off on a remote South Seas island, where the mysterious scientist Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) resides. 

Moreau is not alone, however; also on the island are a race of beasts the scientist himself created in his laboratory. Chief among them is the lovely Lota (Kathleen Burke), also known as the Panther woman. Hoping to prove Lota is as "human" as any other female, Moreau attempts to lure Parker into mating with her. But his horrified guest will have none of it, and instead tries to escape the island so he can return home and marry his fiancee (Leila Hyams). 

Like Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein, both of which debuted the previous year, Island of Lost Souls weaves a tale of humanoid monsters. But where the creatures were the primary source of chaos and horror in the two earlier films, in Island of Lost Souls, they are the victims. One key scene has Parker rushing in to Moreau's lab to investigate a blood-curdling scream. Upon entering, he finds Moreau and his assistant, Montgomery (Arthur Hohl), hard at work dissecting one of the creatures as it lies, fully conscious, on a table. Controlled, manipulated, and even tortured in the name of science, the various beasts of the island prove more sympathetic than their obviously mad landlord, a man who believes himself a God, and has, to that end, created an entire race of beings to worship and fear him. 

In Frankenstein, Colin Clive's Victor Frankenstein also compares himself to the Almighty (“Now I know what it's like to BE God”, he shouts when his monster first springs to life), yet his was little more than an enthusiastic reaction to a thrilling  moment. Frankenstein soon learns the error of his ways, and regrets his 'experiment', dispelling all notions of divinity he may have once harbored. Moreau is another matter altogether. Standing on a hill overlooking the creatures' village, he smiles as one of them, played by Bela Lugosi, praises him. “His is the hand that heals”, Lugosi shouts, and as he does, Moreau raises his arms, drunk on the adoration sent his way. 

Charles Laughton is devilishly sinister as Moreau, a man who takes pure delight in his work, whether it be teaching Lota how to act more human or cutting open one of his 'creations' in the lab (a room the beasts refer to as the 'House of Pain'). Showing no remorse for the destruction he has caused, Laughton's Moreau is a loathsome individual, and the actor's performance, combined with an incredibly dark story of science run amok, helped transform Island of Lost Souls into one of the most shocking horror films to emerge from of the 1930s.


ThePopcornPreacher said...

Interesting choice of film and plus I now know where they got that episode of the Simpsons from (the tree house of horrors were DR. Hibbert turns everybody into animals.

Great review!

Unknown said...

Didn't see this til the early 80s,only stills in famous monsters.but it was well worth the.moreau gets a well deserved payback!👀