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Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls
Title: Island of Lost Souls
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Writer(s): Waldemar Young (screen play) and Philip Wylie (screen play), H.G. Wells (from a novel by)
Cast: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke, Arthur Hohl, Stanley Field, Paul Hurst, Hans Steinke, Tetsu Komai, George Irving
Genre(s): Adventure | Horror | Romance
Release Date: December 1932 (USA)
MPAA Rating: UR

IOLS1932image1H.G. Wells’ classic tale of The Island of Dr. Moreau has been the centre piece of many forms of adaptive text from numerous films, books, and even a Halloween episode of The Simpsons. The first of these adaptations was the 1932 film Island of Lost Souls. After a prolonged mission to acquire the rights to the material (H.G. Wells was notorious for not allowing films of his books to be made) he eventually surrendered the rights of his story to Paramount Pictures to produce a feature length film, which would over time spawn a large following as well as being banned in 12 Countries and censored in many more.

A slightly different version would be needed to help captivate audience attention as the book worked off more of a philosophical premise without a real grounded plot. Legendary Sci-fi writer Philip Wylie was hired to co-write the films story. He added some females to give (what would become) a subtly, demented love triangle. Do note, this film was made pre-Hollywood Code which was (more or less) the original MPAA. Had this film been made 2-4 years later it very well might have never been released, and if it had, it would only be under heavy censorship.

ISLAND_OF_LOST_SOULS_MoC_003 (Large)The cast came from all walks of cinema. A soon to be well known Charles Laughton would play the title role of Dr. Moreau (Laughton would get most of his success in following years with a string of hits), Richard Arlen would play the shipwrecked hero who comes to the island after a string of bad luck, Edward Parker. Dr. Moreau’s slightly more morally driven assistant, and Montgomery would be played by Arthur Hohl. Montgomery works with Moreau more so out of scientific respect and admiration rather than moral agreement. Ruth (played by Leila Hyanms) would be Parkers fiancée. Kathleen Burke would play the ‘Panther Woman’ who is one of the film’s more famous characters; and the subject of much debate. Horror film legend Bela Lugosi would even make a brief appearance (fresh of the high rush and success of Dracula) as the ‘Sayer of the Law’.

The island is in itself is a visual feast: stunning set pieces of large over grown vegetation, that we learn were the first subjects of Dr. Moreau. They create a dense, alien atmosphere putting us in a state of discomfort. Dr. Moreau’s place of living and ‘work’ is more of a fortress than a laboratory. It’s walls seem to be thick and strong with bars on the windows, and an iron-bared door being the opening, which is locked tightly at all times. If Moreau’s alien densely covered island wasn’t enough to stop a curious eye his massive laboratory fortress walls most surely would: but why? Why is such an over use of protection needed?fortress walls most surely would; but why? Why is such an over use of protection needed?

The films natives are seen in glimpse early on, never with a long enough look to study their features, but you see more than enough to realise they aren’t your average wild-folk. This is where the film takes one of its controversial turns. We learn Moreau has excelled the evolution process of animals ‘All animal life is tending toward the human form’ he smugly states. As we are the top of the food chain, so theoretically over time, evolution will guide the animals to take a similar form. Moreau’s work is to speed up that process via live vivisection; without any anaesthetic no doubt.

IOLS1932image2His creations don’t always work as he plans, some die during the horrible process which is carried out in a deep part of his lab known as ‘The house of pain’. Some live; but are severely limited in regards to motor function and speech; these become slaves to help fuel further mad experiments. Others are deemed a ‘great success’ and are left to do as they please on the island, albeit are left looking hideously deformed; not quite human, nor beast. What makes them so terrifying when confronted is the fact they look distinctly human, but all have their own unique visual flare; a single goat leg, a hybrid animal/human face, or hand, abnormal hair. The list is endless. They are too abnormal to function in any form of society apart from their own and too ‘civilised’ by Moreau’s heinous experiments to live free as animals. Moreau implies three laws on them.

  • Not to eat meat – That is the law – Are we not men!?
  • Not to run on all fours – That is the law – Are we not men!?
  • Not to spill blood – That is the law – Are we not men!?

These are repeated by Lugosi’s character, who appears to be the figure of leadership after Moreau to the Beast-Men. Curiously there are no women on the island. That is except for Moreau’s ‘most perfect creation’, Lota.

The character of Moreau is played exceptionally well; a role that would be far too easy to over play and appear hammy is done with precision. The man, who is of chubby stature comes off as very seductive and stale in emotion in regards to his work, seeing his subjects as more moving objects than living beings. As he flaunts his ‘house of pain’ to Parker, agonising screams are heard (which also happens at various intervals during the film). As it turns out there is a subject in ample pain on a bench. Moreau does a quick and rough examination on the creature and Parker is left is moral disgust and outrage, to which Moreau waves away at with a lazed, relaxed and meaty hand.

Island of Lost Souls PosterMoreau, being the man with a never ending passion for science is curious to see how Lota will react towards Parker (who is eagerly waiting to get off the island). This creates the film’s love triangle. As Parker’s fiancée rushes to rescue her trapped husband, he begins to be seduced by Moreau using Lota who appears to Parker as a normal girl; albeit in a very unusual setting. The two are another spark of controversial conversation due to Lota secretly being Moreau’s finished experiment on what was originally a panther. Bestiality has a strong and powerful allure and almost instantly Moreau had plans for the two to mate and watches them from the shadows in a very perverted and ill fashion. This is something that would have been completely dropped from the film if Hollywood’s Code were in effect, as would the scene where Moreau compares himself to God.

Upon the failure of Lota due to her ‘beast flesh’ creeping back, and to which Parker becomes aware of, Moreau is thrown into a state of rage. He states that with Lota he has been ‘going too far’ and that to give ‘an animal the looks, feelings and emotions of a woman is complete torture’. By this stage his wife and a fellow captain are on their way to the island. After being gravely disappointed in the failure of Lota and Parker not sharing a bed, the ever growing insane Dr tells one of his gorilla like servants to rape Ruth.

Island of Lost Souls_5Again this isn’t successful and chaos arises. Montgomery growing ever tired of Moreau’s utter disrespect for life bids to aid Parker and Ruth to escape the island. They all begin to flee, followed by two of Moreau’s servants who are under orders to kill. They manage to catch the Captain who escorted Ruth and kill him. His death becomes known to the village of the beast-men whom all start to panic, as the law of ‘Not to spill blood’ has been broken. Moreau appears to assert his dominance over them and the killer exclaims that it was Moreau who told him to spill the blood.

Filled with rage and disappointment in Moreau, the Sayer of the Law begins to rally the others into anarchy. The law giver had broken his own laws; their God-like figure, their life giver, their tormentor could also bleed. Lugosi’s character pushes his fellow beasts forward proclaiming ‘We are not man! Not beast! But… THINGS!’ which is a very important line; telling all they are gravely unhappy with their current existence and that ‘things’ don’t have laws. In an ill and twisted turn of fate the beast men carry Moreau to the house of pain where they do their own vivisection. Parker and Ruth make their escape amidst the chaos and tortured screams of the mad Doctor.

At the time the film was extremely graphic in its depiction of vivisection and the underlying tones of sexual innuendo and bestiality; not to mention the idea of evolution was still a very taboo subject in itself. The film gives us all something to think about: de-evolution; reverting back into our animalistic, lawless past. A hidden drive we all have, but one that’s deeply suppressed by the notion of humanity. It makes the lure of being human something to continue to aspire to.


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