Island of Lost Souls (1932)

  • directed by Erle C. Kenton
  • starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Kathleen Burke, Bela Lugosi, Leila Hyams, Arthur Hohl
  • An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.

“Mr. Parker, do you know what it means to feel like God?”

Remade in 1977 with Burt Lancaster and in 1996 with Marlon Brando, Island of Lost Souls is the definitive adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells story, The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Chief among the themes of Wells’ story is the thin line that separates humans and animals. I’m not going to try to get into the head of the master of storytelling, but it seems that one of the main points at work here is now that we’re familiar with the concept of evolution and how it went down, what ultimately is stopping the human race from one day degrading back to its most primitive, power-hungry, and uncontrollable instincts? Wells’ own test subject on which he experimented, Dr. Moreau, ended up having very little scientific motivation behind what he was doing. Although science is a strong undercurrent, the main driver is complete dominance over the world that nature (or God) has afforded him.

The scariest part for me was how he kept so calm and confident throughout the entire film, leading me to believe that over time he has accounted for all the things that could potentially go wrong living in the middle of a laboratory of genetic manipulation. It was a very tense watching experience from the first glimpse at M’ling on the Covena all the way to the final act because in an environment filled with such ambiguous creatures, all rules are out the window. There are hundreds of things that could go wrong according to what we’ve seen established on the island and in what seemed like every shot Kenton had one creature or another in the background, whether up in the trees or just ominously standing and watching. There’s a serene air about Moreau, however, as he thinks he can, with a suggestive smirk on his face, discipline all the elements at play into submission.

I loved the film for its tight, methodical script, its gorgeous cinematography, which contributed to an isolated feel, and its flawless make-up for the mutants that was a how-to manual for the many monster movies that would follow. It also had great performances all around, especially from Charles Laughton, in his first major U.S. film, and newcomer Kathleen Burke as Lota, the Panther Woman.

Hey, this is pretty funny: To create the language of the mutants sound-man Loren L. Ryder recorded a mixture of animal sounds and foreign languages, then played them backwards at alternating speeds. The sound induced nausea and caused some audience members to vomit in theaters.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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