It begins where DR. JEKYLL & MR HYDE left off! A weird, fantastic adventure with a mad doctor who discovers how to turn animals into humans-but not how to control them! On a lonely tropical island he practices his black art! Changes wild beasts into creatures whose strangely human appearance and action hide raging animal passions! Something brand new in picture plots, with a specially selected cast, that will bring thrills to audiences and joy to exhibitors. Showmanship Plus!
HE DEFIED NATURE … creating men and women from animals … only to find that he could not control them!
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Adapted from H.G.Wells 1895 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, Island of Lost Souls was directed by Erle C. Kenton (The Ghost of Frankenstein 1942, House of Dracula 1945, The Cat Creeps 1946) Wells was not content with the film version of his story, though it’s a stunning adaptation of his novel. Karl Struss’ (Murnau’s Sunrise 1921,Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931, The Sign of the Cross 1932, The Great Dictator 1940, Journey into Fear 1943, Rocketship X-M 1950, Limelight 1952, Kronos 1957 and yeah no laughing please… The Alligator People 1959) extraordinary cinematography constructs a perfectly smothering atmosphere though the story’s milieu is the openness of a savage jungle. With fantastical make-up effects by Wally Westmore (Sunset Boulevard 1950, The War of the Worlds 1953, Rear Window 1954, Lady in a Cage 1964, Village of the Giants 1965)
The first adaption of Well’s novel was filmed in France in 1913 called L’Ile d’Epouvante, then it was revisited in 1959 as Terror Is a Man starring Francis Lederer, and finally remade once again in 1977 starring Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moreau in The Island of Dr. Moreau, also starring Barbara Carrera as Lota and Richard Basehart as the Sayer of the Law. The 1977 version lacks the stifling ambiance that Erle C. Kenton’s film possessed.
Charles Laughton with his devilishly cherubic smile is perhaps at his most deliciously wicked as an evil scientist with a god complex the cruel, fiendish and merciless Dr. Moreau, who brandishes his bullwhip like Ilsa the Wicked Warden or me– eating chocolates when I go on a classic horror movie bender!
Moreau performs profane experiments, learning how to accelerate evolution by experimenting on animals turning them into hairy men-beasts by surgically grafting the organs, flesh and genes together. In order to keep his creations under his thumb, he cracks his aforesaid whip while gathering them together like a bestial congregation where they all chant the ‘laws’ set down by the Mephistophelean Moreau.
Moreau has been banished to his faraway Island by the scientific community for his bizarre experimentation with plants. Island of Lost Souls is a Darwinian nightmarish journey -from The Monster Show by David J. Skal-“There is an evocative social metaphor here as well: the animals have been given the promise of progress and social elevation. They have dutifully played by their master’s incantatory ‘laws.’ And yet it has all been an ugly trick; their elevation is simultaneously a degradation, and a bloody revolt ensues.”
Also Skal’s book points out a really interesting fact about Laughton’s casting of Dr. Moreau-“already acclaimed for his 1928 stage portrayal of another mad vivisectionist in the Grand Guignolesque A Man with Red Hair at London’s Little Theatre. It was in that production that he learned to crack a bullwhip, a skill also required for Island of Lost Souls…)… Laughton hated the part, though it remains one of his most memorable, an epicene gentleman-monster in a white tropical suit.”
Laughton’s portrayal of Dr. Moreau as an effeminate mad scientist is also noted by David J. Hogan in his terrific book Dark Fromance-Sexuality in the Horror Film- “As filmed, the story is a particularly unpleasant Frankenstein variant, remarkable for it’s oppressive ambience and unrelieved sadism. Charles Laughton played Moreau, a plump, primly bearded genius whose fussy manner and ice cream suit suggest a eunuch, or a malevolent child.”
Bela Lugosi is wonderful as the ‘Sayer of the Law’ —“Are we not men?” through his hairy make-up he conveys a pathos and ambivalence that must be credited to his fine acting skills, beyond wearing a cape, hovering over nubile maidens and climbing cobwebbed stone steps.
Drop dead gorgeous Richard Arlen plays Edward Parker who one his way to meet up with his fiancé Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) becomes shipwrecked on a remote Island when he interferes with the ships brutal Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) abusing one of the crew who is a hybrid man-dog M’ling (Tetsu Komai). Davies throws Parker overboard and Parker becomes Moreau’s unwelcome guest. Also on the island is Moreau’s reluctant assistant Dr. Montgomery played by Arthur Hohl who drinks himself numb on the road to redemption. Parker is surrounded by Moreau’s strange ‘Manimals’ servants and laborers who resemble monkey’s, bears, pigs and dogs.
Paramount conducted a nationwide search for the beauty who would play Lota The Panther Woman, which garnered a lot of publicity for the prerelease of the film. They chose a winner from each state, the prize being crowned the Panther Woman of America and the extra benefit of Charles Laughton getting to turn her into a beast!
Island of Lost Souls possesses a perverse eroticism as Moreau’ cold scientific intellectualism seeing neither the animals nor men nor beast-men as anything more than ‘subjects’ of his experimentation into genetic freakery, in particular his most gratifying creation of The Panther Woman Lota, played by Kathleen Burke. Parker is drawn to Lota “You’re a strange child” but he is repulsed when he discovers her panther like claws.
Unfortunately not not only does Lota begin to revert back into her feral origins- Moreau exclaims- “It’s the stubborn beast flesh, creeping back! I may as well quit. Day by day it creeps back!” –But she is as smitten as a kitten with Edward Parker. And while Moreau’s curiosity pushes him to see what would happen if he mates the lusting Lota with pure speciman of an exquisite man, Edward, his jealousy can not be subverted by his systematic spirit of inquiry. Laughton conveys even through his enigmatic silences, this ambivalence as he sweats and broods about the compound watching like a voyeur their every move. Dr. Moreau: “Did you see that, Montgomery? She was tender like a woman. Oh, how that little scene spurs the scientific imagination onward.” and watching while Lota and Parker sit close together her raw sexuality spilling over into the shadows, Moreau whispers, ” I wonder how nearly perfect a woman Lota is. It is possible that I may find out with Parker.”
Ruth (Leila Hyams) and Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) track Edward down on the island and also become prisoners of Dr. Moreau’s tropical nightmare. Eventually she is chased around the island by Ouran, the man-ape played by Hans Steinke.
Not only is Island of Lost Souls inflammatory with its deviance put forward by the idea of bestiality and the sexual attraction between Parker and Lota as The Panther Woman, one of the most provocative aspects of Island of Lost Souls is it’s dealings with the vicious desecration of the body when Moreau explores his scientific delights in “The House of Pain” the operating theatre where he performs vivisectionist orgies on these poor beasts, their screams remain in my head as something I cannot un-hear or un-see. When the ‘natives’ realize that Moreau has himself broken these laws by killing Donahue (Paul Hurst) who tries to rescue Edward Parker–their prime rule not to kill or spill blood, in the epic fatalistic climax they drag him off to his own ‘House of Pain’.
from The Overlook Film Encyclopedia-Horror: edited by Phil Hardy-“Interestingly, though, Island of Lost Souls anticipates King Kong (1933) in its embodiment of the underground spirit of revolt, a spirit extremely timely in its appeal to victims of the Depression years, who not only resented their material deprivations but were all too willing to blame a system which appeared to thrive on an arbitrary suspension of the individuals’s inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. The delirious final revolt here, with the master dragged away to the ‘house of pain’ in which he created his subservient brutes, echoes the wilder excesses of the French Revolution…)…Presumably because of its vivisectionist aspects, the film was banned in Britain until 1958. Lost somewhere among the beast-men are Randolph Scott and Alan Ladd. Also appearing as one of the ensemble of beast-men-billed as a furry Manimal is Schlitze from Tod Browning’s Freaks 1932.
From David J. Hogan-“The atmosphere of the island is heavy and foreboding. Vegetation is obscene in its lushness and fertility. Humidity hangs like a curtain. It is in this unforgiving milieu that Moreau, the loveless father, passes his undesirable traits on to his children, and ultimately suffers for it. The manimals are merely extensions of Moreau’s own unchecked cruelty.”
Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying “they’re restless tonight” and so am I-hope I won’t see any of ya in the house of pain- Yikes…!!! Are we not film lovers!
3 thoughts on “Sunday Nite Surreal: Island of Lost Souls (1932) “Are we not men!?””
What is the law? To watch as many films as possible. What is the law? To read every word of Monster Girl’s blog. Are we not film lovers lucky enough to have Monster Girl’s erudite and entertaining commentary?
What is the law? to show unending gratitude to KP424 for always saying the kindest things and frequenting The Last Drive In -What is the Law? to always remember to say Thank You!!! Are We Not Film Fans Together!!!
*looks around, whispers* I’ve never seen this film… (I know! Shame on me.) But I promise to see it soon. :)