ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) – The Dungeon Review!

H.G. Wells was still living when Island of Lost Souls based on his book The Island of Dr. Moreau was made. Apparently he disapproved of the film. I wonder what he would have thought of the 1996 Frankenheimer abomination, or even Don Taylor’s 1977 version? I actually don’t dislike Taylor’s version; it does have a great cast with Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Barbara Carrera and Nigel Davenport; but it sure pales in comparison to Erle Kenton’s 1932 version. There is so much to applaud here but needless to say they do take liberties with Wells’ material. I’ll have to disagree with Mr. Wells’ interpretation as I absolutely love Island of Lost Souls!

island of lost souls

Edward Parker is the lone survivor of a shipwreck and is rescued by a passing vessel. The vessel commissioned by Dr. Moreau contains several cages of wild animals and a handful of other unusual looking passengers. Parker meets Mr. Montgomery who attends to the shaken man and sends a wire to his fiancée to let her know he is okay and will be arriving in a few days. Parker however gets into a scuffle with the ships drunken captain and knocks him out. Soon a second ship arrives and Dr. Moreau’s cargo is offloaded. The liquored up captain decides that Parker and his feisty fists should also be offloaded and literally throws him overboard landing him on the deck of Moreau’s ship. Moreau, none too pleased about this unwelcomed guest allows Parker to spend the night on the Island requiring his complete discretion in regards to what he might witness. Parker has no idea of the horrors that await him on the island of Dr. Moreau.

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Dr. Moreau performs vivisections on animals transforming them into human beings in his House of Pain. The creatures agonizing screams can be heard throughout the island. The film has no music score and these sounds of horror are additionally amplified. The forest is teeming with the human-looking creatures that still show signs of their former animal selves; a furry ear, claws, hooves. The doctor’s most regrettable errors are put to work as slaves. His most perfect creation is Lota the panther woman. One problem however still remains; the beast flesh keeps creeping back! The unfortunate shipwreck survivor Edward Parker is forced to spend the night on Dr. Moreau’s island. Moreau attempts to make the best of the uninvited guest’s appearance by attempting to see if Lota will mate with him. Moreau hides in the shadows looking on with excited anticipation as Lota and Edward interact. Dr. Moreau has taught his creatures to speak and has even given them a code; spoken regularly by the Sayer of the Law

What is the law?
Not to run on all fours!
That is the law!
What is the law?
Not to eat meat!
That is the law!
What is the law?
Not to shed blood!
That is the law!

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Oh how we do fuck with nature! Are we not men? The sad question asked by these creatures forced to walk on two legs and wear restricting clothing. The themes in the film are as timely today as they were in 1932. Island of Lost Souls is also a film about pain. Perhaps the first film to feature torture? Dr. Moreau’s agonizing experiments in his self named House of Pain are beyond comprehension and beyond forgiveness. The fictional Dr. Moreau is not an outlandish character by any means as many scientists practiced vivisection. French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes believed that animals had no soul and felt no pain. Stupid, stupid, stupid humans.

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Charles Laughton’s downright devilish performance as the arrogant Dr. Moreau is inspired. Laughton’s sly sideways glances and boasts of having god-like power are positively creepy. He is beyond brilliant in the role. The stunning Kathleen Burke who plays the innocent and endearing Lota the panther woman has perfect felinesque qualities that makes her the perfect choice visually and is absolutely charming in the role. Richard Arlen is great as Edward Parker the unassuming shipwreck survivor. As appalled as he is by what he discovers on the island he is far more disturbed by his attraction to Lota and the passionate kiss they share. Leila Hyams is adorable as Edward’s plucky fiancée although does not really have much impact beyond being the catalyst to save Edward from the Island (and perhaps himself). Arthur Hohl as Mr. Montgomery Moreau’s assistant was basically blackmailed into working with the doctor to save himself from criminal prosecution in London. A very furry Bela Lugosi is the Sayer of the Law and it goes without saying is super terrific. Captain’s Davies and Donahue played by Stanley Fields and Paul Hurst are both a hell of a lot of fun and add some comic relief to the proceedings. Everyone is just fantastic, even the minor roles. I can’t say enough good things about the performances in Island of Lost Souls.

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The creatures look fantastic! The fact that they are more man than beast makes them so very effective. Among the special features on the DVD was a conversation between John Landis, special effects guru Rick Baker and genre expert Bob Burns about the special effects in the film that was a ton of fun. Island of Lost Souls is an extremely handsome looking film overall with its amazing sets, superb surreal looking forests and black and white photography.

The special features on the DVD were excellent as is generally the case with Criterion. The interview with Richard Stanley and two members of Devo were particularly awesome. Richard Stanley was originally tasked with directing the 1996 version; but the whole thing went to hell and Stanley was paid to walk away. Too bad, his vision sounded brilliant! This is probably the third interview I’ve seen with Stanley and the guy is entertaining and well-spoken. The Devo interview featuring members Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh was da bomb. Island of Lost Souls was a huge influence on Devo’s entire concept and their debut album aptly named Are we not Men? Jocko Homo has been in my head for days now! I could not resist including the video…

Island of Lost Souls is beautiful, sad, daunting, eerie, skillfully shot, with amazing sets, outstanding performances and a most perfect and rewarding finale! Island of Lost Souls is an absolute fecking delight and gets my highest of recommendation; a perfect score!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke, Arthur Hohl, Stanley Fields, Paul Hurst, Hans Steinke, Tetsu Komai, George Irving

15 Responses to “ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. The novel was already 40 years old by the time of this adaptation. It doesn’t surprise me that Wells didn’t get it. As a film it marries his plot to the style of German Expressionism, and I agree with you that it works superbly. All the later versions made the mistake of trying to play the horror in the frame rather than offscreen. The 1932 version is the best because of all the terrible things you can’t quite see clearly, in the enveloping shadows, with moans and cries, and our reaction (with the characters) saying, “What was that?!”

    • goregirl Says:

      Well…I guess no author likes his stuff messed with, but this film sure was a treat. There is a lot to be said for off screen horror…a little mystery goes a long way. The imagination can often conjure up images more horrible than can be shown effectively onscreen. I enjoyed Island of Lost Souls so much I am going to treat myself and buy the Criterion version for my collection.

  2. conradw58 Says:

    Wonderful review! Well done and informative as always! I love this movie,too,and like you don’t hate the 1977 version,but the 1996 remake? I never expected it to so awful! I remember John Frankenheimer saying that if he were to direct The Val Kilmer Story,he would hire someone else to play Val Kilmer! But Island of Lost Souls is a true masterpiece. Laughton is so freaking great as Moreau,as is the entire cast. Terror is a Man(1959) and The Twilight People(1972),are two other variations of the Wells book,and while fun in their own right,they cannot eclipse Island of Lost Souls!

    • goregirl Says:

      Island of Lost Souls is one of those films that is just a pleasure to review. Laughton is so creepy…I will watch this one over and over again! Hahaha! Did Frankenheimer really say that about Kilmer?…Cheeky! Kilmer was great in Tombstone though…he made a great Doc Holiday.

      • conradw58 Says:

        Yes,Frankenheimer said that in an interview about poor Val Kilmer! : ) I agree,Kilmer is excellent as Doc Holiday in Tombstone,one of my favorite Westerns. I love Charles Laughton in everything. He’s so much fun to watch! A shame he directed only one film,but it is a masterpiece as well.

  3. That Lugosi picture is what I look like most mornings.

  4. Great review. I haven’t watched the film but you reminded me how disturbed I was by the novel. I watched the Devo and was just as disturbed by it. I need to watch some J-pop now… 😉

  5. Total awesomeness. Laughton wielding a whip strays into some kinky territory! I thought Hohl’s jaded tone as Montgomery was spot on, and even if Lugosi’s part as Speaker of the Law wasn’t a huge one, he obviously gave it his all.

    I love the ending of Wells’ novel: Once he returns to civlization, whenever our narrator looks at someone’s face he can always see their inner beast peering out.

    • goregirl Says:

      Damn you Brandt!!…I should have mentioned the whip! Yeah…there is a pent up sexuality thing going on here for sure. Clearly I need to read the book…but the finale in the film is certainly a rewarding one!

  6. One of the best horror movie, a true “humans treated.”
    Some time ago i reviewed the novel and movie.

  7. […] C. Kenton directed one of my all time favourite horror films; Island of Lost Souls (1932). Island of Lost Souls is not the only horror gem Mr. Kenton directed that is near to my […]

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