Director: Erle C. Kenton
Writers: Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie
Cast: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke, Arthur Hohl, Stanley Fields, Paul Hurst, Hans Steinke, Tetsu Komai, and George Irving
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Release Date: 12/1932
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
After being shipwrecked, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) arrives on the island where Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) resides. Before long, Parker encounters a variety of mutated, human/animal creatures resulting from the experiments of Dr. Moreau.
The earliest adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, this film deserves praise for its haunting make-up effects, claustrophobic jungle atmosphere, and thought-provoking moral implications. Also remarkable are the performances of Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, and Kathleen Burke—known for playing the so-called Panther Woman.
In contrast to the majority of modern horror films, this offering employs the power of suggestion instead of copious gore, violence, and gruesome imagery while instilling fear in the audience. Highlights include cryptic references to the House of Pain, glimpses of a vivisection performed without anesthesia, and the chilling cries of a man/beast hybrid creature in terrible agony—all of which help to establish Dr. Moreau as a fiendish, amoral villain whose arrogance and passion for science drive him to commit unspeakable atrocities on animals, humans, and his own perverse combinations of the two.
Island of Lost Souls is marred by a superfluous romance subplot, a languid narrative pace, and a forgettable main character—a poor substitute for Edward Prendick, the protagonist of Wells’ novel.
Revealing the story of a man who, by artificial means, elevates himself to the status of a deity, Island of Lost Souls provides the viewer with a cautionary tale similar to that of Frankenstein—albeit with a prescient and disturbing twist. Specifically, in addition to assuming godlike authority over his subhuman monsters (a theme lifted directly from the source novel), Dr. Moreau attempts to accelerate the evolutionary process through a series of grotesque, unethical experiments—a foreshadowing of the abominations committed by German and Japanese physicians during World War II, also in the name of scientific progress.
Island of Lost Souls will appeal to fans of the science fiction, classic horror, and mad scientist genres. Notably, this film should be commended for its atmospheric tension, suggestive terror, and philosophical importance—not unlike the Universal Monster movies of the early 1930s.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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