Chris & Marcey’s March Movie Exchange: Week 3 – Island Of Lost Souls (1932)

Movie Exchange

What’s a Blog-a-thon? This movie exchange is a challenge, its participants have chosen films the other has not seen to watch and review.
Marcey’s criteria for Chris: Horror Films of the 1930’s
Why Marcey Chose This Film For Chris: Island Of Lost Souls is a film I only saw a few years back as part of 31 Days Of Horror, and I was really impressed by it. It really felt ahead of its time, and I was impressed by everything I saw. The story is based upon the H.G. Wells novel The Island Of Mr. Moreau, and it does handle the strange subject matter very well. The creatures look fantastic, hard to believe they were put together in the early 30’s (modern cinema could learn a lot, you don’t always need CGI). I really enjoy the cast, especially Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau and Kathleen Burke as The Panther Woman. I know Chris is a Moreau fan, so this is a no brainer.


Chris’ Review
After being discovered adrift in the south seas, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) wakes up on a ship bound for Apia and carrying a cargo of a variety of wild animals. On the boat Parker meets Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) who along with the animal cargo is being delivered to a mysterious island owned my Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). After getting on the wrong side of the ships captain, Parker is once again marooned and left with Montgomery and stay on Moreau’s island. On the island, Parker witnesses the ultimate horror, as he discovers the truth behind Moreau’s experiments that take place in the house of pain.

Based on the novel by legendary author H.G. Wells published in 1896 and directed by Erle C. Kenton (House of Dracula and From Hell to Heaven), The Island of Lost Souls was the first of three adaptations of Wells’ novel, one in 1977 starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York and the other the 1996 bomb starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. Released in 1932 to an audience that wasn’t sure what to expect as the film quickly came under heavy criticism particularity from the UK censors, who banned the film until the late 1950’s, mostly due to its depictions of vivisection and themes of bestiality.

The film remains the best adaptation of of the novel despite numerous changes from the original text, which include the changing of the title characters name, in the book he is Edward Prendick, the absence of beast men who played significant roles in the book such as Leopard-Man and Hyena-Swine, a major antagonist from the novel. The films plot also differs greatly from the novel with the inclusion of a Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke) whom Moreau hopes to mate with Parker just to see what happens. The other major change is the inclusion of Parker’s finance, Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) who comes looking for Parker was invented for the film so as to add a romantic interest in the film so as to draw in the female audience, but this is a cliché that was popular in horror films of the 1930’s and follows a blueprint that Todd Brownings Dracula laid out.


Despite these changes, which Well’s was not happy about as the thought the overt horror elements overshadowed the deeper philosophical meaning covered in the novel, the film is a terrific piece of cinema. The cast, while many are generic players with little characterisation (Richard Arlen and Leila Hyams being the main culprits, the film belongs to Laughton and his cast of Beast Men. Laughton is charming yet menacing as Moreau, whose appearance he based on his dentist, whilst the Beast Men led by Bela Lugosi making a terrific cameo as the Sayer of the Law are a sight to behold. The make-up effects are beautiful as Moreau’s creations are brought to life by Charles Gemora and Wally Westmore who remained uncredited, which is a shame because what they created is quite superior to the monsters that Jack Pearce created for Universal.

It still amazes me that for years I haven’t sat down and watched this film as I am a big fan of the novel having read it as a young boy who then watched the 1996 version with high hopes that were shattered upon seeing the final product. Although my fondest memory of watching the 1996 version was that I was able to scare the hell out of my youngest brother by only showing him the opening credits and constantly talking about the Beast Men. Its a shame that the novel hasn’t been brought back to the screen for a modern audience, I suppose that the closest they’ll ever get is the genius Treehouse of Horror segment, The Island of Dr. Hibbert which has a memorable scene in which Homer discovers the house of pain and Flanders as a half man half cow in need of milking.

The Island of Lost Souls is a great piece of horror cinema that will stay with you long after you see it, particularly the fantastic finale which sees the Beast Men rise up against their creator after reverting back to their animal instincts.


Review written by Christopher Innis


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