Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Island of Lost Souls

The Island of Lost Souls 1932
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Writers: Waldemar Young and Phillip Wylie
Starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke, Arthur Hohl, Stanley Fields and Paul Hurst

This is the first adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr Moreau and it is a very dark and brooding film. I still prefer the 1977 version over this one, but this version has plenty of things to make it a worthwhile adaptation. It is very sexual for a film of this era and also has some tinges of sadomasochism with Moreau's use of a bullwhip to curtail the creatures ferocity. The film is anchored by the fine performances by Laughton and Lugosi and also the brimming sexuality of Burke as the panther lady. This must have been a very shocking film to see when it was first released as I do not believe the audiences at the time were ready for the cruelty and sexuality that is on display within this film. It is a short film but it really sets out to give you its themes and ideas in that short timeframe. S lot of the violence in the film is more implied than shown and that really works well for the films benefit rather than its detriment. This is definitely a classic of the horror genre and it is a shame that this is not available on DVD yet.
The plot basics are this, Edward Parker (Arlen) is adrift after his ship is sunk and is picked up by another ship. Parker gets into a scuffle with Captain Davies the Captain of the ship and as a result gets left on a island that he was delivering a shipment of wild animals to the owner of the island, Dr. Moreau (Laughton). Though, Parker had already sent a telegram to his fiance Ruth (Hyams) and soon she hires a ship to find out where he has disappeared too. Parker soon discovers that Moreau is a whip cracking overlord to a growing population of human/animal hybrids that he has had his hand in creating. It soon becomes clear to Parker that Moreau is insanely mad and has a god complex. Moreau tries to control Parker by introducing him to Lola, the Panther Woman (Burke, but this does not work and then once Ruth shows up on the island, it seems to be the worst time as it seems the creatures are beginning an uprising and they want nothing less than blood. No one is safe and who knows who will survive the bloodbath.
This is a excellent film. The direction by Kenton is filled with sexual tension and scenes of sadism. He directs all these powerful themes with a strong hand and a good use of the jungle locale. The final scenes where Moreau loses his grip on the creatures is a fine example of how taut this film is. The script is good, and really balances the savagery of the animals with the despicability of human nature that Moreau shows in all it's ugliness. The brimming sexuality between Parker and Lola is very palatable too. It is amazing how sexually realized the script is. The cast is superb. Laughton really chews every scene he is in and when he goes bull whip crazy at the end it has to be seen to be believed. Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law is great too, his scenes are very minimal, but he makes great use of what time he has. You can see the ferocity that is welling up within him just begging to be released. Burke as Lola the Panther Woman, is very sexual and you cannot help but be mesmerized by her anytime she is on the screen. The SFX and make-up effects for the time this film was made are astounding. All the human/creature hybrids are great to look at with a special nod to Lugosi's creature. It is great that the haunting eyes of Lugosi are still able to come across through those make-up appliances. This is a treasure trove of classic horror and is a must see for any horror fan.
This one gets 4 out of 5

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