Thursday, October 4, 2018

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

"Lost" was an apt adjective for this film for many years after Universal's initial release of it on VHS and Laserdisc, as it never got a real release on digital media until the early 2010's. That surprised me, because it was a film that I knew of from an early age, having read about it in one of the many books on classic science fiction and monster movies that I could at my elementary school's library (I remembered a shot of a character with a lot of hair on his head and really sharp teeth that stuck out of his mouth, whom I would eventually learn was M'ling), and given what I later learned about it on the VHS documentary, The History of Sci-Fi and Horror, where it was talked about fairly extensively, and when it was briefly discussed in Monster by Moonlight: The Immortal Saga of the Wolf Man on the Wolf Man Legacy DVD set, it seemed like it was considered something of a classic by many. I knew the basic plot, that it was based on a book by H.G. Wells that was adapted to film two more times over the decades but that this was considered to be the best by far, that Charles Laughton was thought of as being excellent in the role of Dr. Moreau, that Bela Lugosi was featured as the leader of the animal-people he created, and that it was one of several films made in the early 30's that was considered so shocking in its content that it was banned in some countries, particularly the UK, but that was about it. Like I said, I was surprised and rather disappointed to learn in the late 2000's that it hadn't gotten an official release since the days of video, as I did want to see it, and thanks to the wonderful world of horror conventions, I would get a chance to do so in late 2010, when I bought a DVD-R of it at a show in Lexington, Kentucky. It was clearly a VHS rip and of poor quality but still decent enough to where I could see and hear it. Upon watching it, I did feel that this was a pretty decent little flick. I don't think it's perfect, and I would definitely put other horror films from that period like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde above it, but it is an interesting watch, with some very effective elements, and I did like it enough to where, a couple of years later, I bought Criterion Collection's Blu-Ray release of it.

A freighter bound for Apia, Samoa picks up a shipwrecked man named Edward Parker, intending to drop him off at said port, which just happens to be where his fiance, Ruth Thomas, is waiting for him. He's nursed back to health by Montgomery, a passenger with medical experience, and is shown about the ship, whose cargo consists of cages of wild animals like tigers and apes that are to be taken to a South Seas island owned by a scientist named Moreau. However, Parker has a disagreement with the ship's drunken captain after he mistreats an odd-looking servant of Montgomery's, leading to a violent confrontation, and when Moreau later meets them in the middle of the ocean to acquire his cargo, the captain throws Parker onto the doctor's small boat and sails away. Saddled with him an unwanted guest, Moreau, nevertheless, allows Parker to stay on his island, intending for Montgomery to take him to Apia the next morning. However, when they arrive, Moreau clearly now has new plans for Parker, taking him to his house at the center of the island, whose jungles are inhabited by bizarre, inhuman-looking natives, and introducing him to an exotically-lovely young woman named Lota, whom he's told is Polynesian. While talking with her, Parker hears horrific screams coming from a part of the house that Lota refers to as the "House of Pain" and is horrified to see what appears to be Moreau and Montgomery vivisecting a living person. He tries to escape with Lota, only for them to be corned in the jungle by a large group of the animal-like people. Before they can be hurt, Moreau appears and subdues the beast-men with the sound of a gong, brandishing his whip, and remind them of the "Law," one of the stipulations of which is not to "shed blood." Taking Parker and Lota back up to the house, Moreau tells the young man of his experiments, which started with the accelerated evolution of species of plant and has since graduated to animals, turning them into human-like creatures through his work. Privately, he reveals his intentions to keep Parker on the island in order to see just how human Lota, his ultimate creation, is by having her mate with the young man. And Parker is not the only one who's in danger from the madman's intentions, as Ruth, having learned where her fiance is, has chartered a ship to the island, and when she arrives, Moreau has no intention of letting another opportunity for radical experimentation slip away.

In stark contrast to their choosing a really talented up-and-comer like Rouben Mamoulian for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Paramount decided to give Island of Lost Souls to Erle C. Kenton, a journeyman director who'd been working since the early 20's, mainly on slapstick comedies, although he had graduated to more serious fare by this point (his two films before this were a crime and mystery film respectively). This was his first brush with the horror genre but it wasn't the only one by far, as later in his career, he would go on to helm some of the sequels Universal's original classics, like The Ghost of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula, as well as remake their 1930 lost film, The Cat Creeps, in 1946. Those former films are entertaining flicks, to be sure, but definitely not one would call true gems of the genre, as they're all most definitely B-movies and the latter two are well-known for not delivering on the monster mashes that they promise, and they prove that Kenton was anything but an auteur. Island of Lost Souls is definitely one of the more well-regarded film he ever made, along with the two Abbot and Costello films he did (Pardon My Sarong and Who Done It?), but, as I'll get into, it's far from perfect and I think some of its faults do like with Kenton's lack of real directing talent. He was mainly just a director that the studios hired to bring in movies on time and budget and because he had the skills to do it. In any case, Kenton kept directing films up into the early 1950's, after which he took to television, directing episodes of Racket Squad, Public Defender, Crossroads, Telephone Time, and The Texan, on which he worked as one of the two main directors. He retired after that and died of Parkinson's disease in 1980 at the age of 83.

H.G. Wells himself made no secret of the fact that he did not like this film at all and one of the reasons was because they took the character of Dr. Moreau who, from what I've heard, is depicted in the book as a scientist who means well but is very misguided, and made him into an out-and-out villain. It's true, there's no sympathy to be had with Moreau here, as he's portrayed as a mad scientist in every sense of the term, one who is as unscrupulous as you can get and who sees no boundaries to how far he can go. He's also a very cruel and sadistic demigod to the inhabitants of his island, ruling over his creations with an iron fist and keeping them at bay with a crack of his whip, a "law" that he's forced upon them, and threats of the "House of Pain" in which he created them (he also uses some of his less successful creations as slaves to power the equipment he uses in his work). Indeed, he has a considerable god complex, as he goes as far as to ask Edward Parker in a vacant voice, "Do you know what it means to feel like God?", has no qualms about the painful experiments and surgeries he performs on his animal people, and doesn't find the very concept of his creations to be the least bit disturbing, as he feels he's simply accelerating the natural process of evolution. (When Parker is clearly horrified by the revelation that the creatures he's seen were created from animals, Moreau dismissively says, "Mr. Parker, spare me these youthful horrors, please.") When it comes to the experience of pain, particularly the shedding of tears, he sees it as a sign of progress in his creations, such as when Lota's sorrowful crying snaps him out of a brief instance of despair over his experiments seemingly failing because her past animal nature keeps creeping back in. He's motivated to experiment on her again, saying, "This time, I'll burn out all the animal in her!" And as I said, there are no lengths that Moreau won't go to succeed in his work, as he decides to make the inconvenience of being saddled with Parker work for him and introduce her to Lota. He becomes quite thrilled at the possibilities when he sees how she takes to Parker, telling Montgomery, "She's never seen anything like him... You and I don't count. The only reactions we get from her are fear and terror... But how will she respond to Parker where there's no cause for fear? Will she be attracted? Is she capable of being attracted? Has she a woman's emotional impulses? I could scarcely hope for a chance like this short of London." It seems like anyone who arrives on his island is fair game for his experiments, as Moreau infers that he intends to use Ruth Thomas in them as well when she arrives looking for Parker, telling Montgomery that he may not need Parker, and sends Ouran, an ape-like man, to stalk her in an attempt to see if he can successfully mate with her, just as he'd intended with Parker and Lota.

So, yes, this interpretation of Moreau may not have been what Wells had in mind when he wrote the book but what makes it work is Charles Laughton's performance, which is certainly one of the film's strongest attributes. As John Landis mentions in a discussion between him, Rick Baker, and Bob Burns on the Criterion Collection release of the film, for an actor who would become known for, more often than not, chewing the scenery like nobody's business, Laughton is quite restrained here. He does have that air of a stuffy, snobbish Brit that he often did and he certainly has his moments of cackling insanity but, for the most part, he carries himself with a constant feeling of understated menace, speaking his lines in a low, quiet voice when he's not putting on the facade of a reluctant but gracious host to his unwanted guests. Some great examples of this include when Parker first hears the sounds of Moreau's creations when he's having dinner with the doctor and Montgomery but, before he can react, Moreau says, "Yes. You are a man of discretion, Mr. Parker," and when Parker nods, Moreau adds, " I hope so." Another example comes after that when he prepares Lota to meet with Parker, telling her that she may ask him whatever she wishes about him and where he comes from but she is not to say anything about Moreau himself, the Law, or the House of Pain. Later, when Moreau backs down the other animal creatures from attacking Parker and Lota in the jungle, he very calmly makes them recite the Law to him. And in a moment that's chilling in how subtle and suggestive it is, Moreau, while telling Parker of his creations, adds, "Oh, it takes a long time and infinite patience to make them talk," and then, after giving off a smile and chuckle that can be described as being akin to that of a mischievous little kid, he remarks, "Someday I will create a woman and it'll be easier." A line that would've come across as innocuous otherwise but knowing what Moreau has done and what he's capable of, along with the way in which Laughton plays the moment, makes it rather uncomfortable. Due to his cold, sadistic, and unscrupulous nature, there's no sympathy to be had when Moreau meets his end during the climax, and it's only fitting that his god complex leads to his death, as he wrongly feels he can make the animal people subservient to him again with the Law that they know he has willingly broken. Even more fitting, his creations take him to the House of Pain and slice him into bits with the very instruments he used on them, with the sounds of his agonized screams filling the air in place of those he'd experimented on before.

As much of a pro for the film as it is, Charles Laughton's performance also has the unfortunate side-effect of making it so that none of the other actors can possibly hope to meet the level that he reaches, which is not helped by the fact that they're either not given much to work with or that they're written as being fairly bland. Richard Arlen definitely falls into the latter category in his role as Edward Parker, the shipwrecked man who has the misfortune of becoming an unwelcome guest of Dr. Moreau's and learns of the horrors of his work. Arlen's purpose is honestly little more than to be the typical handsome, rugged male lead, and while he does what he can to come across as an ordinary person who has found himself caught up in this bizarre situation and is desperate to get away so he can reunite with his fiance, he doesn't leave much of an impact. It's clear that he's a smart enough man to know that there's something strange happening on Moreau's island early on when he hears the tortured screams and yells that fill the air, and he's also painted as a decent one when, upon seeing what appears to be Moreau and Montgomery cutting into a man with no anesthetic, he's horrified enough to try to bring Lota with him. His horror and disgust continues to grow as he learns of the true nature of Moreau's work, coming to see the doctor as inhuman himself, and he's more than glad that he'll be leaving the island the next morning, only for his hopes to be dashed when they find that it's been sabotaged. While he never says it, he has to know that Moreau was responsible, and he tries to use one of the books in the library to learn to build a radio so he can call for help. They do try to make him something of a complex person when, despite his engagement to Ruth Thomas, he does briefly fall for Lota's affections and kisses her, only to feel guilty afterward, and said guilt soon turns to abject horror and fury towards Moreau when he learns that Lota is one of his creations. He tells Moreau that he thought him a monster before but creating an innocent, gentle young woman out of an animal takes him to a whole other level of vileness. Moreau's dismissive attitude towards his shock and his revealing his intentions prompt Parker to slug him and tell him that he better let him leave as soon as possible. When Ruth arrives with Captain Donahue, Parker is intent upon getting her off the island right then but Moreau persuades her and the captain to stay, and for the rest of the film, he can do little more than try to protect her as best as she can until the two of them escape with Montgomery after Moreau's creations turn on him. He does try to save Lota as well but is ultimately unsuccessful, much to his despair.

Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) is even blander than her fiance, especially since she has much less screentime and doesn't become a part of the real story until the third act. She does come across as a woman who's kind of tough and feisty, as she stands up to the drunken Captain Davies upon learning what he did with Parker, threatening to tell Apia's American Consul of it, which she does. She also finds passage to Dr. Moreau's island through the aid of Captain Donahue, intent upon finding Parker and bringing him back with her, and insists that she's not afraid of what she sees when the two of them arrive, saying that the island is lovely. That proves to be untrue, though, when she shudders at the sight of some of the animal-people, particularly the ape-man Ouran, who targets her per Moreau's instructions. She doesn't become aware of the sinister situation she's found herself in until she hears one of the agonized cries in the night and when Ouran tries to break into her room, she then agrees with Parker in wanting to leave just as soon as she can, which they soon do once the animal-people revolt against their creator.

Montgomery (Arthur Hohl), Moreau's assistant and the passenger on the ship who spots Parker's raft, is kind of an interesting character from the start in how he's nice enough to Parker, nursing him back to health, but there's also an air of melancholy about him, as he tells Parker that he was once a doctor. He tries to look after Parker as best as he can until they reach Apia, telling him to hide after he and Captain Davies come to blows, as he knows it'll mean trouble, but is unable to prevent him from getting thrown off the boat with Moreau's cargo. With no other way for Parker to get to Apia, Montgomery offers to use Moreau's boat to take him the following morning and is prepared to have him sleep on the moored vessel that night, until Moreau invites him up to the house. He has a feeling that he knows what Moreau is talking about when he tells him he has an idea of what to do with Parker and he does nothing to stand in his way when his intentions become clear, despite obviously not being too happy with it. For most of the movie, in fact, Montgomery does nothing to stand in Moreau's way, and you learn that, like Moreau, he is an exile from England. While we're not told exactly why, as Moreau himself describes it as a case of "professional indiscretion" on his part, we can guess it had something to do with his drinking, as we're told he's quite fond of wine and other alcoholic drinks. This is probably why he does nothing to stop Moreau, as he must feel he'd have nowhere to go without him, but he puts his foot down when Ruth Thomas becomes caught up in it, as well as when Moreau plans to experiment on a terrified Lota again (he promises her that she won't have to suffer like she did before), saying he'd prefer prison to being a party to this. He tries to stop Moreau from going to deal with his creations when the uprising starts and he does leave the gate to the house open for him but he ultimately decides to escape along with Parker and Ruth, as he knows the end is near. He's the one who convinces Parker to leave Lota's lifeless body behind to allow her to be destroyed along with the rest of Moreau's creations as a fire begins to rage out of control nearby, and as they row away from the island, he tells them not to look back when they attempt to. Like I said, Montgomery is kind of interesting but, in the end, he doesn't generate much more interest than Parker and Thomas, as he's still underdeveloped and his "character arc" comes across as very rushed.

Among the animal people that Moreau has created, the most prominent one in the film is Lota (Kathleen Burke), whose character is simply called "the Panther Woman" in both the opening and ending credits and who was a large part of the film's marketing. She's the most advanced of Moreau's creations, as she looks completely human, save for how strangely exotic she looks in the face, and is able to speak better than the others; also, unlike the brutish and threatening creatures that live in the jungle around the house, she's very gentle and innocent, and is also the only woman of any kind on the island. Because of the treatment she's suffered at Moreau's hands and her fear of the House of Pain, she's initially very shy and withdrawn when she's first taken to meet Edward Parker, especially after Moreau makes it clear to her what she can and can't say to him, but as she spends more time around him, she becomes more comfortable and even grows fond of him. She asks if he came from the sea and when he says that he's going to be leaving the next morning, she asks if he'll come back. Before she can get a definitive answer, Parker is distracted by agonized screams coming from nearby, from a lab that Lota identifies as the House of Pain, and upon seeing what's going on in there, Parker tries to take her away with him. However, they run into the other animal-people in the jungle and are almost attacked by them before Moreau intervenes. As Parker's stay on the island ends up being longer than he wanted because of what happened to the boat, Lota gets to spend more time with him and, while she doesn't understand the meaning of it, falls in love with him, to the point where she throws away the book he's using to try to build a radio to call for help because it would lead to his leaving. Parker, feeling bad about how confused and hurt she is due to her feelings, does momentarily slip and kiss her, only to then discover that she is another of Moreau's creations, rather than a Polynesian as he had told him. Lota becomes quite despondent over his learning this due to her animal nature creeping back through her fingernails becoming claws and it's made worse when Moreau confronts her about it, leading to her crying. However, such an emotional display makes Moreau confident that his experiments will succeed and Lota is utterly terrified when he intends to experiment on her in the House of Pain again. Her emotional suffering is furthered when Ruth Thomas arrives on the island and she sees her with Parker, although Montgomery promises her in private that she will not have to suffer in the House of Pain again. During the uprising, Parker tries to take Lota with him, Ruth, and Montgomery when they make their escape but she ends up in a struggle with Ouran that leads to both of them dying. Before she expires, she tells Parker to go back to the sea and Montgomery makes him leave her behind so she can be destroyed along with all of Moreau's other creations.

If one of your motivations for checking this movie out is to see Bela Lugosi, you're going to be disappointed, because his role as the "Sayer of the Law" is a very, very minor one. The first time you see him is around the end of the first act and the beginning of the second but, after that, you don't see him again until the climax, when he rallies the other animal-people to revolt against Moreau. It seems like, even though this was just a year after Dracula, Lugosi was already considered a has-been, with Paramount casting him at the last minute and even then, only giving him a salary of just above $800, which is a shame. But, Lugosi made the most of his small role and while he's hard to recognize because of all that hair on his face, his eyes, voice, and presence are unmistakable. As the Sayer of the Law, he's the ostensible leader of Moreau's animal people in the jungle, and they almost attack Parker and Lota while they're trying to escape, until Moreau appears and makes him recite the law: "Not to eat meat, that is the law... Not to go on all fours, that is the law... Not to spill blood, that is the law," and after he states each part of the law, he asks the other creatures, "Are we not men?" As is clear, he acts as something of a preacher for them, further proclaiming Moreau to be their god, one whose hands heal and create. But, late in the movie, when Ouran kills Captain Donahue under Moreau's orders, the Sayer declares that the Law is no more and that Moreau himself can be killed as well, leading to the uprising. Lugosi's best moment comes when Moreau tries to back the creatures off with the threat, "Have you forgotten the House of Pain?!", and the Sayer responds, "You! You made us in the House of Pain! You made us... things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man, part beast! Things!" With that, the revolt continues until Moreau is overwhelmed and the Sayer decides to dispense with him in the House of Pain, leading to the poetic justice that is the mad doctor's demise.

Just as much of a villain as Moreau himself is Captain Davies (Stanley Fields), the drunken bully of a captain of the ship that picks up Edward Parker. Davies was so drunk that he didn't even know that they had picked Parker up until he'd been nursed back to health by Montgomery and he and his passenger get off on the wrong foot almost immediately when he mistreats M'ling, Montgomery's servant (and the first beast-man you see), for a simple accident. The captain is infuriated by Parker's comment over his actions and takes a swing at him, only to get knocked unconscious himself. When Moreau meets them on his own small boat to take his cargo, Davies decides to get back at Parker by throwing him off the ship and onto the boat, pulling the ladder before he can climb back up. He has no sympathy for Parker's plight, telling him he can swim to Apia for all he cares, and when Moreau says that he can't have Parker aboard, he suggests he throw him overboard like he did. Davies' actions soon come back to haunt him when he reaches Apia and Ruth Thomas, who also takes an immediate disliking to him, informs the American Consul (George Irving) of what he's done. He takes Davies to task over his actions, telling him that Moreau's island was anything but a suitable port to drop Parker off, and while Davies is never seen again after this scene, we can guess that he probably faced severe repercussions for it and might have lost his license, as the Consul threatened him with. Soon afterward, Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) is introduced and he's a much more agreeable and likable captain, willingly taking Ruth to Moreau's island and looking out for her, although she makes it clear to him that she can take care of herself. Like her, he's pretty impressed by the island when they arrive, and he takes advantage of the doctor's hospitality, drinking a couple of glasses of wine at dinner that night and getting a tad bit inebriated, but despite that, he proves to be more than competent later when he rushes to Ruth's aid along with Parker when Ouran tries to break into her room. Upon seeing this, Donahue attempts to head back to his ship and get the crew ready so they can leave but Moreau has Ouran kill him, leading to the creatures deciding that the Law is no more and rising up against their creator.

As it was another Paramount production, a number of people who worked on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were brought over to Island of Lost Souls, one of them being production designer Hans Dreier. While location shooting of Moreau's island was done at Catalina, most of the scenes were filmed at the Paramount Movie Ranch, where Dreier created the jungle and Moreau's house in the middle of it. You can tell that the jungle itself is an artificial environment and feels much more claustrophobic than a real one would but it helps with the mood and atmosphere the film's going for, giving an otherworldly feeling to this place where science has run rampant and created a race of hideous yet pitiable creatures. The jungle is especially unnerving at night, as there seems to be pitch blackness everywhere, and then you have the presence of the animal-people lurking within, living in a small village near Moreau's house like crazed natives and behind a hill with a gong perched atop it that Moreau hits to get his creations' attention when they're being unruly. The main centerpiece of the film's art direction, though, is Moreau's house itself which, at first, is a fairly homey and cozy-feeling place sitting in the middle of the jungle, complete with nice bedrooms, a quaint, sunlit little dining room, and a lovely fountain out on the front lawn, but it's not long after you first hear the agonized sounds of Moreau's unwitting test subjects that you begin to see the more sinister aspects of the place. There's a big, barred, sliding gate on the wall at the front of the house; bars on the windows; plants, like orchids, lilies, and asparagus that Moreau has made monstrous through his experiments placed here and there throughout the house; cages where animals are kept for experimentation; a cell-like room where Lota is kept (the door of which has a small, sliding window that Moreau can use to look in on her); and the laboratory, known as the House of Pain. We don't get to see much of the inside of the House of Pain but it does indeed have that cold, clinical feel of a place where ungodly experiments have occurred, with lots of strange lab equipment, stretchers, an object that looks like a rack where subjects are strung up before being skinned (a similar such thing can later be seen in the Universal horror film, The Black Cat), and, as we see during the climax, sharp surgical instruments that Moreau has used to cut on the animals in order to make them more human-like. None of this production design is a particularly striking or iconic but it gets the job done, as does the ship that picks up Parker at the beginning, which you see enough of to know it's quite grimy and filthy from carrying big animals for so long and isn't the type of place you'd want to be by choice.

Cinematographer Karl Struss was another Jekyll and Hyde alumnus who was brought onto this and his contributions to the film are considerable, as he really helped to give it a mood just as much as, or even more so than, the production design. Before we get to Moreau's island, the film has already had an unsettling and mysterious feel thanks to the way Struss shoots the fog that the ship is often enveloped by (said fog was real, by the way, and is kind of similar to the one that the Venture has to go through to reach Kong's island in King Kong the following year), how he makes even the scenes that clearly take place in broad daylight feel overcast and dark (which you often get in early black-and-white films like this, thanks to the primitive nature of the filters), and how he backlit and obscured the "people" that are on the boat with Moreau when he meets up with the ship, as well as those waiting for him on the island. His cinematography and lighting during these early scenes are so good that I actually thought this gorilla you see in a cage was real but it was actually veteran gorilla performer Charles Gemora in a really good-looking suit, that was also helped by his very realistic performance. Getting to the island, as I said, the jungle there is often obscured by deep darkness, especially during the nighttime scenes, adding to the creepiness of the animal-people's look when they emerge from it, and Struss doesn't make the interiors of Moreau's house any more inviting, as there are many, many shots of deep, long shadows obscuring and enveloping the characters, particularly whenever Moreau is showing his most sinister side. The dark and shadows also add to the feeling of both Parker and Montgomery being trapped on the island, unable to escape for their own, individual reasons, and this is punctuated further by how tight and claustrophobic both the jungle and the house's interiors are framed in the shots. Moreover, there are some shots that are filmed straight through the bars on the house's gate, windows, and such, making it feel as though the characters really are imprisoned in this nightmarish place.

While he doesn't get to play with the camera as much as he did on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Struss still gets a few opportunities to do some interesting things with it. Like in that film, there are a number of really tight close-ups, not just on people's faces (the most notable of which are on the Sayer of the Law in his first appearance and on Moreau and Parker during their face-off after the latter discovers what Lota is, the two of them slowly approaching the camera, leading up to Parker slugging Moreau), but also on the appendages of the animal-people, like M'ling's furry ear, which Parker sees after Captain Davies has knocked him to the deck, giving him his first clue that there's something weird going, and on Lota's returning panther claws, which leads to Parker's confrontation with Moreau. Speaking of Lota, the most creative bit of visual storytelling in the film occurs during the scene between her and Parker at the fountain, where she tosses the book he's using to try to build a radio to call for help into the water because she doesn't want him to leave. The camera cuts to the surface of the water as the book drops into it, obscuring the reflection of the two of them with the ripples, and it stays there while the water clears as they continue talking, with Lota sitting on the edge and sticking her feet into the water, which leads into the moment where Parker briefly submits to his instincts and kisses her. It's something you could definitely see Rouben Mamoulian doing if he had been the one directing this.

The year after he worked his magic on Frederic March, Wally Westmore once again proved that he was more than a match for Jack Pierce when it came to creating monster makeups, and this time, he had to create far more than just one. Because of that, he was also helped by Charles Gemora, the aforementioned gorilla suit performer who was also both a stuntman and a makeup artist, whose specialty was putting hair on people. (His talent is on display in that moment at the beginning there, as that great-looking gorilla suit he wore was also made by him, according to Bob Burns, who was a friend of his.)The results of their joining forces are not only cool to look at but also quite unsettling in many cases, mainly because, unlike the other adaptations of The Island of Dr. Moreau that came later, the creatures look human for the most part ant yet, there's still enough animal in them to where you can get an idea of what they were before Moreau experimented on them. M'ling (Tetsu Komai), Moreau's house servant, is the first prominent one that you see, as he's with Montgomery on the ship that picks Parker up, and he looks Oriental but you can tell that there's something inhuman about him right away with the loping way in which he moves before you see his furry, pointed ears, his sharp teeth, and slightly dog-like nose. In fact, near the end of the movie when he tries to help Moreau when the other animal-people are rising up against him, Montgomery refers to M'ling as a "loyal dog," revealing that's probably what he was and, in fact, the "dog" that got loose from Moreau's lab while he was still in England could have been him in an early stage of what he would eventually become. I'm not sure what the Sayer of the Law was supposed to have been, as the coarse hair that covers his face and head, as well as what little we see of the other parts of his body, don't give many clues, although I've heard that he was possibly a wolf. If that's true, that would be really ironic, given how Bela Lugosi would do on to play the werewolf that curses Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man. Ouran (Hans Steinke), the big, burly, hairy creature that we see quite a bit of amongst the others on the island and who takes an interest in Ruth when she first arrives, was clearly an ape at one point, more than likely a gorilla like the one that was seen on the ship. He's significant in that he not only tries to get to Ruth per Moreau's instructions (making this another film that, like Murders in the Rue Morgue the same year, seemed to predict the release of King Kong a year from then) but his murder of Captain Donahue and his proclaiming that Moreau told him to violate the Law leads to the uprising. Aside from Lota, of course, the other animal-people in the film are just faces that make up a crowd and their designs are somewhat basic, although some of them do manage to stand out, particularly this pig-man (Buster Brodie) who informs everyone of the arrival of Ruth and Donahue's ship and who is the most unsettling-looking of them all to me (his high-pitched voice doesn't help), and this one creature that, when he charges at Moreau with the others, you can tell was once a hoofed animal, possibly a horse, given his right foot. (I've also seen images of this really freaky creature with a half-leopard face that wasn't used in the finished film and that's a shame, because it was nightmarish, to say the least.)

Just as disturbing as the way the animal-people look is the very idea behind them. The theme of loss of humanity has always been one that I felt was very palpable, which is why I, more often than not, respond to any types of films about people becoming monsters, like werewolf movies, the various versions of The Fly, the body horror films of David Cronenberg, and so on, but this I find to be even more unsettling. The idea of Dr. Moreau performing painful, surgical experiments on various types of animals and causing them to become freakish creatures that are very human-like but not quite is not only infinitely more disturbing but also more a significant violation of nature than anything that happens to the people in those movies I mentioned. I'm not a crazed animal rights activist by any means but the fact that there are laboratories and other facilities that use them as test subjects in various ways is something that always gets under my skin, even if it is done legally and for a good cause, and this movie is like the most extreme version possible of the horrors they must go through (that was one of H.G. Wells' incentives for writing the original novel). Not only is it the cutting, the vivisection, and what they've ultimately become, but the way that Moreau has also taught them to talk and think much in the same way as people in order instill the fear of the "House of Pain" in them (just look at how terrified Lota is when she realizes that Moreau is going to work on her again in there) and even go as far as to make them think of him as their god with the Law whose commandments they must obey. Speaking of the House of Pain, it provides the moment that's the biggest source of nightmare fuel in my opinion. Before we find out what it is, we've already heard the agonized sounds from it emanating throughout Moreau's house, but after Parker has made his failed escape attempt with Lota and has been brought back to the house, Moreau takes him into the lab and shows him the creature that he saw him and Montgomery performing surgery on earlier. As it lies there on a stretcher, Moreau examines its head and mouth, as it lets out a bloodcurdling, high-pitched scream that's not quite human but not quite animalistic, either. I can remember being thoroughly unnerved by that the first time I heard it (it still gets to me every time I watch the movie) and it's made all the worse by how unaffected by it Moreau is, as well as his nonchalant dismissal of Parker's reaction to learning that it and the other creatures were once normal animal.

You also have the notion of how the creatures' two sides appear to be at war with each other, as they have to obey the Law and yet, they experience the desire to act like beasts, as seen when M'ling tries to attack the unconscious Captain Davies when he recovers from being shoved to the deck and when Parker and Lota are cornered by the "natives" in their village before Moreau intervenes. You also have to wonder how they deal with the alien thoughts that must be constantly running through their heads and the confusion they must feel, particularly when Moreau orders Ouran to violate the Law by killing Captain Donahue, leading them to realize that there is no power to the Law if it can broken so easily and that Moreau can die just like Donahue. Nowhere is this conflict clearer than in the character of Lota, whose curious nature leads to her feeling love towards Parker, an emotion that she doesn't recognize or understand, and then, the discovery of what she is when it's revealed that her fingernails have become claws, leading her to shed tears of sorrow over Parker's rejection and Moreau's frustration, which is another emotion she probably doesn't fully understand. One she does understand, though, is fear of the House of Pain, which she comes to feel full on when Moreau declares that he will "burn" what's left of her animal side out of her and he can only cackle like the madman he is while she recoils in abject terror. Whatever good Moreau may have initially seen in his experiments makes little difference in the face of all this, especially Lota's sad existence (it's not hard to understand why this really horrified and infuriated Parker), hitting home that what he's doing is just morally wrong.

Speaking of morally wrong, how about Moreau's plan to introduce Parker and Lota in the hopes that they'll become attracted enough to each other where they'll have sex so he can see just how human she is? That's a really sick notion (the fact that their one kiss happened around the time Lota's animal nature began to creep back in makes it all the worse), one that creeped me out when I first heard it mentioned by Butch Patrick in The History of Sci-Fi and Horror, and the fact that he almost caused him to commit an act of bestiality no doubt added fuel to the fire in regards to Parker's rage towards Moreau. It's not hard to understand why this so horrified and revolted people and why it, along with the notion of "animal cruelty," the references to vivisection, and Moreau referring to himself as God, was enough to get the movie banned in England, where it wasn't released until 1958 and even then, it was only after some cuts were made.

While I like it, I wouldn't put Island of Lost Souls on the list of my all-time favorite horror films or even on my list of the best horror films of the 1930's because, as many things as there are to like about it, by the time we get to the third act, I'm ready for it to end. It's not a long movie at all (just 70 minutes), but the lack of any memorable characters aside from Dr. Moreau, Lota, and the animal-people begins to take its toll by that point, as I don't really care what happens to Parker and Ruth because of how bland they are, and I feel the climax devolves into little more than a bunch of chaos, with the creatures turning on Moreau, their uprising causing a fire that threatens to consume his house and the entire island, while the couple, Montgomery, and Lota attempt to make their escape. There is the nice comeuppance that Moreau receives when his creations cut him apart in the House of Pain and the idea after Lota's death that there will be nothing left of his work once it's all over, which is as it should be, but those are about the only thing I like about the climax, as it feels like all of the film's deeper aspects have been tossed aside for the routine Hollywood ending of the period. Maybe the book ends in this way, I don't know, but by the time we get that last shot of the survivors rowing away from the island, it feels like what started out as a really unsettling film for the time led to a very typical ending.

As you might expect, this is one of those early sound films that doesn't have a music score to it, save for the opening and ending credits, which feature stock, jungle-style music by Arthur Johnston (who would go on to be nominated for an Oscar for the title song of Pennies from Heaven) and Sigmund Krumgold, and it acts as a mixed bag in my opinion. On the plus side, the lack of music punctuates the sounds of the jungle surrounding Moreau's house, be it the normal jungle sounds or the small village of animal-people nearby, as well as the ungodly sounds of agony coming from the House of Pain; on the other hand, though, in scenes where nothing that significant or eerie is happening and there's no dialogue, the lack of music, combined with the muted sound quality of the time, tends to have something of a lethargic effect on me due to the lack of stimulus. Now, some horror movies of this period are quite eerie due to the poor sound quality and the lack of music, with Dracula being a prime example, but in other cases (M being another), it makes me feel really fatigued and works against the movie, which is kind of the case here. It's probably a case of personal experience on my part but that's how it makes me feel.

Island of Lost Souls is, in my opinion, a flawed movie, one that I don't feel reaches full on classic status as a number of people think it does, but it certainly is effective and has some good elements to it, like Charles Laughton's performance as Dr. Moreau, the pitiable, innocent character of Lota, the always welcome presence of Bela Lugosi, as brief as his role is, good cinematography and production design, great and unsettling examples of early makeup work for the animal-people, and core concepts, ideas, and themes that are just as unnerving now as they were back then. At the same time, though, the movie suffers from a number of main characters who are a little on the bland side, a lack of music that can sometimes hurt just as much as it helps with the mood, and a climax that, despite some good moments, feels a little too chaotic and typical of the time, especially given what came before. It may feel muddled but that's the best way I can describe my mixed feelings on the movie but, despite that, I would recommend anyone who's a fan of early horror to check it out at least once, especially given what a rare film it was at one point.

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