Island of Lost Souls (1932) Poster

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Waking Nightmare
Shield-322 April 2001
Universal dominated the horror market of the 1930s, but every once in a while the other studios would produce a classic of their own. `Island of Lost Souls,' produced by Paramount, is one such film. It's tight, fast, and haunting.

The most striking thing about `Island' is its claustrophobic, nightmarish atmosphere. Some people criticize the hero, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen), as bland and colorless, but I think this works in the film's favor. Since he has no personality of his own, he can be more of an Everyman; he also has no strength to draw upon and is therefore powerless against the horrors around him. He sees the perverse monstrosities Moreau has created on his island, finds himself attracted to and then repulsed by the cat-woman Lota, and then struggles to free himself from Moreau's manipulative control. It's like those nightmares where you try to run away from something terrible but your feet won't move.

Charles Laughton steals the show as Dr. Moreau; his disarming, cherubic exterior somehow enhances his aura of menace. He may not look as blatantly evil as Bela Lugosi, but after a few minutes you just know there's something terribly wrong with this man. The irony is, the creatures Moreau creates are far more humane than he is. The creatures themselves live in a tight society, bound by the laws Moreau has given them; instead of dwelling on their physical awfulness, the film imparts them with a curious dignity and innocence. When the inevitable rebellion comes, I found myself cheering the creatures on, much like I felt my heart go out to the Frankenstein Monster or King Kong.

`Island' is one of those movies you need to watch on a humid summer night, when your clothes cling to your skin and every breath feels like it's coming through a wet towel. Feel the suspense and the terror seep into you, and then try to tell me the old horror movies weren't infinitely better than what passes for horror nowadays.
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Terrifying when I first saw it in 1933. Equally so in 2000.
amadeus-1024 February 2001
I first saw this film in 1933 when I was 7 years old. My 20 year old aunt, who was also my nanny, used to drag me to these things (also took me to equally horrifying Trader Horn and King Kong) instead of taking me to the playground. Even after 67 years, I remembered the scene when someone was lashing the rebellious half-animals.

I checked it out from my video store last year for a re-run. Absolutely magnificent Laughton. Still scary.
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An evil genius accelerates evolution through terrible pain
netwallah13 May 2006
From the H.G. Wells story, "The Island of Dr. Moreau," this film is part horror story, part science fiction, and part moral fable. If the film works, it's because of Wells's writing and because of the simultaneously comforting and disturbing presence of Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau. He is another sort of Dr. Frankenstein, a scientist whose hunger for discovery transforms genius and egotism into a pathology. Moreau has discovered a means of accelerating evolution by hundreds of millennia. His experiments with plants were harmless enough, but, banished to a tropical island, he forces beasts to evolve into men through sessions in the operating theatre he calls the House of Pain. The creatures are given the law, which they chant responsively: "Are we not men?" Into this scenario comes an innocent outsider, Parker (Richard Arlen), who rejects Moreau's vision and stands for truth and dignity—Arlen is a typical 30s hero, a bit of a stick figure, really, with good posture and a pretty fiancée Ruth (Leila Hyams) who shows up on the island to save him, and in turn to be saved herself, but he's not a great actor. On the other hand, Laughton is. He invests the part with a complex mix of charm, sprawling awkwardly on an operating table to show how fully at ease he is, or smiling with a boyish expression of amusement, not unlike Fatty Arbuckle—but he's also able to exude menace by holding absolutely still, an effect emphasized by shadow, and by saying terrible things with a bland expression. Also remarkable is Kathleen Burke as Lota, the Panther Woman, Moreau's most advanced experiment: she weeps, she loves, she protects her beloved and dies in the effort. The beast-people—Parker and Moreau call them "natives," Parker sincerely and Moreau ironically—are disturbed, and Moreau says "They are restless tonight." Is this the origin of the familiar phrase? When they discover Dr. Moreau is willing to break the law, ordering the death of an intruder, they realize he can die, too, and take him to the House of Pain. Rowing away from the burning island, Dr. Moreau's assistant, the repentant Dr. Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) tells them, "Don't look back." Another source for yet another familiar phrase? The story is not really about political events of the 30s at all--the story was written much earlier--but about the human limits of science, a theme dating back at least to Faustus and Frankenstein.
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A Chilling Classic!
Whizzer-229 September 1999
This chilling adaptation of the H.G.Well's novella, "The Island of Dr Moreau" remains unsurpassed, despite two later wretched attempts to improve upon it. Banned in England upon release! An exotic, but sinister atmosphere pervading Moreau's privately-owned island is enhanced by filming in Black & White, whose shadowy contrasts imbue the setting which a dark, suspenseful tone. Moreau amorally attempts to "play God" by creating "manimals" - hybrid humans and animals - via surgical vivasection and blood transfusion in his laboratory, The House of Pain. Charles Laughton has never been more campily devilish as when playing Moreau - an exquisite performance by a great actor.

Bela Lugosi plays a small, but effective part as "The Sayer of the Law": "Are we not men?" Kathleen Burke as the beautiful, erotic "Panther Woman" who develops an ill-fated romance with the protagonist, Edward Parker (played by Richard Arlen). Crisp direction by Erle Kenton, with nice make-up effects by Wally Westmore. The cutaway from the grisly ending when Moreau is about to be subjected to "surgery of the most fatal kind" in The House of Pain is most appreciated and is what I consider to be an exercise in directorial restraint and finesse. My imagination more than filled in the horrific details. Kudos to Mr. Kenton!
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This is a horror CLASSIC, pure and simple, and still one of the most extraordinary movies ever made!
Infofreak6 August 2003
The 1930s was a great decade for horror with classic titles like 'Dracula', 'Frankenstein', 'Bride Of Frankenstein', 'Freaks', 'King Kong', 'The Invisible Man' and 'White Zombie'. I always thought 'Bride Of Frankenstein' was the best of the lot, but a VERY close second would have to be 'Island Of Lost Souls'. It truly is an extraordinary movie and still able to chill the blood and fire the imagination! It's easily the best version of H.G. Wells' 'The Island Of Dr Moreau' to date, and literally years ahead of its time. Many of the 1930s films made before the self imposed censorship of the Hays Code are quite startling and really pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on screen. This movie is seventy years old but it still pretty disturbing even now. At the time it must have been something else! Especially the super sexy Lota The Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke). Charles Laughton plays Moreau and he is one of the greatest of screen villains. The quintessential megalomaniac mad scientist figure. Richard Arlen is pretty good as the hero, Edward Parker, who finds himself trapped on Moreau's island, and horror legend Bela Lugosi is unforgettable as the Sayer of the Law. I watched an old video copy of this movie with a lousy transfer and was still utterly transfixed. If this is available on DVD with the care and attention given to it that Universal have taken on their classic horror titles I will add it straight to the top of my (ever expanding!) "must buy" list. 'Island Of Lost Souls' is one of the greatest horror movies I've ever seen, and one that I can't recommend highly enough to any horror buff whatever your age or taste.
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A Timless Classic Ripe For DVD
se7en4518 September 2005
This controversial adaptation of H.G. Wells' short novel, was outlawed in many nations around the globe due to the unpalatable ethical and religious issues it raised. The film was produced before the infamous Hays Code was set up and thus was able to introduce radical scenes of horror and deviant sexuality that would become taboo until the liberalisation of movies in the early 1970's.

Universal were raking in the money and even some critical accolades with their literary monsters series in the 1930's - Dracula, FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN - so Paramount threw in the gauntlet and produced the huge box-office hit DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Buoyed by this massive hit they financed another horror novel and chose THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (the title was later changed to ISLAND OF LOST SOULS) and Charles Laughton, at the time he was still a relatively new stage actor from England who had previously appeared in THE OLD DARK HOUSE, was cast in the title role. However, the film proved to be a box-office failure and the press mauled it whilst the religious right voiced their anger at the idea that Man could create Man by splicing flesh of various living animals. The possibility of taming animals by grafting humanity into their flesh and the suggestion of bestiality were repugnant to the Church and the film was eventually pulled from release and largely forgotten.

The story, about a scientist playing God on an uncharted South Seas Island, was shocking even on the written page but the filmmakers took it one step further and produced a shocker that even H.G. Wells denounced upon seeing the finished film. Charles Laughton, a close friend of H.G. Wells', was an animal lover who was so traumatised by the scenes of vivisection and barbarism that he would never again visit a zoo for the remainder of his life because it made him ill.

The passing of time has not dulled the power of the film and the very effective make-up designs remain as fresh and exciting as when they first appeared in 1933. There is no dating here and the film speaks to us across the great divide of decades. For those who have seen the European serial-killer film FUNNY GAMES (1997) they will not forget how the murders took place off-screen and the viewer was only privy to the unbearably horrific sounds of pain. Well, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS employed this technique very effectively back in early 1933. The power of suggestion is more profoundly disturbing than a full visual revelation of the violence.

The film moves at a cracking pace and every second of the 71 minutes running time is well utilized, the production values are high and the sets look fabulous, the performances are very good, especially Laughton who resembles a seductive and effeminate Mephistopheles whilst Bela Lugosi, as the Sayer of the Law, is totally convincing in his role as the island elder. His makeup resembles the Wolf-Man and it is impossible to recognise him except through that rich and extravagant voice of his. Lota the Panther Woman, played by the winner of a Paramount publicity audition contest (where over 60,000 hopefuls were tested), is played by Kathleen Burke. Every time she appears the screen sizzles with creamy eroticism. Her body moves like an athletic cat and yet she is very innocent and tender. The moment she uncurls her fingers and reveals her clawed fingers in the moonlight will shrivel the most aroused male member of the audience. The script, although it does deviate from the novel in places, is literate and intelligent. There is a great deal of subtext on display - Laughton dressed in his immaculate white hat and suit and wielding a bull-whip over the animal-natives is a great metaphor for slavery and the invasion of Paradise.

Now, as far as I am aware, this film is currently not available either on VHS or DVD for some strange reason. I was very fortunate in tracking down an extremely rare double-bill Laser-Disc which contained the Universal production of MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE on the first platter. This is an interesting combination because we have two separate production houses releasing a double-bill, in this case Paramount and Universal.

The transfer of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is a bit soft and there is print damage in places. However, this very aspect gives the film an edge of authenticity and makes it even more riveting. The print looks like newsreel footage of a real event and this gives the drama added realism. The sound is crisp but does occasionally warble in places. Again, it lends the visual horror a documentary eeriness. The packaging is lovely, a gate-fold sleeve opens up to reveal production photos and a detailed commentary on both films. The disc also features a trailer which contains an alternate angle of a shot in the film but this one is decidedly raunchier!

This timeless movie has been neglected for far too long and the time has arrived for it to be remastered for a DVD presentation. Forget the Burt Lancaster and Michael York version from 1977 and the misbegotten 1996 release starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. The 1933 film beats them hands down and is right up there with FREAKS (1932) in terms of naked human horror.

Highly Recommended.
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A Document of the Transition from Silents to Talkies
padawandoug13 February 2003
I have noticed some commenters found the movie boring or slow. You have to remember that it was made in 1933! The pacing and suspense probably felt very quick to an audience that had never seen TV, and whose primary source of entertainment was radio (for drama, suspense, horror and comedy).

The aspect I find most interesting about this definite classic of the horror genre -- aside from the excellent acting, atmosphere, script (the only adaptation of "Island of Dr. Moreau" that is faithful and the only one that's good) and makeup -- is the way it chronicles the development of film, from silent movies to talkies. Perhaps the reason some viewers find it boring is that one thing the film lacks is any musical soundtrack. I noticed this quite strikingly in some of the long pans that take place, and also in the chase scenes. I may be wrong, but I think this is a holdover from silent movies, when the music was supplied by a live musician playing piano in the movie theater. Certainly some of the emotional reaction shots, and in particular the shots of the group of half-men approaching the camera near the end, which are repeated several times, have the feel of silent movie technique. In fact, the overall feeling I get when watching this movie is that of a silent movie, with talking added in. This movie just seems to me to have been made exactly on the cusp of a time when filmmakers were adjusting their techniques to the use of sound, but hadn't fully arrived there yet.

Of course the movie is also excellent as pure entertainment. Charles Laughton was the perfect Dr. Moreau, and all the other players were well done too. And we all remember the quotes of the Sayer of the Law. I remember another one, though, by the Captain that brings the girl to the island. "No long pig?" he asks, grinning. We are chilled to learn that long pig refers to consumption of human flesh. And the final line, "Don't look back." Overall, this is a frightening look at the way science can be perverted by people with no conscience.
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Brilliant performance by Laughton
bensonmum25 February 2005
For those unfamiliar, Island of Lost Souls (1933) is the earliest and easily the superior version of H.G. Wells' Dr. Moreau. This is a beautifully filmed movie that still supplies the creepy moments almost 70 years after being made.

The basic story: A man rescued at sea is dropped off at an uncharted island owned by Dr. Moreau. The island is filled with strange "natives". The man soon learns that the natives are actually the creations of Dr. Moreau. Dr. Moreau is a god to his creations. But, once the "natives" learn that Dr. Moreau is not a god, they turn on him with horrifying consequences.

Charles Laughton delivers one of the best performances in the history of horror as the mad Dr. Moreau. Dressed head-to-toe in white, he is as sinister as you get. A brilliant acting job. The rest of the cast is fine. Bela Lugosi, in a very small supporting role, is quite good. Kathleen Burke (Lota the Panther Woman) is also a stand out. But, this is Laughton's film and he makes the most of it.

The very simple creature makeup is effective. The cinematography, etc. are also quite good. For example, there are several scenes with Moreau standing in the shadows that are especially effective.

This is a film not to be missed. While it may not appeal to the hack and slash crowd, Island of Lost Souls is a wonderful horror movie. For what it's worth, I'll give this one 10/10. (It's a shame Paramount didn't make more horror films in the 30s.) One final thought, the ending of the film is very reminiscent of the ending of Freaks (1932) with the same savagery on display.
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The rarest of treats -- a bona fide classic that still delivers!
EYEboy20 November 1998
I'll be brief: If you've never seen this definitive, influential horror film, see it. After all these years, it still has the power to shock. Good performances all around (Charles Laughton in particular). Small wonder this thing was banned in the U.K. for so long. Now that it's been remade (at least twice), it's worth taking a look at the original.
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One of the greats
James L.18 August 2000
The basic plot:Edward Parker is picked up by a ship, and then thrown off by a drunk captain along with the ships cargo,the cargo being a ship of animals. The cargo arrives at an uncharted island with strange natives . He makes the acquaintance of Dr. Moreau , who turns animals into the natives which we see .....

The praise: Actually very creepy ,intelligent and entertaining .Charles Laughton gives an excellent, silky performance as Dr. Moreau, the perfect villain . All of it is perfect entertainment, and all of the scenes in the woods are still frightening, including the superb " What is the law?" sequence. Bela also turns in a fine performance as the keeper of the law. Creepy, simple makeup. All finely staged, structured , with a terrific script . The intelligent subtext about the line between man and beast and disturbing order is still interesting.Top-notch lighting, design, atmosphere and art direction. a must-see, and an all time great.

The flaws: Comic relief and the romantic couple date it somewhat.

Note: It's ironic that Paramounts 4 Horror movies( this, Dr. J and Mr. H, Murders in Zoo, and Murder by the clock) are darker than universals horror movies of that period, for Paramount wa known as a light entertainment company.
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Incredible early horror.
whiteraven-415 March 2002
This fantastical horror movie based on "The Island of Dr. Moreau" is not necessarily scary by today's graphic standards. However, it still manages to touch on the terror of "humanity's inhumanity." It also provides a classic mad-scientist performance which still gives me the creeps. The makeup isn't perfect, but it is far superior to typical fare of the time.
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Are We Not Men?
telegonus9 August 2001
Exceedingly grisly for its day, and still pretty frightening, the movie is an adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau, about a mad scientist who experiments with evolution in his island laboratory, leading to shocking results, half-human half-beast creatures for whose predicament the term identity crisis would be a gigantic understatement. Their lives are hell, as Laughton's sadistic treatment of them makes their existence sheer pain.

Filmed like a horror movie, which is how it's often classified, the film is more like a precursor of the nature-gone-wild science fiction pictures of the fifties, minus the usual military heroics. It also, thanks to Wells, has the courage of its convictions, and the pessimistic implications of its ideas are not glossed over or simplified in the least. Science, in other words, is not used as an excuse for showing us horror but is rather,--and there's no beating around the bush here--the cause of it.

It is a very dark and gloomy film, and it is impossible for any intelligent person not to ponder the year of its release, 1933, as the reason for this as much as the story itself. This was the year Hitler came to power in Germany; also, Franklin Roosevelt in the U.S. We knew what Hitler was about, or at least his ideas, while FDR was still an unknown quantity. The Depression was at its worst, and millions were unemployed and starving. Without going too far out on a limb it is easy enough to see the lost, tortured souls in the film as victims of the Depression. They are men twisted out of shape by those in power,--like the wicked, white-suited Dr. Moreau--and their future looks grim, their prospects few. "Is this what the world is coming to?", the movie seems to ask. In 1933 it was hard to come up with a glibly optimistic reply. As one of the leaders of the beastly mob asks at one point, "Are We Not Men?". This was a question that at the time had no easy answer. That it had to be raised in the first place is as frightening to contemplate as anything we have actually seen.
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Still disturbing horror movie
preppy-319 August 2006
Handsome Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is stranded on the island of Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). He finds out Moreau is painfully vivisectioning animals to make them men. The island is full of man-animals under Moreau's control. He has also made a panther into a beautiful woman (Kathleen Burke). He wants Parker to have sex with Burke and see what the offspring will be. It all leads to a truly gruesome climax (even by today's standards).

Pretty strong stuff for a horror movie from the early 1930s. It was quickly denounced by H.G. Wells (who wrote the novel this was based on) and banned in Britain for other 30 years. It was released here and all the controversy over the subject matter (vivivsection, implied bestiality and rape) killed the film at the box office. It IS a disturbing film but that's what a horror film is supposed to be.

The film was obviously expensive--the sets are impressive and the makeup on the man-animals is still quite good. It moves quickly (only 70 minutes) and has no music score (which actually helps the movie). The acting is pretty bad by Arlen. He's handsome but no actor. However everything else is great--Laughton in particular is superb as Moreau and Burke is interesting as the Panther Woman. Also the great Bela Lugosi is here but wasted as the Sayer of the Law.

It's worth seeing but still pretty strong...and the conclusion is truly horrifying. A lost classic. I give it a 10.
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The Head of the House of Pain
theowinthrop19 September 2005
It's a good story, based on one of Wells' best science fiction novels, but ISLAND OF LOST SOULS never has gotten the kudos that it's fellow science fiction and horror tales of the early 1930s got. For all it's flaws, Dracula (Bela Lugosi's version) remains a classic, and the Spanish/Mexican/American version has gotten an increased audience in the last thirty years. FRANKENSTEIN, restoring the cuts, is still powerful, and the sequels (THE BRIDE and THE SON) are also popular. THE INVISIBLE MAN, for all it's dated special effects, still packs a wallop, as does KING KONG. THE MUMMY, THE BLACK CAT - they have not lost their powers to hold interest. Neither has ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, but it seems to get more of a lambasting by critics than the others. Why? My guess is that the very strength of the film is what turns off the critics: Charles Laughton's performance as Dr. Moreau. I happen to find it a fascinating performance of a talented scientist who is driven to madness by his success in a situation where he cannot really reveal it. For Moreau's ability by physical operations (I almost said by grafting) on animals has led to his being ostracized and forced into exile by his peers in Europe, and he is stuck on this island ruling a kingdom of his half-human/half animal followers. His only companion is Montgomery, who turns on him in the movie and Parker and Ms Thomas are just two people who bungle onto the island by accident (as does the ill-fated sea captain). But in the novel, while there is no love interest like Ms Thomas, the state of the human companionship is not so good either.

Parker's literary version - Charles Predinck - is a shipwreck survivor too, who is horrified by Moreau's experiments (and almost made part of them). Montgomery is more willing to work with Moreau, but Montgomery is not a very admirable type - he's an alcoholic (which is how he ended up with Moreau), and his lack of common sense leads to his demise.

The novel was trying to make a statement about ego-maniacal dictators and their falls from power, which is clearly delineated in the film version. But the end of Moreau is not at the end of the novel. He is killed off by rebellious "subjects" earlier, and Montgomery, thinking they won't harm him, proceeds to drink too much and sets himself up for his own gruesome end. Predinck just manages to kill the most dangerous of the animals, and escapes at the end (as Parker and Ms Thomas do in the film with Montgomery).

Laughton was one of Hollywood's greatest actors. I can't think of that many character actors who had such a wide variety of successful performances. But Moreau, although in his setting he seems natural, is an over-the-top Laughton performance. I believe that is why the critics are so harsh on him. The threatening shouts about "the law" and "the house of pain" are repeated and repeated like the mantras they are. But the critics who hear this think of the Laughton who, a year earlier, had overacted as a mad and jealous submarine commander in THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP with Gary Cooper, Tallulah Bankhead, and a youngish Cary Grant. There are similarities, but that film had a pretty weak script (unlike THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS). These critics tend to think of those films made by Laughton before his Oscar winner in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII as overripe, and tedious - not the expert work of his later career. They fail to notice that he was learning his craft in movies, in these years, and his ranting in parts like Moreau or the submarine commander were necessary to learning the restraint that paints Henry VIII and Captain Bligh and Quasimodo. I find one might not think of the film as highly as the other contemporary films I mentioned earlier, but it is a worthy film nevertheless, and important in Laughton's growth as an actor.
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Dated But Still Relatively Impressive
Theo Robertson12 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
After watching HG Wells adaptation of his novel THINGS TO COME it is something of a blessing that he wasn't able to write the screenplay of this version of THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU . It has dated somewhat but at least screenwriters Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie have made a cinematic story that appeals to an audience . There some flaws to the film but at least characters being used as a mouth piece for the author's opinion isn't one of them . It goes without saying Wells hated this movie

The flaws centre around what could and couldn't be shown on film in the 1930s . Bare this in mind and perhaps the most remarkable thng you'll notice how close the screenwriters and director Erle C Kenton sail close to the wind at some points . The subplot of Moreau wanting Edward Parker to mate with a woman who was born a panther does get one's head spinning and it's not disguised in an overly sophisticated way either . Also interesting is how disturbing Moreau's fate is as he screams in the house of pain but no doubt the censors let this pass as he's the villain who has tampered with the fundamentals of nature and The Hays Code stated that in a cinematic film any immorality must be punished on screen . There's a consistency and logic in that case . Moreau has been an exceptional baddie changing the very fundamentals of nature therefore must suffer an exceptional on screen death . Interestingly this film was banned from British cinema until the 1950s

The cast are very good . Richard Arlen as Edward Parker makes for a good hero . He isn't given much character development but he' there to function as a manly matinée hunky hero which he does very well . Arlen also has an on screen chemistry with Kathleen Burke as the much hyped " Panther Woman " which is just as well because much of the film succeeds or fails with this chemistry . Even the supporting players like Lugosi , Hohl and Hurst make an impression . There is a slight flaw to Laughton's portrayal . Not in his performance but the fact that he seems to have a mustache and beard that has been painted on . It is rather distracting and puzzling since the other make up effects are very good

All in all this is a fairly impressive film . You have to be slightly forgiving and view it with a 1930s mindset rather a 2010 one but if you do it's a rather impressive film . Even the title sequence has some thought put in to it and one can't help wondering why it isn't better regarded . It could that the 1930s was something of a golden age where horror movies were concerned , or it could be that the subject matter caused it to be banned in some countries until a time when Hammer horror movies with their technicolor blood hit the cinema . Nevertheless it remains a pretty good atmospheric horror
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Nothing Is Lost With Laughton!
BaronBl00d26 February 2000
This is the first screen adaptation of the H. G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, and also the best. It is a bit shocking and one can easily see why the British censors, who were notoriously squeamish where horror films were concerned, did not let it appear in Britain for almost 30 years after its release. The story is about a man brought to an island where a strange doctor and his medical "failures" live. Charles Laughton plays the god-like doctor who creates and distorts life in his "House of Pain." Laughton is a marvel to behold with his goatee and his ever-expressive eyes, supplying enough ham to feed an army! He steals every scene he is in with his menacing demeanor and his subtle yet evocative speech. The rest of the cast is pretty good, and Bela Lugosi even makes an appearance as the "Sayer of the Law." The film has some good sets and deals with the issue of man wanting god-like powers rather well. This is easily one of the best non-Universal horror offerings of the 1930's. But again the real thrill of the movie is seeing Charles Laughton decked out in white cracking a whip and leering throughout the picture. His demise also supplies one of the horror screen's most terrifying moments filmed off-stage! Definitely one not to miss!
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Envigorating and original horror classic!
The_Void4 June 2006
Based on the novel by the great H.G. Wells, this classic film adaptation of The Island of Dr Moreau delivers as both a source of intrigue and a horrifying horror movie. Perhaps not as great as Val Lewton's horror classics, or the films that Ernest B. Schoedsack made for RKO in the early thirties, Island of Lost Souls still stands out as one of the decade's very best horror films. Unfortunately, this film hasn't got a good commercial DVD release anywhere in the world, and this meant I had to see it on a rather poor bootleg; but true greatness still shines through, and even in poor quality; Erle C. Kenton's film is still a shocking and well produced little film. The plot follows a young man who gets lost at sea. He wakes up on a distant island that seems to be ruled by a white-clad doctor calling himself Dr Moreau. The locals aren't quite normal in this place, and it soon transpires that the doctor's experiments into evolution have gone too far; as the people on the island are a result of the not so good doctor's experiments, over which he now rules as a God...

The standout performance of the entire film expectedly comes from Charles Laughton in the lead role. Laughton looks eerie in his purely white outfit, and his lines of dialogue ensure that the character always appears as the maniac that his experiments suggest him to be. Richard Arlen doesn't standout next to Laughton, but his acting is good; and the cast is rounded off by great supporting performances from the always welcome Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke in the role of the panther woman. One of the principle reasons why this film works so well is the way that director Erle C. Kenton creates the atmosphere. The island setting provides a perfect location for a film like this, as the action always feels isolated and this helps to give the film a surreal, otherworldly feel. The special effects aren't the best, but the way that the director handles the film overall means that they fit and a good job is made of the fact that most of the characters are indeed 'freaks'. The film doesn't last for long, and the director ensures that every second counts as a good story is told in the time that we have, and it all boils down to a fitting, chilling and somewhat shocking conclusion! Overall, Island of Lost Souls comes highly recommended to fans of classic horror!
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The Island of Dr. Moreau
claudio_carvalho23 July 2017
The castaway Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is rescued by a cargo ship that is transporting Mr. Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) and animals to the notorious scientist Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), who lives in an isolated tiny island in the South Seas. Edwad sends a message to his fiancée Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) informing that he is safe and sound and will meet her at Apia. However he has an argument with Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) that tosses him overboard on Dr. Moreau's vessel. The scientist welcomes Edward in his island and offers to transport him on the next day to Apia. Edward sees strange natives and is introduced to the beautiful native Latta (Kathleen Burke). They hear screams from a room called the house of pain by Lotta where Edward sees Dr. Moreau and Montgomery operating a person without anesthetic. But later Montgomery gives a justification to Edward that does not know that Dr. Moreau is performing experiences with animals turning them into people. Further, Dr. Moreau decides to keep Edward in the island since Lolla, who is indeed a panther, is developing human emotions. What will happen to Edward?

"Island of Lost Souls" is the original version of H. G. Wells' novel "The Island of Dr. Moreau" to the cinema. The polemic story of an obsessed scientist that decides to play God raised many problems to the producers in UK with the censorship because of the vivisection scenes. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "A Ilha das Almas Selvagens" ("The Island of the Wild Souls")
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Spoilers follow ...
parry_na7 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
After Universal scored such hits with 'Dracula' and 'Frankenstein' in 1931, it was clear that horrifying audiences was big business. Amongst the steady stream of cinematic terrors that followed, a year later Paramount brought us swathes of monstrosities courtesy of HG Wells and his insane Doctor Moreau.

The make-up for the 'lost souls' is very impressive on the more subtle mutations, but less so on the more 'advanced' experiments. Which brings us to the most vocal, The Sayer of the Law, played by Bela 'Dracula' Lugosi (as he is billed, just above 'The Panther Woman'). Covered in fur, this is the actor that, a year earlier, had supposedly turned down the Frankenstein Monster for fear the make-up would obscure his matinée looks (which is given as one of a number of reasons he didn't end up playing the role despite being touted for it). The Sayer of the Law would seem to debunk that particular theory.

Lota, the Panther Woman herself, is played very appealingly by Kathleen Burke in an outfit that exposes a lot of flesh for the time. Her growing relationship with Richard Arlen as Parker – a hero not quite as overshadowed by the other characters as is usual in horror films from this era – is interesting, but causes problems when his girl Ruth (Leila Hyams) travels all the way to the remote island to look for him.

Finally, what an actor Charles Laughton was. Whilst time has rendered the performances of some of the actors around him dated and theatrical, Laughton's Moreau is every bit as convincing and villainous in 2017 as he was 85 years ago. Superbly spoken but dripping with malice, or uncontrolled and snarling like one of his own animalistic experiments, he is compelling at all times. Moreau's ultimate fate is one of the most unpleasant you could imagine, but horribly satisfying too.

This is a mighty slice of grim and effective cinema. We could smile at some of the quaint make-up effects of course, but Director Erle C Kenton is at his creative peak here. He would go on to direct future Universal horrors, but never does he imbue them with the sense of unease and danger as is on show here. Strange, leering faces loom of out the jungle, misshapen shapes move in the shadows, revealing deformed limbs – or in one case, a solitary hoof – although we are fairly sure that their animalistic fury is directed only at those responsible for their current predicaments.

After all, 'are we not men?'
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The Devil's Eden
bkoganbing27 October 2006
The Island of Lost Souls has such a great characterization of Dr. Moreau by Charles Laughton that Laughton was probably extremely lucky his career did not take the turn of Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. He might have wound up playing all kinds of mad scientists instead of the rich and varied collection of people he did portray. As it was, he returned only once to the horror genre arguably and that was in The Strange Door 18 years later, co-starring with Boris Karloff.

As the exiled and disgraced Dr. Moreau, he's discovered a way to speed up the evolutionary process if you accept that all animal life is merely a stepping stone towards mankind. That it involves a particularly brutal form of surgery on them without anesthetic is of no concern to him. He's created his own Devil's Eden in which he is Almighty God.

A quarrel with a drunken sea captain strands Richard Arlen on his island which does not have too many visitors except for cargo deliveries of supplies and more animals for experimentation. Laughton decides to make use of Arlen to see if his most perfect creation, Lota the Panther Woman, played by Kathleen Burke has any sexual drives or will he need further experiments.

Arlen's fiancé Leila Hyams is also looking for him and she arrives on the island setting up a not to be forgotten climax as Laughton's creations discover he's not God after all.

Island of Lost Souls, based on an H.G. Wells novel, is entertainment, but it also makes one think about the limits of science and what happens when scientific advances outrace similar advances in mankind's sense of ethics.

Anyway, I'm sure Dr. Moreau will not be PETA's man of the year.
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Genuinely creepy in an unholy kind of way.
john_vance-2080610 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is a pre-code production and it shows. Even today this movie would get some serious push-back.

There is no nudity or explicit sexual behavior. The physical violence is not extraordinary. What permeates through the whole film is a sense of primal wrongness. Not just that Dr Moreau has crossed the boundaries of nature but that he's done it with prurient cruelty and indifference. He's accomplished something truly extraordinary but he's done it in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons and knows it - he simply does not care.

In a way, this is like an obscene version of Pygmalion or Frankenstein. Instead of the creator loving or at least respecting his creations, he finds even the most successful versions as curious abominations that exist only for his perverse pleasure and twisted curiosity.

It's hard to watch the Charles Laughton's lascivious, leering portrayal of Dr Moreau and not feel truly repulsed. Much as if one were watching Dr Mengele perform his monstrous experiments or Genghis Khan optimizing his torture techniques. I'm not sure I can recall a character so coldly repugnant.

The fear, suffering and resentment of his experimental subjects is palpable and unsettling. Dr Moreau walks in their midst with a sneer of absolute superiority and fearlessness, lording over them what he's done and what he can do again. Their animalistic impulses are only barely contained and they project a cold, primitive rage balanced and checked by Dr Moreau's cold, calculating omnipotence.

This isn't a slasher flick where pretty young girls are savaged by a sociopath. This is evil portrayed in it's most stark and fundamental form - the human without a soul.
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dougdoepke27 August 2006
For some reason this superior horror film has failed to get the recognition it deserves. The early 30's were a banner period for the occult and preternatural, from Dracula to Frankenstein to King Kong, et al., so perhaps this Paramount entry simply got lost in the shuffle. But it's a real sleeper, deserving of both a revival and an appreciation for the classic it is.

No need to recount the plot here. Just a few random points I think are worth making.

The sets are simply terrific, adding greatly to the exotic atmosphere of the South Seas and to the eerily claustrophobic sensations you feel after passing through the entrance tunnel. This really is a world apart. I wish the credits listed the art director and set designer for the plaudits they deserve. Also, the make-up is very well done for the time, but also goes uncredited.

Laughton's performance is one of the sly-est in a long and eccentric career. Frankly, I see it as one of his most understated, and especially agree with the reviewer who views it as both slightly feminine and rather seductive. Yes indeed. Notice how he seeks to disarm intruders with a beguiling hospitality and politeness, that has all the oily graciousness and concern of a clever host caught unawares. Notice how he even drapes himself seductively over a couch at one point. He doesn't menace intruders, he charms them. Perhaps this is one reason the film is under-rated-- Dr. Moreau's evil is much less overt and much more subtle than that of the classic monster figures of the era.

Judging from director Erle C. Kenton's rather dreary list of film credits, this movie would appear to be a happy accident. Perhaps the director was inspired by the material and the production crew. Who knows. But Kenton produced nothing like it before or after, suggesting that even the most mediocre may have at least one triumph in him or her if the conditions are right. Anyway, his lowly B-movie reputation may be another handicap on the way to classic status.

Like most great horror films, this one too has a suggestive subtext that can be mined for symbolism and allegory. Outside of the obvious 'god-like' symbolism, I expect some might view the story as a commentary on the deadening effects of the industrial state and its double-standard concerning who can break the law and who can't . Certainly the doctor's telling the poor wretches they are men while keeping them in fearful bondage bespeaks some kind of grand hypocrisy. In fact the film's central irony lies with the general humaneness of the creatures when contrasted with the whip-lash cruelty of their keepers. It's revealing that beneath their monstrous appearance emerges a sense of justice and fairness, even if it is the primitive eye-for-an-eye variety. Keep in mind that the script was put together during the depths of the depression.

However that may be, the movie remains a fine piece of unnerving entertainment, some of whose disturbing images will stay with you long after the screen has gone to black. If staying power is any indicator of excellence, then this one qualifies, because once you've seen it, you don't forget it.
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what is the law???
vampi196019 August 2006
island of lost souls was made in 1933 by paramount.and it was very very controversial when it was first released.they banned it in england for years.this was the first version of h.g.wells classic story,it was remade in 1977 with Burt Lancaster and in 1996 with Marlon Brando.this was the best one i think.Charles Laughton plays the mad Dr.turning men into animals.and a very sexy woman(Kathleen Burke)into a panther girl.the manimals look very convincing,look for buster Crabbe,Alan ladd,and western star Randolph Scott playing manimals. Richard Arlen plays the stranded sailor who ends up on moreau's hellish island.beautiful Leila hyams(freaks) plays his fiancé who ends up searching for him.Bela Lugosi plays a wolfish sayer of the law in a small but important part.for 1933 it still holds up today.its a true classic not to be missed.10 out of 10
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Are we not men?
twell7620 November 2002
First of all...Bela Lugosi is completely amazing as The Sayer of The Law. As small as his part is, it adds to the overall quality of the film by and far. He is definitely the most quotable, and perhaps memorable character in this installment. Second of all...Charles Laughton might well be the most versatile and most despicable player of the villain in history. He pulled off some great heel characters. The Island of Lost Souls, in my opinion, would be his second best performance (Captain Bligh; Mutiny on The Bounty #1).

Finally this is one of my favorite films, and easilly the best of Moreau. I did not read the H.G. Wells novel, and do not care how faithful any film is to the origional work. Judged simply as a film this is about as good as they come.

Two classic actors put forth 2 classic performances. Three thumbs up!!!
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