Criterion Review: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

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Dr. Moreau stands on an elevated piece of jungle. Below lies a camp of thirty hideous man-beasts. They walk around with hair-covered faces in human clothes, but they are obviously not men. They are his creations. Moreau cracks his whip, “What is the law?” A reply comes from the supposed leader of the creatures, “Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?” Then all the beasts bow as they echo in unison, “Are we not men?” Again the doctor says, “What is the law?” A solitary shout, “Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?” The crowd’s echo, “Are we not men?” Once more Moreau repeats, “What is the law?” “Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?” “Are we not men?”

One of the most bizarre sequences in one of the most genuinely creepy movies I have seen in a while, this is the scene were I became totally transfixed by Island of the Lost Souls. It is an unforgettable scene with a strange darkness and a striking realization. It is easily one of the definitive parts of the film, yet there are plenty of other memorable moments throughout.

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Based on the book, “Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.G. Wells, the movie benefits from the fascinating story it tells. Though I am sure the science is implausible, the movie advances scene-by-scene with confidence and originality. Each scene intrigued me more than the last, building up to a stellar climax. Here is the story (courtesy of IMDb.com): “An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-stylized demi-god to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.”

Perhaps the main reason that the film has not become as popular as it should be is that it comes across as a cheap B-movie. Contrary to popular belief, Island actually had a decent-sized budget; evidence of this is the presence of two young stars, Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi. The filmmakers show superb craftsmanship here. The screenwriters (Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young) successfully added a romantic aspect to Wells’ original plot. Surprisingly, these scenes do not feel forced; they seem natural and they only contribute to the flow of the story. Also, i have to mention the legendary make-up work here as well.

In nearly every aspect, Island of the Lost Souls is a solid picture. Full of great artistry as well as symbolism and commentary on society. Made in 1932 and widely unheard of, it is one of those few classic horror films that has retained much of its original ‘bite.’ It deserves to be listed among the best early sound-era monster movies. Frankenstein, Dracula, and King Kong are its peers, yet the film is still seen by few. The Criterion Collection restored and released the film less than a year ago. Perhaps the movie will finally get the attention it deserves.

The Film: A-
The Restoration: A-
The Bonus Features: A-
Conclusion: If you love classic horror, you can’t afford to miss Island of the Lost Souls. It’s a treasure worth buying, especially in this one-disc Criterion package which includes some great interviews as well.

6 responses to “Criterion Review: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

  1. Pingback: The Island of Doctor Moreau, H.G. Wells | Sylvie's World is a Library·

  2. Pingback: Movie Report Card: March 2013 | Cinema Train·

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