Movie Review for Comic Fans: Island of Lost Souls

Hey gang. Back here with more bloggy goodness. Some of you ask what the Ghosts do when we are not recording awesome podcasts or reading comics. Well, often times, we watch movies together such as the other night when we had a little mini movie night with my fellow Ghost, Chad Smith, and my Mrs.

The three of us watched the classic sci-fi monster picture from 1934, The Island of Lost Souls, a movie I’d been itching to see for years. Universally acclaimed as the best adaption of the classic H.G. Wells story The Island of Dr. Moreau, I had high hopes that this film would deliver the goods in a similar vein to other early Monster films from the golden age like Bride of Frankenstein, King Kong, or the Invisible Man.

I can say with a good deal of certainty that this film sits aside those others as one of the pinnacles of the genre, and one I’ll fire up again and again ever Halloween for some good old fashioned creepy fun.

As I’ve never read the original source material, I’ll have to just talk about this film from the perspective of someone that’s seen a lot of B movie/monster pictures in his day, and has a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

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First the obvious is the casting, principally Charles Laughton as the infamous Dr. Moreau himself. I’ve read countless reviews discussing his brilliance with this part, and I definitely agree with all of it. Never over the top, never hamming it up, Charles plays the picture perfect mad scientist, intelligent, oozing charisma, yet completely unhinged. But it’s an extremely dangerous kind of “unhinged” as to him he’s completely justified in ever evil act as he’s doing it all for the sake of science. Like some sort of Nazi death camp doctor, he’s sadistic, cruel, and without remorse for his unwilling subjects: horrible half human/half animal creatures for which he feels he is attempting to better through his “improvements” despite the extreme pain and confusion the process creates.

More over, he’s also supremely confident to the point where we begin to wonder whether our protagonist, the shipwrecked Parker, has really any chance of escaping this mad house of an island, before he’s forced to mate with Moreau’s most perfect creation, The Panther woman. It’s really only in the end do we see that the good doctor is really a man with clay legs like all dictators, whose will and law is only enforced by fear and without the fear, they are powerless.

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Then there’s the cinematography and directorial choices. At only 71 minutes, this movie is whirlwind of ideas and not a shot or scene is wasted. It’s hard to imagine why modern movies have to be close to 2 hours to tell the same amount of story that a movie like this tells in half the time.

My personal favorite scenes are the ones where Dr. Moreau addresses his tribe of savage creatures living deep in the jungle. It’s a simple idea placing him on the high ground looking down into his pit of misery he’s created like some mad king. Simple yet it speaks volumes about the relationship between him and the creatures, and when you think that’s its only 1934, you realize why I love old films. They are writing the rule book all us movie makers later will steal from.

In fact, the best thing I can say about Island of Lost Souls is that it does a lot with a little. Like the ending scenes when after the Doctor breaks the third “law”: Not to shed blood and his monsters turn on him in defiance. There are all these rapid cuts of these terrible freaks lunging forward at Moreau and then they pan down on the one and it has a goat leg and a human leg. And it was creepy as hell. No CGI, no super special effects, just a simple costume trick and it’s more disturbing then a lot of the modern slasher pictures. And this movie is chock full of them.

I don’t want to talk too much more about it as it might ruin the experience and suprises for others, but I highly recommend that you find a copy on Netflix or tuning in the next time its on TCM.

Island of Lost Souls is a must see for any fan of thrillers or horror. Plus you get a new found appreciation for the song “Jump Around” after seeing the real House of Pain.

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