Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Edward Parker: Those poor things out there in the jungle. Those animals. They – They talk.

Dr. Moreau: That was my first great achievement. Articulate speech controlled by the brain. And it was a great achievement! Oh, it takes a long time and infinite patience to make them talk. Someday I will create a woman and it’ll be easier.



There are two kinds of movies worth watching: (1) good movies and (2) interesting movies. Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Wait a minute. Wouldn’t the fact that it’s interesting make it good?  First rule of classification and division–no overlapping categories! And what does ‘good’ mean anyway?  Isn’t that a bit vague?” Yes. It’s not an exact science, but I bet you get my drift. If we were to walk out of a movie theater, and I turned and said, “Well, that was interesting,” it would depend to some degree on my tone , but you would know there was something about it that sets it apart from the ordinary for me, that puts it under the microscope, so to speak. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is one of my all-time favorite movies. I have watched it at least twice, and I would be up for watching it again, except for “guys night.” It’s not a “guys night” movie; it’s also not one I would call “interesting.” Taxi Driver is one I would call “interesting, ” and so is Island of Lost Souls, though in very different ways.

What it’s about:

From IMDB: “An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.”

From Wikipedia: “Island of Lost Souls is a American Pre-Code science fiction horror film starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke as the Panther Woman, broadcast in 1933. The film was directed by Erle C. Kenton and produced by Paramount Pictures from a script co-written by science fiction legend Philip Wylie, the movie was the first film adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, published in 1896. Both book and film are about an obsessed scientist who is secretly conducting surgical experiments on animals on a remote island.


island_of_lost_souls_web1. Charles Laughton’s performance. Was he capable of giving a bad one? Doubtful. Under critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the entry for Tim Brayton says, “What pushes it over the edge into the realm of actual genius… is Laughton’s absurdly good performance as Moreau, one of the great pieces of horror movie acting.” Agreed. If there were a special award category for “Best Over-the-Top Madman on An Island Purchased for the Express Purpose of Carrying Out Nefarious Ends,” Laughton and Leslie Banks would be the only serious contenders.


bc5fa21aaddde2bf565a9250c74f66cd2. The panther woman. Featured prominently on most artwork for the film, one poster
includes at the top “The panther woman lured men on–only to destroy them body and soul!” I mean, what’s not to like, right? How fun is that? Not so much the being destroyed part, but just the sheer tawdriness of it. I can’t for the life of me see having a “panther woman” as anything but a plus. Turns out Paramount actually had a contest to select the actress for the role. According to the Wiki entry, Kathleen Burke was working as a dental assistant at the time she entered and won the contest from a pool of 60,000 applicants.


1. Bela Lugosi’s accent. Lugosi is great, but in this context, the Hungarian accent is distracting.

What I liked about it:

Island of Lost Souls is an interesting look into how people in the 1930s thought about men, women, and sex, and like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hide, it provides an entertaining commentary on the struggle between our unchecked natural impulses and the desire to be civilized. Moreau, a disgraced prototypical mad scientist, imports exotic animals onto his own private island so he can experiment with their biology with the intent of leveling them up from their current beastly state to an evolved state (i.e., man). Ironically enough, it turns out this is much easier to do with women. His experiments on male animals produce results best described as (pun intended) “mixed.” Unless you have a thing for hirsute men with dental problems and the occasional cloven foot, they’re not very attractive. The Panther Woman, however, is a vision of loveliness. Physical indicators of her beastly origins stop short of anything a good mani and pedi couldn’t take care of. Clearly, women, though impulsive and subject to base desires when reverted to their “natural” state, nevertheless remain relatively close to a civilized feminine ideal, albeit from a male point of view, of course. Men, on the other hand, become wild and dangerous.


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