Island of Lost Souls (12/1/32) Wrong time, wrong island. Moreau plays Mengele on a bunch of unsuspecting animals, setting himself up as the deity to his beastmen, fire and bloodly climax assured. Experimenting on live unsedated animals was a thing back in the day, and people were outraged at the idea, it’s still a thing today, but fewer people are outraged. Kicking off the British Villain archetype, Laughton pluses it with some satantic facial hair and a stragetically placed pistol. His mad scientist is gleeful at the idea of stretching his animal to man transmogrification hobby to into beastiality territory. In the book it is the screams of suffering animals that drives our hero from the house into the jungle, in the film, it is screams of a suffering manbeast. The 1st of the many moments you can literally hear censors all over the world sharpening their scissors. Paramounts horror films at the time are more sexy and violent than others, instead of hinting at mating human to monster, here they are openly discussing it and planning for it. I am trying to image a 22 minute version with everything outrageous removed.
Westmore’s makeup effects were groundbreaking and much talked about at the time. That and the Panther woman contest added to the the prerelease hype, luring viewers in like the sideshow canvases daring you to come and see the freakshow. The other effects in the film are so subtle in comparison they are practically seamless: as in the rear screen projection of Arlen and Laughton disembarking the schooner in the background to reenter the cave set in the foreground to conclude the scene. Struss’s Cinematography is incomperable, but Dreier’s Art Direction that tickles me the most. Set dressing Moreau’s House of Pain, so that we have trees and vegetation inside the living quarters, eliminating the demarkation between what is civilization and what is jungle. Cutting heavily between set dressed outdoor locations, and soundstages, you feel as trapped as the island denisens.
There was no hiding Bela beneath all that fur, which is strangely lacking from his hands. Most beastmen seem to be reverting from the extremities inward, so that may have been a omission, or perhaps a full fur face get up is quicker to strip off than a more elaborate effect. Kelton was a servicable director, this seems to be his highwater mark, before he comes to Universal for a couple of the Frankenstein sequels. Here he makes some very clever choices, as with Lota’s reveal, when Moreau first speaks to Lota, we never actually SEE her, until she is presented to Parker.
For a while there was a spate of shipwrecked island movies. I suppose that trope had to run its course prewar while there were still undiscovered island and tinpot mad scientists wanting to build a better race on them. The film leaves me wondering about Moreau’s funding…who is PAYING for all this? is there some sort of export product that he was using his workforce to harvest? I think they could do great business spinning yarn.