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Island of Lost Souls (1932)
~Review by Grawlix (December 2017)
Maybe I need to turn in my geek card for this, but I’ve clearly underestimated the influence of The Island of Dr. Moreau. I partially blame the reputation of the 1996 movie version for this, an infamous box office bomb that I have yet to see. I was thinking of finally checking it out, because I’m a cinematic masochist that way, maybe watching the ’77 version as well as a kind of counterpoint, when I noticed that there were adaptations of the story literally going back a hundred years. Who knew? Seeing the modest runtime of this version, I decided to take a look.
Island of Lost Souls tells story very similar to that of Frankenstein. Dr. Moreau is a prototypical mad scientist who takes up residence on an island when his experiments involving forced evolution of animal species are rejected by polite society. When a shipwrecked castaway named Edward Parker ends up on his pier, the good doctor seizes the opportunity for clinical trials by exposing the panther girl, Lota, to him as a test of her uniquely feminine humanity. Unfortunately, the man’s presence proves to be more disruptive than Moreau initially anticipated, setting into motion a series of events that culminate with the doctor learning an all too common lesson about the dangers of keeping exotic pets.
I find it challenging to review movies like Island of Lost Souls sometimes, because it’s unfair to judge it by modern standards. But even judged against movies I’ve seen of similar age like Dracula, Frankenstein and King Kong, Island of Lost Souls shows some issues. At 70 minutes, the movie zips along, but there’s a surprising amount fat as it adheres to a strict chain of continuity, showing even mundane transitional scenes instead of simply implying them. Also, Parker, among other characters, has a disarming tendency of saying aloud exactly what he’s thinking, even if it would be to his detriment, and also of throwing punches whenever he needs to punctuate a particularly vehement point. I realize that these are mostly products of the time, often owing to the stage pedigree of many of the actors and crew, but they seemed a bit more noticeable than usual. In spite of this, the movie still managed to spawn a few classic lines (“The natives are restless”, “Are we not men?”) that endure today.
The effects work holds up a bit better. Most of the makeup work consists of fake fur and chunky prosthetics (Bela Lugosi has a small role, buried under these effects, as one of Moreau’s subjects, apparently because he needed the money) but they blend in well with the black and white photography. Considering they’re from a time when audible dialogue was still counted as a special effect, they look pretty good.
While it does fall a bit short compared to its contemporaries, Island of Lost Souls isn’t bad at all, and at just over an hour, it doesn’t represent a huge time investment. I’d give it a slight recommendation, with the understanding that even if you don’t like it, it doesn’t cost you much.
Final Score: B
Though a product of its time, and a little rough around the edges at that, Island of Lost Souls still engages with solid effects work, memorable lines, and interesting premise.
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