Ten Word or Less Review: Much better than the one with Brando and a bucket.
The early 30’s are regarded as Hollywood’s golden age of horror. Before it slowly became a bastardized genre for the over-the-hills and never will be’s of Tinseltown, studios treated their horror properties with as much dedication and attention as any A-list production. The age gave us such hallowed icons as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy and King Kong. All properties which contemporary Hollywood still remakes and pilfers from to this day, these genre stalwarts are regarded as the foundation of movie horror. Not routinely discussed with these long held classics is 1932’s The Island of Lost Souls. Sharing many of the same elements and atmosphere as its legendary cousins, Souls is one of the most intriguing horror vehicles of the era and its lack of stature among other classics from the time is odd.
An adaptation of H.G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau, Souls stars legendary scene chewer Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau, an amoral scientist who, hidden away on a tiny island, conducts bizarre experiments in which he turns animals into men-like creatures. Fashioning himself as a self appointed God over his creations, Dr. Moreau wishes to perfect his methods which would culminate in the creation of a perfect human. One day a shipwrecked fellow named Edward (Richard Arlen) winds up on Moreau’s island and becomes privy to the doctors mad creations. Repulsed by the doctor’s scientific abominations, he desperately wants to escape before becoming entwined in his mad plans, plans that have now changed to include Edward.
Classics they may be but several of the above mentioned horror icons are creaky as Hell. They will always be classics by definition but if you can watch the original Mummy with Boris Karloff without noding off I salute you. The Island of Lost Souls is stylistically more adventuresome than most of its more regarded brethren from the same time. Director Erle Kenton utilizes interesting techniques that other directors of the time hadn’t yet grasped or perfected. His film is never visually drab, stagnant or drawn out. At a brief 70 minutes Lost Souls chugs along nicely. The lack of musical accompaniment is problematic but that’s indicative of all movie from the time. The make up on display is uniformly impressive at Souls required large numbers of actors to get done up as various kinds of dog and pig men.
What also makes Lost Souls stand out is it Charles Laughton. In one of his early starring roles, Laughton’s devilish take on the mad scientist with a god complex is one of the best. Laughton lords over the movie with his Hitchcokian physic and sinister goatee, acting his co-stars right off the screen. Richard Arlen is technically the star of the film but he’s not much more than your typical, square jawed leading man/block of wood that bullied through many movies of the era. You have to look very hard to see Dracula himself, Bela Legosi, as the leader of the half-breed beasts.
Fans of classic horror have a new film to look forward to. This wonderful restoration from Criterion is the film’s first foray onto the home video format since VHS. If watching the old classics one more time feels like a been there done that proposition, Island of Lost Souls will give you a new old movie to delve into.