The Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Charles Laughton takes on the role of Dr. Moreau in this version of the classic H.G. Wells tale.

It is also, for me, probably the best adaptation of the subject matter that I have seen on the big screen. Laughton’s performance is gleeful, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. You can see the wheels turning as he makes his plans, as he gives sly grins to his assistant, he’s just delightfully devious, and makes no apologies for who he is. He’s a likeable villain, but a villain all the less.

Well likeable enough until you learn about the House of Pain.

The story opens with Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) being rescued at sea after his ship sinks. Clashing with the drunkard of a captain, after he’s sent a wire to let his fiancée know where he is and when he’ll be arriving, he’s tossed overboard when his rescuers are transferring cargo and supplies to the whip-weilding Dr. Moreau.

Realizing that he’s stuck with Parker, Moreau makes sure he can’t leave the island, and sinks his own boat. You see, Moreau has a  plan, he wants Parker to mate with Lota, the panther woman (Kathleen Burke). Lota is Moreau’s most perfected creation yet, on an island filled with monstrous half-men, half-animal beings, which he creates in the aptly named House of Pain.

But when Parker’s fiancée shows up with a helpful captain to save him, things go sideways, as murder is committed for the first time on the island at Moreau’s orders, the creatures, led by a wasted use of Bela Lugosi, rise up in rebellion!

I have to say, I liked the way the story is adapted, Laughton was fantastic, and a real delight to watch. The make-up effects, for the time, would have been truly frightening to the viewing audience, and even now, some of them are a little disturbing.

Overall an enjoyable film, working with source material that has been revisited a number of times since, but could be argued, never better.

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