Island of Lost Souls : Astounding…..


The film features very little bloodshed, all of which is contained within the last five minutes, yet it's darker and more visceral than any film for decades yet to come. The agonized wails of those undergoing vivisection, coupled with Kathleen Burke's pathos inducing reactions to the threat of further treatment call to mind a complete understanding of the torment suffered by those who, without anesthetic, are taken under the knife for prolonged operation and experimentation.

And, of performances, Charles Laughton provides the film with one of those rare villains who is well written, well-acted, and yet who does not warrant any of the audience's sympathy. Laughton's Moreau is a cruel, pitiless, taskmaster whose only motivation is an insatiable thirst for knowledge unhindered by ethic. And Arthur Hohl's conscience stricken Montgomery provides a worthy foil for the comparison.

And lastly, the creature makeup itself was fantastic. Again the story finds itself several decades ahead of itself as Ouran, the pigman, and several of the others looked truly unlike any other special effects creations of that era. Wally Westmore's makeup artistry ranks among those of Lon Chaney or Frankenstein's Jack Pierce. It is with no surprise that I discover that it was Westmore who transformed Fredrick March from the gentlemanly Dr. Jekyll to the brutish and ape-like Eddy Hyde.

I can only wonder why this film is not as well remembered as other horror films such as Dracula and Frankenstein. Being released in 1933, it's possible that the rise of the Hays Code would have made its rerelease impossible for nearly two decades or perhaps the implied violence was more than audiences of the 30s could handle. Whatever the case, I certainly feel as though it deserves greater recognition than what it has received.

Re: Astounding…..

Agree completely with the OP - just watched this for the first time in many years and was very impressed. Superb Laughton performance - even this young he could have a tendency towards hamminess, but he's just terrific here, especially the way he uses his voice.

"In my case, self-absorption is completely justified."

Re: Astounding…..

Very well written review. I agree with all of that and think this is a real horror gem.

Re: Astounding…..

Thank you.

Re: Astounding…..

Great post Skye Reynolds. Oh I think this film is very well remembered by anyone who's ever seen it. It is so bizarre and disturbing that we tend to keep it in a very deep, dark area of our hearts and rarely speak of it with others. Kind of like a guilty pleasure. The movie "Freaks" is in this same category.

It is not even remotely a movie for kids or even teens under (?) years of age. These are some of the groups of movie watchers that tend to keep the horror classics "well remembered" as they grow older.

Re: Astounding…..

Thanks, kbarada.

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Agreed. In fact, I think the makeup in this looked better than in the subsequent versions.

"I'll book you. I'll book you on something. I'll find something in the book to book you on."

Re: Astounding…..

I also agree!
I'm a horror fan... Been one for 40 years... Yet this film has somehow eluded my viewing pleasure... Until today, that is....
This film is FANTASTIC! This film should be shown every Halloween... And throughout the whole year... Any horror fan who hasn't seen this, is really missing out!

Trust me,
My, you're nosey, aren't you?

Re: Astounding…..

I saw it tonight for the first time. I give it the highest rating. I found it moving. It almost brought me to tears. (The plight of the half men/half animals. And the House Of Pain.) It makes me wonder if depression era audiences turned out in droves to support this wonderful film.

Re: Astounding…..

"Charles Laughton provides the film with one of those rare villains who is well written, well-acted, and yet who does not warrant any of the audience's sympathy. Laughton's Moreau is a cruel, pitiless, taskmaster whose only motivation is an insatiable thirst for knowledge unhindered by ethic."


Yep, I agree with you completely on that.

The Studio, Time Of The Film's Release

I've wondered about the "seeming" neglect of The Island Of Lost Souls, too. Maybe it's due partially when the film came out. It's an early talkie horror from a studio not known for making horrors, and whose style (smooth, sleek, rather European) wasn't in synch with Gothic horror. Paramount's European sensibility was more modern than, say, Universal's, which was more sentimental and old-fashioned, which was a better fit for the kind of horror they excelled at.

Paramount's pictures of the period also tended to be more pictorial, emphasizing their back lot in a style more suited to the theater, with its plethora of musicals and light comedies. The more modest Universal had to be more sparing in even their A level films, so they made the best they could with what they had, which was good, though more Gothic and graphic for the most part. Paramount also tended to cater to more upscale moviegoers, thus they weren't a good place to make horrors, with their (mostly) high class star line-up.

Thus TIOLS doesn't have the look and feel of a classic era horror. There's brutality in it, though I don't get a genre vibe from it, even as they're there even in Tod Browning's MGM horrors. It was much the same after the war: Paramount's 50s sci-fi pictures, the few that they made, were largely George Pal efforts, thus suitable for families and middle class moviegoers. Universal's sci-fi was nearer to the Saturday Afternoon At the Bijou and drive-in trade. As with horrors, Uni's 50s sci-fi largely defines the genre, as they did back in the pre-war era.