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- Blu-ray: Island of Lost Souls Criterion Collection
- Rating: Not Rated
- Starring: : Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, George Irving, Kathleen Burke
- Written By: H. G. Wells’s (novel), Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie (screenplay)
- Directed By: Erle C. Kenton
- Distributor: Criterion Collection
- Original Year of Release: 1932
- Extras: Commentary, Conversation with John Landis and Rick Baker, Multiple Interviews, Trailer, Posters, Essay
Island of Lost Souls Criterion Collection Blu-ray
By Robert T. Trate
October 31, 2011
Criterion Collection’s Island of Lost Souls now on Blu-ray
© Criterion Collection
It was rare treat indeed that my first film experience with the 1932 version of H.G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” was a Blu-ray projection in the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. John Landis was promoting both his new book and Criterion Collection’s completely restored version of Erle C. Kenton’s The Island of Lost Souls (Spine #586). To watch it with an audience elevated the horror and the humor behind this almost forgotten classic.
The film itself is not a direct translation from Wells’ novel, but bears the Hollywood stamp. It is from a pre-code ratings era where violence and sex (mostly implied) are left on the screen. The story begins with Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) discovered adrift in the South Pacific. Parker is taken aboard a ship which is inbound to the island of Dr. Moreau. Parker is forced onto the island where he meets Moreau (Charles Laughton). Moreau is an odd character but completely hospitable as he offers Parker a ship and a crew to get him home to his fiancée, Ruth (Leila Hyams). While on the island, Parker notices the strange natives. Moreau then introduces him to the only woman on the island, Lota (Kathleen Burke). However, it is only after a passionate embrace that Parker (not the the loyalist of fellows) notices Lota’s hands. They really aren’t hands at all, but claws. Not to bog you down with details (even though the Wells story is fairly well known) but Parker knows he needs escape from the island.
The Blu-ray Experince:
Charles Laughton delivers an incredible performance elevating this to the “A” picture it was back in 1932. The lure for horror fans and regular film aficionados is Criterion Collection’s complete restoration of the film. The audio commentary by film historian Gregory Mank is quick to highlight which scenes and dialogue were cut from this pre-code film. The interesting facts are where these cuts were made; not so much a point in the film but where it screened. Certain cities, states, and even a few countries cut the film to suit their “tastes”. This created a variety of versions for Kenton’s film. Mank’s commentary is packed with enough history and facts that listening to it twice is really the way to go. Who knew that this “rich man’s” version of Freaks (1932) had so much to reveal?
The cast’s history makes up a lot of the early commentary as Mank reveals the pay scale of the actors. Despite Bela Lugosi being a big star, he was only paid $875 for the entire shoot. Oddly enough, Katherine Burk had won a contest to play her part of Lota, the Panther Woman, received $1000. An additional note was made about Burke winning the role because her hometown might have had more Paramount screens than any other city. Many of the beast men were professional wrestlers except one, The Pig Man (Buster Brodie) would later become a Flying Monkey in The Wizard of Oz (1939). All these notes and more make this is a great commentary.
The film is as crystal clear as many modern transfers appear to be. It has been completely restored, but still has those occasional, charming little scratches. Once in a while a piece of dust dances across a corner. This adds to the charm of this old film and makes the complete restoration worth it. The makeup is a thing of beauty as each hair on the beast men comes to life in 1080p. For a film that is over 80 years old with creature makeup that is pretty standard, the Island of Lost Souls still supplies plenty of scares.
In 1996, I did see the debacle that was The Island of Dr. Moreau directed by John Frankenheimer. To this day I have never seen the ‘77 version staring Burt Lancaster and Michael York. Both films are compared here and discussed by Mank on the commentary and by John Landis and Rick Baker in their own featurette. David J. Skal (a horror film historian) even chimes in with his look at this version and the next two. Skal’s interview, however, lacks the excitement his Freaks DVD Commentary had. The last interview is a strange one and more for the fans of the rock group Devo then film aficionados. Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh discuss the influence of the film on their lives growing up and on their band.
Why isn’t this film the beloved classic that it so rightfully deserves to be? H.G. Wells was alive when the film was released and hated it. It was also released when theaters were censoring what they were screening. This practice removed much of the story and “horror” from the film. The British Censor Board completely banned it from the UK. Island of Lost Souls never really did find its rightful place in the classic horror genre or movie history. Thankfully, Criterion Collection has brought this classic back for a whole new generation to discover.
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos and film criticisms.