Sunday, November 12, 2006

Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1933, B-)

Not as scary as I hoped, mostly due to the fact that the male lead, Richard Arlen, hardly seemed bothered by the freakish experiments of Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). His performance throughout the film was one of mild irritation, as if the men-beasts and panther woman weren't frightening monsters and twisted perversions of nature but unwelcome dinner guests or something. Not good.

But Laughton's performance makes up for it, as he's so deliciously cool, and evil, and crazy, and charming. He's hamming it up, sure, but it's one of those hammy performances that's actually menacing (take note Brando, whose own Dr. Moreau was just ridiculous). Moreau, of course, isn't bothered by such petty things as morality, being one of those Dr. Frankenstein types who believes he can conquer nature, and Laughton is just that right mix of charisma and arrogance and intelligence that can make even the cruelest and sickest of scientific experiments seem "important" and "revolutionary" and "good." Of course, they're not, and Moreau soon finds out what really happens when you turn beasts into men.

The make-up work on the men-beasts is fantastic, and though Lota the panther woman looks human for the most part, the reveal of her beastly claws was creepy as hell. Definitely the scariest stuff in the film comes from the grotesque faces of the men-beasts lurking in the shadows of Moreau's tropical island. When their true deformities are revealed in close-ups at the end, it's pretty cool, and I was definitely disturbed by Moreau's demise.

Watch (or I should say, listen, as it's hard to tell it's him from appearances) for Bela Lugosi's supporting role, and marvel as well at some pretty graphic pre-Code violence.

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