what i watched last week
music friday: yes, it’s still bruce

by request: island of lost souls (erle c. kenton, 1932)

This wasn’t exactly a request … I suggested to Robin that we watch a movie and asked her preference, she said “something old”, I gave her a few choices, she picked Island of Lost Souls.

Island of Lost Souls is so full of ideas that it’s something of a miracle it clocks in at a mere 70 minutes, especially since it isn’t particularly fast-moving. The film features various scenarios that, if you take time to think about them, are interesting and revolting simultaneously. (It is clearly a pre-Code film.) Take Dr. Moreau, played by Charles Laughton in a manner that makes us laugh until we understand what he’s up to. Moreau is the typical scientist who will stop at nothing to create new worlds. But he doesn’t mess with dead bodies, or artificial limbs, or anything quite so proper. No, he’s a vivisectionist who plies his trade on living beings (without anesthesia, it should be added). This takes place in his “House of Pain”, and he’s not kidding.

Moreau is trying to make humans out of animals. Or something like that … I admit I wasn’t always sure. His island is full of the results of his experiments, human-like creatures who can talk, and who follow his “laws” while he cracks a bullwhip. (Yes, this is where “Are we not men?” got started.) His one attempt at a female is The Panther Woman, who features in a scene that seems to create a reason for a Code all by itself: The Panther Woman seduces the hero, they kiss, and then he notices she is growing claws. Somehow, this isn’t exploitative: frustrated bestiality is just another symbol of the continuum of animal behaviors that underlies Moreau’s experiments and makes Island of Lost Souls so unsettling.

There are no real weak spots. The acting is good-to-excellent, the cinematography compelling, the themes designed to make us think, even as we turn our heads from the screen. Much of this seems tame to modern audiences, but the creepiness remains. 8/10.

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