Island of Lost Souls Blu-ray

Wednesday, 20 June 2012 14:27

Island of Lost Souls comes to Blu-rayBased on H G Wells’ prescient novel “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, this disturbing movie tells a topical tale of genetic engineering and a mad scientist ruling an island populated by monsters of his own creation. Charles Laughton (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Spartacus”) stars as Dr Moreau, a sadistic genius with a serious god complex and a desire to evolve animals beyond all recognition.

Richard Arlen co-stars as Edward Parker, a man whose ill fortunes flip from being rescued from a shipwreck to being stranded on the freakish island with no feasible means of escape. Other stars include Bela Lugosi (“Dracula”, “White Zombie”) as one of Moreau’s more sentient (and furry) experiments, Kathleen Burke as a seductive lady with a hint of panther, and Arthur Hohl (“The Secret Claw”) as the Doctor’s right-hand man.

Now in its 80th anniversary, the movie effortlessly entertains from start to finish, and more surprisingly is still able to shock its audience. It provides us with a worst-case scenario as to what could happen if genetic engineering is allowed to progress unchecked, or fall into the wrong hands.

Laughton portrays a supremely intelligent and disturbingly self-engrossed scientist, a man who over many years has dedicated every breath to accelerating evolution, breeding the animalistic impulses and physical characteristics out of animals and breeding in human intelligence, communication and emotional responses.

Shot in crisp black and white, the movie is expertly lit to capture a brooding and sweaty jungle atmosphere, where hundreds of obscene creatures lurk in the shadows and the stark, flickering light of a torch or fire may be all that holds them at bay. The sets mix up thick undergrowth and trees with inhospitable concrete accommodation, where barred windows and doors offer little comfort but plenty of defence against potential invaders.

Aside from the stunning sets, the prosthetic make-up is sublime, and all the more incredible because dozens of cast members sport facial and in many cases all-over costumes as well. Wally Westmore was truly ahead of his time for crafting such a wonderful collection of hideous, bizarre and occasionally beautiful outfits, all of them blending human and various animal characteristics to brilliant effect.

The film gets under the viewer’s skin by emphasising the extreme suffering of Moreau’s creations, particularly in the hideously-named ‘House of Pain’ which every monstrosity fears above all else. This is the Doctor’s laboratory where he undertakes his heinous experiments. A persistent sexual undertone also gnaws away at the audience, not least because Moreau has a distastefully personal interest in how his more advanced creations interact with humans of the opposite sex.

The movie was directed by Erle C. Kenton, who in the 1940s went on to shoot several other gothic horror pictures including “House of Dracula”, “House of Frankenstein” and “The Ghost of Frankenstein”, all featuring genre legend Lon Chaney Jr.

The plot moves along at a cracking pace, and at 71 minutes there is preciously little fat to trim. The result is a movie from another era that still feels very fresh, stimulating and gripping, and reminded me of a cross between a Hammer Horror tale and Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. By no small coincidence, a 1996 version featured Marlon Brando, who also happened to star in “Apocalypse Now” – a film that borrowed heavily from Conrad’s masterpiece.

Special features included in this dual-format release include:

  • Newly restored high-definition digital transfer officially licensed from Universal Pictures
  • Newly created SDH subtitles on the feature for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Exclusive video interview with Charles Laughton biographer Simon Callow
  • Exclusive video interview with film historian Jonathan Rigby
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • A booklet featuring rare production imagery, and a new essay by Kim Newman

As seen in “Ruggles of Red Gap”, Callow provides a fascinating insight into Laughton’s personality and his role in the movie, and Rigby matches him with interesting tales of banned releases and the influence of Charles Darwin on 1890s Gothic horror literature. The DVD version reviewed has very good picture quality, and really brings out the light and shadows, and does justice to the impressive prosthetic make-up.

“Island of Lost Souls” (1932) is out now on dual-format Blu-ray and DVD (both discs in one box), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 71 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £19.99 or £29.99 in steelbook format, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Monday, 23 July 2012 10:42

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