“What is the law?”
Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) was rescued from the sea when his boat sank. The freighter that picks him up is on its way to an island with a cargo of live animals. They are destined for Dr. Moreau’s (Charles Laughton) island and are accompanied by Moreau’s assistant, Montgomery (Arthur Hohl). Once they are delivered the ship is bound for Apia. Parker expects to go along. An argument with Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) over the treatment of Montgomery’s servant M’ling (Tetsu Komai) gets Parker tossed over the side and onto Moreau’s boat.
Now stuck with the stranded Parker, Moreau decides to use him in an experiment. He invites Parker to his house. On the way Parker sees strange looking natives that look almost bestial. After dinner Moreau introduces Parker to Lota (Kathleen Burke). Lota is a beautiful naïve appearing young woman. While they are talking screams are heard coming from another part of the compound. Parker rushes to the sounds and sees Moreau operating on a man without anesthetic. He believes Moreau is vivisecting the man. He grabs Lota and rushes from the house.
Out in the jungle they find a camp filled with beast-like men. Before Parker and Lota are set upon Moreau appears and with the crack of a whip orders the beast-men to recite the laws of the island. A member of the group known as The Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) repeats the laws. Not to run on all fours, not to eat meat, and not to spill blood. The men then quietly go into their huts.
Moreau takes Parker back to the house and tells him about his experiments. He is trying to take animals and bring them forward on the evolutionary scale thousands of years and make them human. He uses plastic surgery, blood transfusions and, of course, good old fashioned gland extracts. He is working on the remote island because, for some reason, London considers what he is doing an abomination.
Moreau decides to keep Parker around to see if he can bring out more human traits in Lota. He scuttles his boat so Parker can’t get off the island. Lota falls in love with Parker and kisses him. She then starts to revert back to her animal essence. Moreau eventually tells Parker that Lota is one of his creations. She is a panther. Moreau vows to burn the animal out of her in what they call the house of pain. It’s then that Parker’s fiancée Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) shows up on the island looking for him.
“Island of Lost Souls” was released in 1932 and was directed by Erle C. Kenton. It is a pre-code horror movie based on H. G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Doctor Moreau” published in 1896. It is basically Paramount’s answer to Universal’s monster movie craze. It was banned in Britain three times. It was refused a certificate in 1933, 1951 and 1957. The British censors claimed the film was “against nature”. Elsa Lanchester, who was Charles Laughton’s wife, responded "Of course it's against nature. So's Mickey Mouse!"
H.G. Wells didn’t like the film. He felt that the horror aspects of it overshadowed the philosophical themes.
The movie is still a little freaky today, I can imagine that in 1932 it was terrifying to movie goers. The make-up effects were done by Charles Gemora and Wally Westmore, the brother of Bud Westmore. The Westmore family is well known for their artistry in the craft of movie make-up.
Laughton as Moreau is chilling. And the concept of the film is unsettling and very disturbing. No wonder it was banned.
Reportedly the language of the mutant’s sound-man was created by Loren L. Ryder who recorded a mixture of animal sounds and foreign languages, then played them backwards at alternating speeds. It is said the effect of the sound induced nausea and caused the audiences to vomit in the theaters. I have not been able to verify that tidbit.