Island of Lost Souls 1933 REVIEW


Banned by the British Censors Three Times, Island of Lost Souls 1933 was worth the wait of seeing, says DAVID SAUNDERSON

Island of Lost Souls 1933

TITLE: Island of Lost Souls
DIRECTOR: Erle C. Kenton
CAST: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke
PLOT:  An obsessed scientist conducts weird experiments on a remote island creating half-human, half-animal creatures. Based on HG Wells’ Island of Dr Moreau
FUN FACT: The film was examined and refused a certificate three times by the British Board of Film Censors, in 1933, 1951, and 1957

Review of Island of Lost Souls 1933

Today it is difficult to understand why Island of Lost Souls was banned three times in the UK.  There is little or no violence in Island of Lost Souls and certainly no nudity. But the subject matter is quite shocking even in this day and age.

Island of Lost Souls 1933 is based on English writer H. G. Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, originally released 1896.

The story tells of a scientist, who has set up a secret research laboratory on a remote tropical island, where he is conducting surgical experiments on animals – and turning them into humanoid creatures.

In the film, renamed Island of Lost Souls, we are introduced to Dr Moreau’s experiments when shipwrecked traveller Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is brought to the island. He is welcomed by Dr Moreau (Charles Laughton), who asks that he keep to his room and that he not mention anything he sees during his visit.

But, of course, if Parker did stay in his room, that would have been a terribly uninteresting movie. After meeting the only “woman” on the island, Lota the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke), Parker discovers the natives are not human – but the result of Moreau’s experiments.

Island of Lost Souls 1933

We learn that Moreau uses the threat of violence and torture from The House of Pain – his research laboratory – to keep his creatures in check.

They must also obey “the law”:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?

Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?

Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

This continuous chanting is eerie. (The murmurs from the jungle also leads Dr Moreau to utter “the natives are restless tonight” – which is apparently where this immortal movie cliché comes from.)

Charles Laughton, in one of his first US films, is a stand-out. His disciplined performance could have easily been an over-the-top melodramatic portrayal of a mad scientist. Instead, we see a charming yet cold and calculating Dr Moreau, obsessed with his experiments. Never one to raise his voice to anyone other than the creatures; his veiled threats of violence are wicked.

The entire film is a delight. At little over 70 minutes, Island of Lost Souls doesn’t waste time in showing us the results of Moreau’s ungodly experiments. We see misshapen, deformed and hairy men, including Bela Lugosi – his accent used to particularly good effect chanting as the Sayer of the Law. The make up is cool and the monstrosity of the subject matter is lots of fun.

It was clearly the underlying notions of torture and bestiality that led to the ban by UK censors in 1932, 1952 and 1958.

The chief reason for the board’s refusal of a classification was the scene of vivisection and the Moreau’s line: “Do you know what it means to feel like God.”

But was Island of Lost Souls 1933 was eventually released in July 1958 with an “X” certificate.

Funnily enough, H. G. Wells himself didn’t like the film, saying it was too focused on horror rather than the philosophical ideas behind the story.

Despite Wells’ dislike of the film for his own personal reasons, Island of Lost Souls really is a great horror flick.

The film might not include the deep and meaningful ideas from the original work, but you will love Charles Laughton’s wicked Dr Moreau and the many weird and wonderful creatures that he has created on his island.

Tell us what you thought of Island of Lost Souls 1933 in the comments section below!

Watch Island of Lost Souls 1933 trailer


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