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Island of Lost Souls
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A twisted treasure from Hollywood’s pre-Code horror heyday, Island of Lost Souls is a cautionary tale of science run amok adapted from H. G. Wells’s novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. In one of his first major movie roles, Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII) is a mad doctor conducting ghastly genetic experiments on a remote island in the South Seas, much to the fear and disgust of the shipwrecked sailor (Richard Arlen) who finds himself trapped there. This touchstone of movie terror, directed by Erle C. Kenton (House of Frankenstein), is elegantly shot by Karl Struss (The Great Dictator), features groundbreaking makeup effects that inspired generations of monster-movie artists, and costars Bela Lugosi (Dracula) in one his most gruesome roles.
Audio commentary by film historian Gregory Mank, author
New video conversation among filmmaker John Landis and more
New interviews with horror film historian David J. Skal
New interviews with Devo founding members Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh
Subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Christine Smallwood
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The story concerns a scientist conducting surgical experiments on animals in an attempt to transform them into human beings. Adapted from H.G. Wells' book, "The Island of Dr. Moreau", this film version is unanimously considered to be the best - there were two subsequent remakes in 1977 and 1996. The premise has been re-worked in many films; most notably in TERROR IS A MAN (1959).
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS was directed by Erle C. Kenton, who is known primarily as a competent enough director of B-films. This superbly crafted work is the exception. Kenton excels in his handling of the Philip Wylie/Waldemar Young script by keeping the pace brisk (the film runs just 70 minutes), and by sustaining a genuine aura of eeriness and suspense. The bravura cinematography by Karl Struss is rich with ominous, expressionistic shadows and yet is sensuously lush at the same time.
Charles Laughton's underplayed portrayal of Dr. Moreau is the most twisted mad scientist ever, and is definitely one of this great actor's finest performances. Richard Arlen is perfect as the bewildered castaway who challenges the doctor's unethical goals. The film also benefits by the strong presence of two lovely female characters: Leila Hyams, who is very Fay Wray-ish as Arlen's fiancee, and Kathleen Burke as the Panther Woman, Moreau's most near-perfect creation. Burke in particular is touching and tragic; the most lost of all the souls on the forsaken island. In a truly fearsome role, Bela Lugosi - sporting terrific hirsute makeup - scores high as the inwardly as well as outwardly tortured "Sayer of the Law" and leader of the mutant beast-men. The makeup effects in the creation of Moreau's unfortunate "manimals" was among the most innovative of the era.
The blu-ray of this bona-fide classic was transferred off the finest elements from three sources: a 35mm fine-grain positive, a 35mm nitrate positive, and a 16mm print. The result is a fabulous looking film, the finest it's ever likely to look - and sound. The audio is clean, clear, and crisp. The great opening title music, played over splashing waves that reveal the credits, is restored in all its moody ambience. And, speaking of music, it's noteworthy that this film contains none - except for the brief cues at the beginning and end titles - yet it doesn't suffer in the least dramatically for lack of a score.
This much welcome edition from Criterion contains an illustrated booklet with an essay by Christine Smallwood. The special features include an engaging commentary by historian Gregory Mank, a conversation between director John Landis, makeup artist Rick Baker, and collector Bob Burns. There are also interviews with writer/historian David Skal, Richard Stanley, director of the inferior '96 remake, and members of the band Devo, including their musical short film from 1976. The original theatrical trailer and a stills gallery wrap up the extras.
Fans of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS know just what a cherished release this is. For others interested in tracking down the finest classic horror films, this one's a no-brainer. See it - "that is the Law."
Well worth owning for anyone who loves classic horror, whether the iconic Universal monsters or "Dead of Night" or others. And while many people will get the reference to Devo in my headline for this review, I always think of Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo's song based on the same film. "No more House of Pain!"
Okay, it's Feb 14, 2014, and I'm going to update this review just a bit:
Last year (2013), I saw the excellent projection of a 35mm print of this film (at the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC). The print looked better than the Criterion transfer, and it leads me to believe that Criterion actually did very little work with this title. In fact, it looks as if Criterion crushed the blacks just a bit to cover some scratches and such, as this Criterion transfer looks like it could have come from the print that I saw (which was said to be from Universal Pictures library, as Universal acquired this film years after it was originally released by Paramount).
With that said, I'm still thrilled to have this film on Blu-ray and looking better than any home media version of the film (and light years better than we have seen outside of the cinema), but, with some real restoration, I think this film could look even better.
It was very good.
believable mutants, intriguing camera angles, nice twists, good acting, no dissapointments here. It holds up. Quite a surprise that it does, given the age of this movie. Recommended !
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