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Island of Lost Souls (1932)
TERROR! Stalked the Brush-Choked Island...Where Men Who Were Animals Sought the Girl Who Was All-Human!
Filmmaker(s): Erle C. Kenton

An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

The Soul of the Movie

Sometimes a movie enters you while you watch it. These days a movie often enters you well before you pay to see it, the soul of the thing having been conveyed to you by too-long trailers and saturation advertising.

But is sometimes the case that a movie — especially one with an engineered ending — enters you well after you have seen it, during a period of mental digestion. This movie doesn’t have a well done ending, but it enters you afterwards — at least it did me.

During the watching, what you see is a combination of movie trends: jungle movies, often with savage women or women in savage contexts, magical island movies, and movies where a mad doctor perverts science. All of these were part of the great experiment of film stories in the thirties and any combination of them is done much, much better elsewhere.

What makes this memorable, even useful, is the notion behind it, introduced in the title. What we have here is a doctor who has learned to accelerate “evolution” if that word can be used in the context of a single being. He starts with animals and accelerates them toward what is shown to be a perfect state: human.

All beasts strive to evolve to the human state. That’s the first shocking notion behind this. It is almost Biblical in its assumption, that man is the form of God. But what we see of the “real” humans here is hardly admirable.

Going further, it assumes that the beast in each of us can only be temporarily mollified. Oh, what we see is hairy foam rubber, but what we remember is what Wells imputed. And there’s no magic in the conundrum.

So where is the soul? Does sex play a role in the setting of soul — as the doctor absolutely believes? (Oh gosh, how perfect Natasha Kinski’s cat woman would do here for the wan girl playing the supposedly sexy woman derived from a panther.)

Laughton doesn’t know what he is doing, so plays a suave nitwit instead of the true genius Wells imagined. Brando’s later Moreau was in a catastrophe of a project, but he knew who the true Moreau — was.

See this movie with no soul, and let it evolve into you.

Posted in 2006

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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