ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) Reviews and overview

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Island of Lost Souls is a 1932 American science fiction horror feature film directed by Erle C. Kenton (House of DraculaHouse of Frankenstein) from a screenplay co-written by science fiction writer Philip Wylie. The movie stars Charles LaughtonRichard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke as the Panther Woman.

The Paramount Pictures production was an adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, published in 1896. Both book and film are about an obsessed scientist who is secretly conducting surgical experiments on animals on a remote island.

Our review:
If you are more used to the sedate horrors of the 1930s and 1940s (including director Erle C. Kenton’s own (House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein), this will be quite a revelation.

While suffering from some of the crudeness of the era, it’s a remarkably fresh and gritty film that still seems extraordinarily sadistic in parts: certainly, the vivisection scene is one of the most visceral moments of pre-Sixties horror… Kenton directs with efficiency – it’s not a flashy film, but there are some great shots courtesy of Karl Struss’ cinematography, and it moves at a fast pace, piling on the horrors and the crimes against nature.

The end result is that Island of Lost Souls is one of the best horror films of the 1930s and one whose impact would not be matched for years.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:
“Struss’s cinematography is magnificent and the film boasts a superb performance by Laughton as the fiendish, whip-cracking scientist…” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“Some parts are colourlessly acted and stock situations creep in but the impression of a spine chilling and truly “fantastic” remains to stamp this as a first-class horror film.” BFI Monthly Film Bulletin

“One is often repelled by the film, but rarely convinced by it – even within the limited powers of conviction of most horror films – and thus, one is never really frightened by any of it either. Although the sets and locations (mainly Catalina Island) are effective, there is not a note of background music to help create mood, and there is a listlessness in direction…” William K. Everson, Classics of the Horror Film, The Citadel Press, 1974

” …Island of  Lost Souls (1932) remains a provocative piece of genre filmmaking. Nearly perfect from start to finish, a few modern viewers might actually find themselves mortified by the films subject matter, in addition to its gallery of grotesque monster makeup designs. Essential viewing for any serious horror aficionado.” Cool Cinema

“A genuinely terrifying horror movie acted with over-the-top gusto by Laughton who turns in a memorably chilling picture as the sadistic Moreau, probably the screen’s finest mad scientist. Easily Kenton’s best genre film.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

“The enduring mystery of Island of Lost Souls is how these variously perverse elements were so well and suggestively blended together by Erle C. Kenton, a director known mainly for comedies. For a filmmaker who could be remarkably offhanded, Kenton’s work here seems amazingly controlled and inventive.” The New York Times

“…a gripping, uncompromising tale whose entire appearance conveys gloom and misery … a maturity and harshness rarely found in fantasy films.” Photon

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