Feb 15, 2012

Island of Lost Souls



Admittedly, I have always been somewhat disappointed by old school Hollywood monster films. Whether it be Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi or Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) directed by Jack Arnold, I have been consistently letdown by the seemingly overblown reputation of early Hollywood horror flicks, especially when comparing them to the great phantasmagorical cinematic works of German expressionism. One thing that stands out glaringly regarding Hollywood monster movies is the atrociously recherché and inorganic nature of these mostly one-dimensional works, but I guess American audiences were fairly easy to convince during (and after) that era. The other day I took a somewhat hesitant chance on the early biopunk flick Island of Lost Souls (1933) directed by Erle C. Kenton, the first cinematic adaptation of H.G. Well’s novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896). I can veraciously admit that Island of Lost Souls is the only early American monster flick that not only exceeded my expectations, but also resonated in my mind a number of days thereafter. Although obviously shot mostly on the restricting confines of a studio set, Island of Lost Souls manages to conjure up the eerie atmosphere of a genuine isolated island microcosm that mentally-feeble man-made monsters call home. Dr. Moreau (played royally by a charmingly sinister Charles Laughton) is the undisputed and self-appointed dictator of this island as he satanically created its inhabitants by somehow hybridizing man and animal via vivisection.  Of course, things change when a critical quasi-humanist named Edward Parker (played by Richard Arlen) finds himself stranded on Moreau's own morbid maniac version of Gilligan's Island.  Island of Lost Souls is thematically reminiscent of German horror writer Hanns Heinz Ewers' short story Mamoloi, a colonial weird tale featuring an exotic Haitian lady who sacrifices herself for her foreign Aryan lover, as the film features a forbid love affair between the film's protagonist Edward Parker and an exotic panther-woman. Naturally, being a vintage Hollywood production, Island of Lost Souls is full of wooden acting and absurdly contrived melodrama, but like most horror films, one can look past these somewhat irritating, consequential flaws.




In our modern and increasingly globalized and homogenized world, one does not always know what to expect when traveling to various parts of the world. With somewhat hostile Turks inhabiting large pockets (many times virtual ‘no go zones’ for indigenous Teutons) of Berlin, Germany and the nearly complete third-worldization of American cities with hostile and mostly unassimilable immigrants from every underdeveloped nation in the world, one would think that a shadow-hand is consciously speeding up a worldwide civil war and virtual cultural apocalypse of sorts. In Island of Doctor Moreau, a science fiction scenario of master versus untermensch is suspensefully played out in a closed-off and mostly uncharted cosmos of the dysgenically damned.  One could even argue that the film is an (unintentional) metaphor for the bloody and genocidal history (slave revolution of 1804) of Haiti when it was still part of the French colony Saint-Domingue. During Island of Lost Souls, the exceedingly pompous and obscenely self-confidant Dr. Moreau even has the gall to state, "Do you know what it means to feel like God?" (an infamous quote that UK censors found to be most contemptible) in regard to his self-righteous campaign to subvert nature and create subservient hideous beings that are neither men nor animals, but poor creatures who suffer the unideal fate of being somewhere schizophrenically in between. Inevitably, Dr. Moreau’s Mephistophelian display of cruelty and pathological narcissism, as well as his incontested sense of entitlement, leads to his most unpleasant downfall at the peculiar man-pawls of his creations/ex-slaves as he arrogantly never considers that his total control over his army of mongrel mammals will one day wane when these half-thinking monstrosities finally realize that freedom and, even destruction of ‘society’ as it stands, can become a reality.  Island of Lost Souls is essentially the fictional horror film equivalent of Harvard-educated eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard's prophetic work The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man (1922).  Stoddard predicted that, like the manimals in Island of Lost Souls, former Western colonies throughout the world would be overthrown and conquered in bloody revolts led by newly confident indigenous populations who were cognizant of the white man's curtailing power in the world. Personally, I found Island of Lost Souls symbolic of what one can expect for the future of the Occidental world, only the conclusion of the film is notably less frightening than the very potential dystopian destiny that might occur as a result of never-ending mass revolts spreading like rabid locusts in formerly civilized lands. 



One aspect of Island of Lost Souls that I found especially captivating is the strikingly realistic appearances of the various manimals, as many of the actors that played these miserable creatures are authentically deformed, apish, and carrying the grand misfortune of owning exaggeratedly sloped foreheads that were quite typical of prehistoric man.  I am sure that pioneering Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso would have approved of the casting for Island of Lost Souls. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that today, one can visit any major American city and see certain human-beings that looks as artlessly atavistic, mongrelized, and grotesque as the tragic monster-men of Island of Lost Souls. In fact, American horror author H.P. Lovecraft experienced a similar real-life personal horror scenario during his brief migration to New York City during the early 20th century. Lovecraft described new immigrants to NYC as, “The organic things -Italo-Semitico-Mongoloid- inhabiting that awful cesspool could not by any stretch of the imagination be call’d human.” In fact, such ‘horrifying’ privy encounters would influence the iconic sub-humanoid monsters Lovecraft would dream up for his Weird Tales and lead to his (somewhat arguable) reputation as America’s greatest writer of horror literature. One could only imagine Lovecraft’s reaction were he to visit the increasingly degenerate city today. Like all great science fiction works, Island of Lost Souls is a film that manages to combine a pessimistic premonition of the future with fantasy elements that somewhat cryptically manage to chill one’s soul. 


-Ty E

13 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I never liked this film for the obvious reason: Charles Laughton was a dirty British faggot, whenever i see a film thats besmirched and polluted by a British faggot i always say the same thing: "why the hell couldn`t they have cast an all-American heterosexual in the role instead ! ?".

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Just going back to what you were saying with regards to 30`s horror movies, James Whale was another disgusting British faggot who was unfortunately stinking up Hollywood at that time with his loathsome presence, Boris Karloff was also British scum although at least he was rampantly heterosexual which did redeem him considerably obviously, Bela Lugosi was completely OK because he was neither a faggot or British. For some reason There was a lot of British garbage stinking up Universal's horror films at that time, why ?, there must have been an incredible number of American actors and actresses who could`ve played those roles much better and more convincingly.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually, Penelope Sudrow had that stone-age cave-girl look to her face, poor little darlin`, i still fancy her though. I bet shes still a virgin at 46. Penelope Sudrow and Yeardley Smith probably had the same favorite record when they were growing up: Janis Ian's "At 17" ! ! !, you see, the hatefullness of your reveiw is starting to pollute me now. You bloody rotten racist bastards.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually i`ve always been a fan of the 1977 and 1996 versions of this story but once again they were somewhat spoilt for me by the presence of British scum: York and Davenport in `77 and Thewlis in `96, although at least they`re all rampagingly heterosexual which is something to be thankful for obviously.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hey, Karloff snuffed it February 2nd 1969, 19 years almost to the very day before Heather, a borderline eerie co-incidence i think you`ll agree, especially when you remember that they are both legendary icon's of the horror genre. Actually i think Heather is the greatest horror movie legend and icon of all-time, but then i would wouldn`t i ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hollywoods horror movies of the 1930`s do indeed now look like museum pieces from a by-gone era but they`re still more watchable than anything that the British film industry produces NOW ! ! !, just think about that for a mo-girl-t, American made movies from 1932 are still better than anything the British film industry can produce in 2012 ! ! !, once again that will hopefully put into perspective for you just what a laughable and pathetic joke the so-called British film industry is when compared to the breathtaking magnificence of the Hollywood product.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I think Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King are all much better writers than H. G. Wells simply because they were (or still are) great Americans and he was British rubbish.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Lovecraft snuffed it from intestinal trouble just like Heather, another slightly eerie (although admittedly ludicrously obscure) co-incidence involving two of the true giants of the horror ouvre.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I`m becoming such a Penelope Sudrow junkie at the mo-girl-t, i`m calling up all the obscure shows she appeared in on YouTube, you wouldn`t believe the garbage i`m having to sit through just to get to her scenes in those shows where she just had a couple of lines, its worth it though because its so magical when she finally does appear. Hey lads, go to YouTube and call up the 1989 movie "After Midnite", its not a bad little horror film and its one of just a few films that Penelope appeared in (apart from her most iconic role in "Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors") where she had at least a reasonably sized role in the movie, shes in the second story where her and 3 other birds are driving around the warehouse district of Los Angeles at 3 in the morning looking for a party, its not a bad story but the most interesting thing is to compare Penelopes odd little face to the prettiness of the other 3 birds, she looks kinda` out of place but i still think its Penelopes movie more than anyone elses. By the way, another odd little co-incidence is that the supposed star of the movie Ramy Zada celebrated his 30th birthday on the very day that Heather snuffed it, another weird little connection between Heather and Penelope, and yet another reason why i`ve got to somehow get to Los Angeles to meet up with Penelope, what an encounter that would be, Penelope Sudrow, Jervaise Brooke Hamster, and maybe even the ghost of Heather O`Rourke to accompany us, pure magic, you know somehow i think even Ty E and mAQ would want to be there to witness that ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually, with regards to "After Midnite", it would be nice to see a reveiw of that movie on this site (after all, you`ve reveiwed horror movies on here that are much worse), the 3 storys are quite cosy (especially the one with Penelope) and the wrap-a-round story is quite cosy too. In the reveiw you could girl-tion "The Hamster's" obsession with Penelope Sudrow (and post a few sexy pictures of her as well), she might then randomly read the reveiw and then somehow get in touch with me, that would be just perfect.

Ty E and mAQ said...

Jervaise, let us explain something to you, we`re here primarily to reveiw weird cult movies, we`re most certainly NOT here to cater and pander to your bizarre and obscure obsessions with equally bizarre and obscure actresses. Now fuck off you silly bastard.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Best thing I ever did I my blog: Moderate the fuck out of Jervaise. He gets through occasionally, but seems unable to take my advice: "Start your own blog". That's because he's a coward and won't stand behind what he writes.

But back to your post. I am also underwhelmed quite often by old Hollywood horrors. I'm no fan of Lugosi's DRACULA, have little affection for FRANKENSTEIN, and mostly watch CREATURE for the swimsuit babe. I do like BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, though. Much better than its parent.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is better than them all, which is why it's more obscure and didn't do half the box office of them all put together. As we know, audiences love mediocrity, so ISLAND was a big fail with them.

I won't repeat what you guys said because you said it so well.

"Pessimistic premonition". You bet it is!

Soiled Sinema said...

Phantom: Indeed, we have only been allowing some (and probably too many) comments from "the hamster" for a while now. He seems to have taken it quite badly as proven been many of his more erratic, unposted comments. I guess I was in a good mood when I allowed all of these comments to go through. Of course, he will no doubt respond to your comment with the typical one-trick-pony response.

I also must thank you Phantom as you are partially responsible for getting me to watch "Island of Lost Souls" in the first place. I first heard about the film through your blog and when I saw criterion released a new bluray transfer, I couldn't resist!

-Ty E