I know I hadn't seen this one since VHS so I had been looking forward to Island of Lost Souls (1932) since it was first announced that it'd be released as part of The Criterion Collection just in time for Halloween. It was memory lane for me earlier tonight when I popped the notorious 1932 adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells into my DVD player--I can't get enough, I have Gregory Mank's commentary playing in the background as I type this!
Memories were hazy and in the decade-plus since I'd last seen Island of Lost Souls. About all that I'd retained was images of Bela Lugosi's fuzzy face. Boy that was a long time for me to short change Charles Laughton--what a performance! Pompous as is often the case Laughton's never been more twisted then he was as whip-cracking Dr. Moreau. Richard Arlen stars as the shipwrecked Edward Parker who after an altercation with the Captain who's saved him ends up on board Dr. Moreau's ship along with Moreau's cargo of animals. Arthur Hohl is Montgomery, Moreau's assistant. Beyond Bela we also have bonus horror alumnus Leila Hyams who had previously starred in Freaks (1932) at MGM. She plays Parker's concerned girlfriend.Island of Lost Souls, a Paramount film, is as creepy, if not more so, as any of the more famous Universal Horror Classics released during the same period. With its throngs of heavily made-up mutants populating Moreau's island, led by Sayer of the Law, Bela Lugosi, and even more terrifying, Laughton's deviant Moreau feeding his God complex through vivisection, Island of Lost Souls is a pre-code horror gem. You'll find Lugosi's famed cry of "Are We Not Men" tatooed inside the DVD case and stamped over his face on the back cover of the booklet that comes with the DVD.
And that's what this quick post is about: what's inside the package. First the film transfer, and we'll go right inside the booklet to quote that info:
Island of Lost Souls is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 ... Because the original negative no longer survives, this new digital transfer was created from a number of sources ... These elements were scanned in 2K and HD resolution on a Spirit Datacine and a SCNNITY film scanner, and then combined to create the most complete version of the film ever to appear on home video. Finally, thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed ...
This main composition of the booklet is a 6-page article "The Beast Flesh Creeping Back" by Christine Smallwood, who's had essays appear in Harper's, The London Review of Books, The Nation, and other publications. After mentioning Lugosi's famous cry and how it brings the band Devo to mind for the later viewer (more on Devo below), Smallwood writes "That's the thing about encountering an original: you can see it only through everything that comes since." So true.
Besides Mank's commentary (still playing here!) there are four short interview videos supplementing:
- John Landis sits down with makeup artist Rick Baker and "genre expert" Bob Burns to talk about Island of Lost Souls in general but zero in specifically on the make-up. About 16 and a half minutes.
- Film historian David J. Skal spends 12 and a half minutes educating us on Victorian horror literature and specifically Wells' source material for the film, The Island of Doctor Moreau. Skal also talks about controversy from the period regarding Evolution and Social Darwinism as well as possible influence of Oscar Wilde's legal troubles during the time Wells was finishing the novel, published in book form in 1896.
- Richard Stanley, original director of the 1996 The Island of Dr. Moreau adaptation talks about the book and its influence on him since it was forbidden to him during childhood during a nearly 14-minute conversation which culminates with Stanley apologizing for his early involvement in the eventually reviled film that he was booted from.
- Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, members of Devo, talk separately for nearly 20 minutes about Island of Lost Souls and early horrors' influence on them artistically. There's also a ten minute Devo film, In the Beginning Was the End: The Truth About De-Evolution (1976) which basically seemed to be two music videos for "Secret Agent Man" and "Jocko Homo."
- There's also a stills gallery, which I didn't view but assume I saw most of since the same promotional material was shown throughout each of the extras; plus the original trailer.
What none of the extras talk about, though Gregory Mank is speaking about this extensively as I type, is the search for The Panther Woman. We're going to go find her in the very next post.
Island of Lost Souls was released on DVD this week--my suggestion is you go grab a copy off Amazon right now while it's heavily discounted as a new release: The standard DVD release retails for $29.95 and is on sale for 9.959.95 as I write this; the Blu-ray retails $39.95 on sale for $24.99. Those prices are pretty fluid, they could change at anytime, though I suspect you're good through Halloween.
Those are Amazon affliate links which I thank you very much if you're kind enough to use.
Up next: The Search for The Panther Woman!