Halloween Havoc!: ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (Paramount 1932)

Universal Pictures kicked off the horror trend of the early 30’s with DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN , and soon every studio in Hollywood, both major and minor, jumped on the terror train. Paramount was the first to hop on board with an adaptation of Stevenson’s DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE , earning Fredric March an Oscar for his dual role. Soon there was DR. X (Warners), THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (RKO), FREAKS and THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (both MGM), and THE MONSTER WALKS and WHITE ZOMBIE from the indies. Paramount released ISLAND OF LOST SOULS at the end of 1932, a film so shocking and perverse it was banned in Britain for over a quarter century, and still manages to frighten even the most jaded of horror fans today.

Based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, the film begins with shipwrecked Edward Parker being rescued by The Covena, a cargo ship carrying a freight of wild animals to the uncharted island of Dr. Moreau, located in the South Pacific. Moreau is called “a scientific genius” by his associate aboard ship, Dr. Montgomery, but though ship’s Captain Davies labels him a “grave robbing ghoul” Parker gets into an altercation with the drunken captain, who strands him on the island. As Montgomery leads Parker through the jungle to Moreau’s home, the young man notices something strange about the island natives, something he can’t quite put his finger on.

It is now we meet Dr. Moreau: a white-suited, whip-cracking, portly figure who’s beard gives him a Satanic visage. The courteous Moreau invites Parker to spend the night, and leave with Montgomery in the morning, yet he has sinister ulterior motives. Moreau is a vivisectionist who has been experimenting with “organic evolution”, turning animals into half-human monstrosities in his ‘House of Pain’. The natives Parker encountered were the results of those mad experiments, but Moreau’s had more success with Lota, half-human/half-panther, and wants to find out how much human emotion she has by introducing her to the handsome Parker, hoping perhaps they’ll mate!

When Parker finds out about Moreau’s deviant research projects, he tries to escape with Lota (not yet realizing she, too, is half-human), but they’re stopped by the Manimals. Moreau rescues the pair, cracking his whip and forcing the beasts to recite The Law (“Not to spill blood”, “Not to eat meat”). After explaining his scientific discoveries to Parker, it’s discovered the schooner has sunk, leaving Parker no alternative but to stay longer. Lota has caught feelings for Parker, and they kiss, but to Parker’s horror, he feels large panther claws digging into his back! She’s reverting back to animal state, and Moreau returns her to his ‘House of Pain’. Meanwhile, Parker’s fiance Ruth has arrived with Captain Donahue, and Moreau’s plans to mate a human with his weird creations changes…

Shock follows shock in this gripping, gruesome film from director Erle C. Kenton, who began his career back in 1916. Kenton and his cinematographer Karl Struss use shadows and light to create an eerie ambiance, with that trademark Paramount early 30’s filmed-through-gauze style. Struss was well noted for shooting F.W. Murnau’s Expressionistic classic SUNRISE, and became one of the studio’s ace cinematographers. Kenton was strictly a ‘B’ director, and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is probably his greatest film achievement. He later helmed Universal’s 40’s Monster Rallies (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN,  HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN , HOUSE OF DRACULA ) and Abbott & Costello comedies (PARDON MY SARONG, WHO DONE IT?, IT AIN’T HAY), as well as the 1948  exploitation drama BOB AND SALLY, which covered everything from abortion to alcoholism to VD in a little over an hour!

Charles Laughton  gives a bravura performance as Moreau, outwardly charming and cultivated yet harboring a deep rooted insanity. A lesser actor would’ve went over the top with a part as juicy as Moreau, but Laughton shows great restraint in bringing the mad doctor to life, even when uttering the tempting line, “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”. Laughton’s Dr. Moreau is up there in the pantheon of 1930’s horror performances, and though he’d give us more fine film roles (Henry VIII, Ruggles, Inspector Javert, Captian Bligh, Quasimodo) his Moreau remains my personal favorite.

Square jawed hero Richard Arlen has what’s probably his most unusual role of his career as Parker (except maybe his Cheshire Cat in ALICE IN WONDERLAND , but as usual he nails it. Bela Lugosi appears, almost unrecognizable except for that Hungarian voice, as the hairy-faced Sayer of the Law, leader of the Manimals. Leila Hyams isn’t given much to do as Ruth,but she’s always a welcome presence. Arthur Hohl (Montgomery), Stanely Fields (Davies), and Paul Hurst (Donahue) offer strong support.

Then there’s Lota the Panther Woman. She’s played by 19 year old Kathleen Burke, who won a talent contest in Chicago for the chance be in the film. Burke brings a savage beauty to the part, and is quite good for a novice in her first time out. Miss Burke altogether made 22 films, among them MURDERS IN THE ZOO (another horror effort, starring Lionel Atwill), LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER (as a Russian seductress), THE LAST OUTPOST, and BOY OF THE STREETS, before retiring in 1938 and returning to Chicago. Kathleen Burke passed away in 1980.

Those half-human monstrosities were created by makeup wizard Wally Westmore and Charlie Gemora (who also appears early as a gorilla in a cage). Each and every Manimal is unique unto itself, which must have been painstaking work for the makeup department, but well worth the effort. The revolt of the Manimals against Moreau is one of the most chilling scenes in early horror history, and ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU is a bona fide horror classic that genre lovers do not want to miss.

 

Strange New World: George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE (MGM 1960)

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George Pal (1908-1980) made movies full of wonder and imagination. The Hungarian born Pal got his start in film by creating “Puppetoons”, stop-motion animated shorts that delighted audiences in the 1930s and 40s (my personal favorites are JOHN HENRY and TUBBY THE TUBA). Some of these featured the character Jasper, a stereotyped black child always getting in some sort of trouble. Pal saw Jasper as closer in spirit to Huckleberry Finn than Stepin Fetchit, but by 1949 he  abandoned the “Puppetoons” altogether to concentrate on producing features, beginning with THE GREAT RUPERT, a Christmas fantasy starring Jimmy Durante. Pal produced a string of sci-fi hits in the early 50s (DESTINATION MOON, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, WAR OF THE WORLDS, CONQUEST OF SPACE), and began directing his films with 1958’s “tom thumb”. Having had his biggest success with the H.G. Wells adaptation WAR OF THE WORLDS, Pal produced and directed another Wells classic, the sci-fi/fantasy masterpiece THE TIME MACHINE.

Four men have gathered at George Wells’ house in London to meet for dinner, but the host is late. His housekeeper Mrs. Watchett hasn’t seen him in five days, but soon George comes bursting in, looking extremely disheveled. The four friends are startled as George relates what happened to him since they last met on New Year’s Eve 1899…

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On that day, George tried explaining his theory of travelling through the Fourth Dimension, through time itself. He demonstrated using a model of a Time Machine, which vanishes before their very eyes! The men are skeptical, believing it to be some magician’s trick, but George is adamant about his theory. When they depart, he goes into his workshop, where sits a full-sized machine. George begins experimenting, slowly at first, and stops in 1917, where he meets friend Filby’s son, who says his dad was killed in WWI. Going forward, he lands in 1940, at the height of the Nazi blitzkrieg. He travels to 1966, and lands in the midst of a nuclear holocaust. George then hits the full throttle, and crash lands in the strange new world of year 802,701.

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George is amazed by the lush paradise, with “natural splendor beyond compare”. Soon he discovers other humans, all very blonde and very young. One of them, a stunning young girl, is drowning in a nearby river, while the rest still by idly. George jumps in and rescues her, and finds out her name is Weena, and they are called the Eloi. It seems the Eloi have no government, no laws, and no motivation to do anything but lounge around all day (the original slacker generation!!). But all is not what it seems, as George finds out the Eloi are controlled by a fearsome underground race called the Morlocks. These brutish, blue skinned mutants breed the Eloi like cattle, then when they’re matured lure them into their cavern to become dinner for the cannibalistic Morlocks. The Morlocks have also stolen George’s Time Machine, and now he’s trapped in a world he never made!

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Australian actor Rod Taylor had his first leading role as George, and became a star because of it. Taylor would go on to headline Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, then went on to a series of action films like DARK OF THE SUN, THE HELL WITH HEROES, DARKER THAN AMBER, THE TRAIN ROBBERS (with John Wayne), and THE DEADLY TRACKERS. Taylor’s last film appearance before his death in January 2015 was as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Costar Yvette Mimieux was only 18 when she made THE TIME MACHINE. The pretty young star was featured in WHERE THE BOYS ARE, TOYS IN THE ATTIC, and PICASSO SUMMER. Never a big star, Mimieux is remembered for the 70s exploitation drama JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, and TV movie HIT LADY, which she wrote. Alan Young, who plays Filby and his son, is known to baby boomers as Wilbur Post, owner of TV’s talking horse MR. ED, and to a later generation as the voice of Uncle Scrooge McDuck. Sebastian Cabot, Whit Bissell, and Doris Lloyd also offer strong support.

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The special effects by Gene Warren and Wah Chang won the Oscar that year, though they’re a bit crude today. William Tuttle’s makeup on the Morlocks, based on Pal’s design, is quite a fright to behold, with their long fangs, blue skin, and glowing eyes. The wonderfully dramatic score by Russell Green is one of the best in all of sci-fi. George Pal’s  THE TIME MACHINE is a sci-fi/fantasy treat guaranteed to please even the most jaded viewer, packed with adventure, humor, and enchantment, and it’s a must-see for kids of all ages.