British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

The Island of Lost Souls

2012. GB. DVD + Blu-ray. Eureka (Masters of Cinema series). 71 minutes + extras. £19.99

About the Author: Dr Andrew Bartlett, Cesagen, Cardiff University, is a research assistant working on the Genomics and Psychiatry research project, jointly funded by Cesagen and the Wales Gene Park.

Captain Donahue: What kind of a place did you say this was, Doc?
Dr Moreau: I didn’t say. It’s an experimental station of a sort for bio-anthropological research.

The Island of Lost Souls (1932) is an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau, in which the reclusive scientist Dr Moreau conducts experiments on a South Sea island in an attempt to make human-like creatures from animals. One of the first ‘talkies’ to address ‘scientific hubris’, it is also an influential entry into the early golden age of Hollywood horror, being made shortly after the more famous Frankenstein and Dracula (Bela Lugosi plays an important, if minor role in the film as the ‘Sayer of the Law’). However, The Island of Lost Souls is also science fiction in the most literal sense – it addresses the practice and products of science and their social and ethical possibilities.

The film makes several changes from the book. Several of these are largely superficial; the ‘hero’, for example, changes from Prendrick, an Englishman, into Parker (Richard Arlen), an American. The most dramatic change, however, is in the addition of romance subplot. Dr Moreau’s (Charles Laughton) latest experimental subject is Lota (Kathleen Burke), a woman-like creature derived from a panther. Lota, we learn, is Moreau’s test of his techniques. Moreau explains, ‘I wanted to prove how completely she was a woman. Whether she was capable of loving, mating, and having children.’

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