Spoiler Alert! I am going to pretty much recount the entire plot of The Island of Lost Souls (1932). I did not realize the year till I looked it up just now. I guess most readers have had ample opportunity to catch this flick.
I have not written about an old horror movie in a long time. I have a bunch of them on my DVR, and on a recent Sunday, I felt the urge to relax, crochet, and watch. I thought, Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, what’s not to like? So Island of Lost Souls it was.
The movie opens with a ship rescuing a wild-eyed guy from a derelict, and I thought, “Oh, swell, the whole thing’s going to be a flashback. This guy just escaped from the bad island and he’s going to tell us all about it.” It is a hoary device much used in the cinema and elsewhere. It’s not a horrible device, but I have to ask, “Why?” Only I did not have to ask it this time, because it wasn’t what happened. The ship was on its way to the mysterious island. One cliche successfully avoided!
Wild-eyed guy, who recovers from his wild-eyed-ness pretty quickly and is named Parker, is on his way to meet his fiance, who is waiting for him where this ship just happens to be going. He is able to send her a wireless, so that’s a relief for both of them, as well as an important plot point later (I did include a Spoiler Alert, remember?).
Now we come to what I think is a pretty good piece of plotting. Plotting 101, I’ve learned: cause and effect. Because this, then this. The ship is carrying enough wild animals to stock a zoo. The obnoxious, belligerent captain finds this so disturbing he drinks. A lot. Because of his drinking (and because he is an obnoxious, belligerent sort — see, character causes action as well), he has a confrontation with Parker in which Parker decks him (ooh, unintended pun: they’re on a SHIP and Parker DECKS him!). Because of this, the captain, who is also vindictive, throws Parker overboard into Dr. Moreau’s boat when Dr. M is taking delivery on the animals.
Dr. Moreau is at first put out by the intrusion, but he is soon reconciled as he conceives of a sinister use for Parker. At least, Dr. M does not see his purpose as sinister. He sees it as a golden opportunity to further his scientific research.
I did not understand his scientific research one bit, and I’m thinking that H.G. Wells (who wrote the original story) just made it up as he went along. Years ago I read a book about how to write science fiction, and the folks that wrote it seemed to think that the reader maybe ought to believe that what you wrote was at least kind of sort of maybe perhaps remotely possible. Obviously, H.G. Wells never read that book. I daresay it was written after his time. No matter, on with the blog.
So Parker, although he is not supposed to be snooping (what a surprise) (and what a surprise that he does), soon finds out that Dr. M and his colleague (the doctor who was on the boat and partially responsible for rescuing Parker. I forgot to mention him) are doing some sort of heinous experiments that involve a lot of screaming. In fact, the lab is known as the House of Pain. I flashed back to army basic training every time I heard “House of Pain,” but never mind my little psychological glitches.
The nefarious purpose Dr. Moreau has for Parker is to introduce him to this beautiful but mysteriously ignorant young woman. Dr. M tells Parker she is a Polynesian or some such, and although Parker is fooled, we are not. We know she is one of the doctor’s experiments.
It turns out — and this is where I just can’t picture what sort of science was used — that Dr. Moreau has made all these men out of animals. And isn’t that typical Hollywood — and theatre in general — all those men and only one woman! Well let’s don’t get me started on the dearth of good female roles anywhere in theatre. This blog post is getting long enough as it is.
Apropos female roles, however, the part of the fiance is not negligible, as such parts often are. Because she has received the wireless from Parker (see, cause and effect!), she is waiting for him when the ship docks. Belligerent Captain tries to blow her off, but she enlists the help of the American Consul to get the whole story out of him. Soon she is off to the rescue. I suppose someone will carp that she needs the help of men to save the day, namely the consul and the boat guy, but I feel this is mere quibbling. We all get by with a little help from our friends. I guess the consul and boat guy could have been women, but this was 1932, after all. Let’s not ask for miracles.
Full disclosure: I stopped paying a lot of attention after Fiance sets off to save the day. I did look up and watch the dramatic conclusion. It was climactic and not unearned. On the whole, I feel Island of Lost Souls is not the usual cheesy fare I delight in writing about. I enjoyed it and do not rule out watching it again sometime.