This 1932 black and white science fiction horror shocker was the first, and far and away the best of three Hollywood adaptations of the 1896 H.G.Wells story, The Island of Dr Moreau.

Starring one of the era’s finest actors, Charles Laughton, this is about a mad and sadistic doctor on a remote Pacific island who carries out cruel surgical procedures to graft bits of animals onto humans, without anaesthetic, on his operating table in his “house of pain”. To control his dozens of created abominations the repellent Moreau uses a whip on them, and indoctrination into “laws” against violence designed to protect him from any revenge. and repeated by his brutish “Sayer of the law” (Bala Lugosi). His one attractive and female creation, more human than animal, is Lota the beautiful panther-woman (Kathleen Burke) and with Moreau’s encouragement (he wants her to breed) she falls in love with a shipwrecked traveller, Parker (Richard Arlen) who has fetched up on the island after being dumped overboard the freighter that picked him up.

As the story moves on and more of the nightmarish beast-men are revealed the freighter captain is persuaded by Parker’s fiancee to sail to the island and mount a rescue operation with his crew, but this is thwarted by Moreau who orders one of his beasts to strangle the captain. This breaking of the “law” by Moreau is seen by all his zombie-like beasts as a sign that the law is “no more” and they gleefully seize the opportunity to mob Moreau and carry him off to his operating table where they slash and stab him repeatedly, without anaesthetic, with the scalpels that had been used on them.

Island of Lost Souls was banned in Britain for more than 20 years for its scenes of vivisection and its portrayal of cruelty to animals, and Dr Moreau saying “Do you know what it means to feel like God” but it was finally passed for an X certificate, with cuts, in 1958. In 2011 it was re-classified, with the cuts restored, as a PG on DVD. It is available in a combined DVD and Blu-Ray format as part of the Eureka Masters of Cinema series, and the extras include a 32-page booklet featuring rare production imagery and a video interview with Laughton’s biographer, Simon Callow.

Leave a Reply