Kehr’s Weekly Recap: Island of Lost Souls (1933)

Island of Lost Souls (1933)

One of the best-kept secrets in rock criticism is that all of Devo‘s original act—from the “de-evolution” rap down to the chant of “Are we not men?”—was a straight cop from this 1933 adaptation of H.G. Wells‘s Island of Dr. Moreau. Charles Laughton, with an obscene caterpillar mustache, is the mad doctor working on the transformation of animals into (sub)human beings by means of sickening “surgical techniques”; Richard Arlen and Leila Hyams are two shipwreck survivors who, unsuspecting, wash up on his shore. It’s a grand, hokey chiller, dripping with sex and sadism and photographed in dense, Sternbergian shadows by the great cinematographer Karl Struss. With Bela Lugosi as the leader of the pack, and Kathleen Burke as the unforgettably insinuating Leopard Woman. Erle C. Kenton directed. 70 min.


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Bela Lugosi died during the making of this low-budget science fiction programmer, but that didn’t faze director Edward Wood: the Lugosi footage, which consists of the actor skulking around a suburban garage, is replayed over and over, to highly surreal effect. Wood is notorious for his 1952 transvestite saga Glen or Glenda? (aka I Changed My Sex), but for my money this 1959 effort is twice as strange and appealing in its undisguised incompetence. J. Hoberman of the Village Voice has made a case for Wood as an unconscious avant-gardist; there’s no denying that his blunders are unusually creative and oddly expressive. With Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Joanna Lee, and, of course, Lyle Talbot.

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