DVD of the Week – Island of Lost Souls (1932)


Charles Laughton stars as one of the maddest of mad doctors in this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, with Richard Arlen as the castaway hero and Bela Lugosi as the man-beasts’ leader. The new Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-ray of Island of Lost Souls (1932) is the first time the film has been available on DVD. Surprising for one of the famous pre-Code horror films… until you learn the negative is lost, and this release is a restoration pieced together from several print sources and digitally cleaned up to remove dust and scratches.

The list of extras starts with an audio commentary by Gregory Mank, a film historian; his writing credits include the topically appropriate Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff and Hollywood’s Maddest Doctors. However, the most intriguing feature to my mind is a “conversation” between director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), makeup artist Rich Baker, and horror film historian Bob Burns. Also included are new interviews with film historian David J. Skal; Richard Stanley, the original director of the 1996 film version; and two members of Devo, which drew inspiration from the movie’s imagery. Speaking of Devo, another feature is a 1976 short film by the group featuring the songs “Secret Agent Man” and “Jocko Homo”. Finishing out the extras are a booklet with an essay on the film by Christine Smallwood (linked below), the theatrical trailer, and a stills gallery.

Essay on the film posted at the Criterion Collection website.

New releases this week: Captain America: The First Avenger, A Little Help, Shaolin, Winnie the Pooh

7 responses to “DVD of the Week – Island of Lost Souls (1932)

  1. Richard Winters

    Charles Laughton was a very eccentric man, who lived a very eccentric lifestyle (His marriage to actress Elsa Lancaster could make a very interesting movie in itself), but he was an excellent actor who owned every scene he was in and never gave a poor performance. His one and only foray into directing ‘Night of the Hunter’ wasn’t bad either. Glad to see that they got this version restored. I saw it years ago and enjoyed it.

    • “His one and only foray into directing ‘Night of the Hunter’ wasn’t bad either.”
      Slight understatement. I find it to be one of the greatest American films ever made through its style, storytelling, performances, and expressionistic cinematography.

  2. I saw “Island of Lost Souls” once on TV, years ago. I don’t remember a lot other than that it didn’t look like much visually speaking, and now I know why; I’m curious to see it again post-restoration. Otherwise I just have an impression of extreme creepiness. After reading the essay I can tell I didn’t appreciate the half of it as a teenager!

  3. Now that looks to be worth checking out. That 96 version was really underwhelming.

    • The only two things I recall with pleasure from the remake are Fairuza Balk, who projected a feline sensuality as the beast-woman temptress, and the sound design. It capitalized on Surround Sound to make you feel like you were in the middle of the jungle by separating the bird and beast sounds onto different speaker channels around the auditorium; a very effective and menacing effect.

      • Richard Winters

        Well, I did think Marlon Brando gave a interesting performance in that film that in my opinion was the only reason to watch it besides its interesting opening sequence. There is also a 1977 version of this story that was done with Burt Lancaster in the title role. That version fared pretty well with the critics. I thought it was alright. The best impression of that film that I had was the beautiful Barbara Carrera.


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