In the South Seas, a trading ship encounters a shipwreck survivor floating off the port side, and rescues him. He is barely conscious, but over the next few hours he comes to and is able to identify himself as Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) and request that word be sent to his fiancée Ruth (Leila Hyams) that he is still alive. She is relieved and anxiously awaits his arrival, but she might have longer to endure her anxiety than she expected as after Parker knocks down the Captain when he gets into a fight with a servant, he is thrown off the ship and onto the boat of one Dr Moreau (Charles Laughton)...
This atmospheric adaptation of HG Wells' novel The Island of Dr Moreau may not have impressed its original author, but over the decades there are plenty who have gladly joined its cult following. In Britain it was banned for twenty-five years as it was considered too shocking for their public to see, and even today it does have an unnerving effect, concentrating, as it does, on the Doctor carrying out experiments in vivisection to turn animals into humans. He is quite a villain, not only sadistic but blasphemous (he readily admits to feeling like God, with more sustained relish than Dr Frankenstein of two years earlier) and downright sick as well.
Once Parker has been taken back to the island of the title, he is treated as an inconvenience initially, and Moreau seems happy to allow him to leave, but then he has a brainwave. All the "natives" there are male but one, a timid girl in a sarong called Lota (Kathleen Burke, who beat out many other unknowns for the role in a publicity-generating search), and although Parker has that fiancée waiting for him, Moreau notes a certain sexual chemistry between the newcomer and his sole female experiment. Therefore we have the undeniably queasy set up of the Doctor attempting to get an act of unwitting bestiality on the go as he plays some kind of ghastly matchmaker for the pair.
Unfortunately for eveyone on the island, the beast men are reverting back to their animal state, this in spite of the laws they have been given, which include not spilling blood and not eating meat. When Parker gets a look at the so-called House of Pain where the butchery occurs to transform animal flesh into human, he is appalled but thinks Moreau is conducting his trials on people rather than the alternative, which is why he doesn't twig right away about the source of Lota. The animal men, led by Sayer of the Law Bela Lugosi, are strangers to razors and memorable creations, not least when they chant together, ready to revolt.
It is this threat of violence that pervades the film, acknowledging that the mad scientist, and his "guests" for that matter, are really no better than the animals in their propensity for brutality, the difference between Moreau getting knocked down by Parker and the Doctor's crazed mutilations being that one is understandable and the other is a bastardisation of the laws of evolution. By the time the inevitable comeuppance takes place, it is as if nature itself has rejected the harrowing cruelties inflicted upon it in the name of science and Laughton has truly earned himself the mantle of one of the most despicable villains of the Golden Age of horror, if not the most. This was an example of the best horrors of its era, which has has been remade but never bettered; the 70s version was dull and the 90s version was daft, but it's the 30s version that makes the most of the material. The lack of music simply adds to the eerie mood.
American director who made over 100 films in a 50 year career. Worked as a bit-part actor before making his feature debut in 1919, and was best known for directing comedies, including two of Abbott & Costello’s best films – Pardon My Sarong and Who Done It?. Kenton also proved adept in the horror genre, directing the 1933 classic Island of Lost Souls, with Charles Laughton, as well as House of Dracula, Ghost of Frankenstein and The Cat Creeps. Died from Parkinson's disease in 1980.