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Island of Lost Souls
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Written by Philip Wylie
Waldemar Young
Starring Charles Laughton
Bela Lugosi
Richard Arlen
Leila Hyams
Kathleen Burke
Music by Arthur Johnston
Sigmund Krumgold
Cinematography Karl Struss
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) United States January 12, 1933
Running time 71 min.
Country  United States
Language English

Island of Lost Souls is a sci-fi/horror film starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi. Produced by Paramount Pictures in 1933 from a script co-written by science fiction legend Philip Wylie, the movie was the first film adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, published in 1896. The film was directed by Erle C. Kenton.

Both book and movie are about a remote island that is run by an obsessed scientist who is secretly conducting surgical experiments on animals. The goal of these experiments is to try to transform the animals into human beings. The result of the experiments is a race of half-human, half-animal creatures that lives in the island's jungles, only tentatively under Moreau's control.


Plot Summary

When a shipwreck sets ocean traveler Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) adrift, he gets picked up by a freighter that is delivering supplies to an isolated South Seas island owned by Dr. Moreau. The only thing Parker can find out about the doctor is that he likes his privacy.

When Parker and the freighter's captain get into a fight, he ends up stranded on the island. Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) takes him in and it is then he begins to learn why Moreau is so secretive. At first he hears the strange noises at night suggesting the presence of unseen island natives. Later, when he tries to leave the house where he has been staying, Parker for the first time runs into the animal-men. Saved from them by Moreau and his assistants, Parker observes the island's strange social structure. Moreau cracks a whip and orders an animal-man known as the Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) to repeat the rule against violence. Once that happens, the animal-men return to the jungle.

Moreau and his men return Parker to the main house. Once they are back inside, the doctor explains his experiments. The operations were done on the animals in a place he refers to as "the house of pain". Moreau also introduces Parker to his most successful experiment, a panther that now looks like an attractive human female. The panther-woman called Lota (Kathleen Burke) is in fact so human that Moreau hopes that she and Parker will mate. The unexpected arrival of Parker's fiancee Ruth (Leila Hyams) ends that idea.

Parker realizes that he has to escape the island with his fiancee but is unsure how to do this. His opportunity comes when Moreau is caught in an act of violence by the animal-men and they make the decision to revolt. They pursue Moreau to his own house of pain where he meets a grisly demise—they eviscerate him with his own surgical instruments. Although this is not explicitly shown, Moreau's ghastly screams leave no doubt as to what is happening. Eventually the entire island goes up in flames. Parker and Ruth then make their escape.

UK censorship ban

The film was examined and refused a certificate three times by the British Board of Film Censors, in 1933, 1951, and 1957. The reason for the initial ban was due to scenes of vivisection, it is likely that the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, which forbade the portrayal of cruelty to animals in feature films released in Britain, was a significant factor in the BBFC's subsequent rejections. The film was eventually passed with an 'X' certificate on 9 July 1958.[1][2] Original author H. G. Wells was outspoken in his dislike of the film, feeling the overt horror elements overshadowed the story's deeper philosophies.


The film has been remade twice. Both the later versions used the title from the H. G. Wells novel. The first remake was released in 1977 and stars Burt Lancaster as the doctor. The second remake was released in 1996 and stars Marlon Brando as Moreau. In the very similar Twilight People (1973), actress Pam Grier plays the role of the panther woman.

Playwright Charles Ludlam used this movie, as well as Wells' novel and the fairy tale by Charles Perrault, when writing his play Bluebeard (1970).

Members of the new wave band Devo were fans of the film. The "What is the law?" sequence formed part of the lyrics to Devo's song "Jocko Homo," with Lugosi's query "Are we not men?" providing the title to their 1978 debut album Question: Are We Not Men? Answer: We Are Devo! Oingo Boingo is another new wave band who paid tribute to the film with their song "No Spill Blood," which featured the refrain "What is the Law? No spill blood!" and appeared on their 1983 Good for Your Soul album. The Meteors, a psychobilly band from the UK told the story of the film in their song "Island of Lost Souls" off their 1986 album Teenagers From Outer Space, the chorus being a prolonged chant of "We don't eat meat; Are We Not Men? We stand on two feet; Are We Not Men?" etc.


  1. ^ James C. Robertson, The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913-1975, London, Routledge (1989), pp. 55-57.
  2. ^ James C. Robertson, The British Board of Film Censors: Film Censorship in Britain, 1896-1950, Dover, NH: Croon Helm (1985).


  • Island of Lost Souls VHS tape, Universal Home Video Monsters Classic Collection
  • IMDb profile: Island of Lost Souls
  • Classics of the Horror Film: From the Days of the Silent Film to the Exorcist, by Willam K. Everson

External links



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