island of Lost Souls - Blu-ray Review

When the Golden Age of Horror goes off the deep end with all its pre-Hollywood Production Code perversions, the result is a long out of print masterpiece of makeup and maniacal terror.  Island of Lost Souls, from 1932, is proudly released in all its unedited glory from The Criterion Collection.  Directed by Erle C. Kenton and photographed by Karl Struss, Island of Lost Souls is, so far, the only real heir to the inherent animalistic creepiness that is found in the source material, The Island of Dr. Moreau, written by H.G. Wells.  Banned by 11 different nations in 1933 and castrated victim of more censored edits and choice cuts in 1950, it’s a wonder Island of Lost Souls remains intact today.  Yet, here it is – completely uncut (for the first time ever?!) – just in time for Halloween.

"Island of Lost Souls is a gem of a horror film"

When a shipwrecked Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) wakes up to find himself on board a ship full of wild animals crated and on their way to an unnamed island owned by the intensely private Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), he has no idea if he has actually been rescued or trapped by circumstances completely in the control of Moreau and his “Are We Not Men?” laws.  They arrive on the island and, after witnessing Moreau vivisecting a man, he attempts to escape with Lota the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke), the only woman on the island, but is cornered by Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) and Moreau’s other animal-meets-man creations.

Parker is calmed somewhat by Moreau’s explanations about his little experiments until he is led into the House of Pain and see for himself.  There, he witnesses one of Moreau’s creations cry out in pain.  Parker feels a moral responsibility to help these animals not become the mutations they are destined to become under the mad doctor’s care, Moreau feels a responsibility to fill his island with more and more creations until evolution takes over.  When Lota expresses a physical and compassionate interest in Parker, Moreau feels it his responsibility to keep Parker on the island…for good; for reproduction; for his own experiments to take root and take over the island.

Only Parker doesn’t want to and soon the world – after Parker’s fiancée, Ruth (Leila Hyams), arrives to look for her lover - will know about this island in the South Seas.island lost souls lg2

Given an “X” rating in 1958, Island of Lost Souls is a gem of a horror film.  It’s definitely director Kenton’s – who would go on to direct House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, and The Ghost of Frankenstein - finest piece of work.  His direction is swift, never muted, and is filled with a sense of dread.  There are great moments of doomed atmosphere that don’t go unnoticed as he uses the lavish production design to its full effect.

Twisted and perverted also is the wonderfully rich photography of Stuss (The Great Dictator and The Fly).  Struss buries the look of the film in deep shadows that play nicely against the actor’s faces.  Their use is otherworldly and full of expression.  Sometimes, the characters are shot in half lights and, at other times, no light at all.  Their faces are dwarfed by shadows and barely visible as they slip in and out of the island locale.  Yet, Island of Lost Souls might be just another pretty picture without the fierce performance from Laughton.  His take on Moreau is brilliant and refined.  Never once does he cease to be believable as the mutant creating mad doctor of perversion.  His smile is slicing and his posture powerful throughout.  It’s as if he knows this is a performance for the decades and, when his creations begin to turn on him, his shriek registers at a pitch that suggests terror and a strong willpower to live.

Island of Lost Souls isn’t just a classic of time and place; it’s a classic horror film that still contains about 100 years more of influence and legacy from beginning to end; a moody and magnificent masterpiece that has thankfully been rescued from the hands of overzealous censors and remastered for our delight.

4 stars



Film Details

island of Lost Souls - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: Not rated by the MPAA.
: Erle C. Kenton
Writer: Waldemar Young, Philip Wylie
Cast: Charles Laughton; Richard Arlen; Leila Hyams; Bela Lugosi; Kathleen Burke
Genre: Horror | Adventure
TERROR! Stalked the Brush-Choked Island...Where Men Who Were Animals Sought the Girl Who Was All-Human!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Mr. Parker, do you know what it means to feel like God?"
Paramount Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 1932
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 11, 2011

Synopsis: An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.

Blu-ray Details

island of Lost Souls - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Blu-ray Disc
5 stars
4 stars
Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October 25, 2011
Blu-ray Release: Criterion Collection
Screen Formats:
: English

Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

Mined from a variety of surviving prints, Criterion’s new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is a bit of a miracle.  It’s been 80 years since the film has looked this good.  Shadows are thick and full of inky black levels.  White levels are pastier, sometimes with varying levels of detail, but are fairly consistent considering the different prints being used in the process of creating the transfer.  Moments are filled with a cloud-like haziness – whether by design or not – but the island madness is pretty sharp and eloquently expressed through great cinematography.  Much like the picture, the sound – presented in  a respectable uncompressed PCM mono track – was also mined from a variety of 16mm prints.



  • Film historian and author Gregory Mank records an informative and interesting commentary track about the making and the history of the film.  He talks about the film’s stars, its director, and the subsequent releases and censorship of the film.  Thankfully, he strays from a deeper discussion of the film’s themes and focuses more on the history of the film.  A great track for anyone a fan of cinematic history.

Special Features:

The supplemental material largely focuses on the film’s legacy and influence.  There are three separate interviews with pop culture icons: members of Devo, special effects guru Rick Baker, and director John Landis.  They discuss the film and how it affected them as young adults.  There is a strong gallery of production stills and - along with an eight-paged booklet containing an essay about the film written by Christine Smallwood - the film’s original trailer, the supplemental material is a good collection of artifacts highlighting a by-gone era of horror.

  • John Landis, Rick Baker, and Bob Burns Interview (17 min)
  • David J. Skal Interview (13 min)
  • Richard Stanley Interview (14 min)
  • Casale and Mothersbaugh Interview (20 min)
  • Devo Short Film/Music Videos (10 min)
  • Still Gallery
  • Trailer