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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Halloween Countdown: Island of Lost Souls

Posted By on Sat, Oct 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM

(In anticipation of the coolest day of the year, this month-long series will offer one recommended horror flick a day up through Oct. 31.)

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ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932). It's safe to say that the British Board of Film Censors was a rather squeamish lot during the first half of the 20th century, considering that its members banned outright five films that dealt with misshapen people and/or scientists conducting gruesome experiments on human flesh. The infamous five consisted of 1914's Dr. Zanikoff's Experiences in Grafting (a film so obscure that it's not even listed on the all-inclusive IMDb!), 1932's Freaks, 1935's Life Returns, 1946's Bedlam and this adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. It took 25 years before the Board lifted its ban, but let's not be too hard on our U.K. friends, as the picture was also banned in a dozen other countries, not to mention a handful of these united states. Charles Laughton is pure purring menace as Dr. Moreau, who employs vivisection in order to turn various animals into humans in his aptly named "House of Pain." The resulting mutations shuffle around his island lair, repeating the points of the Law ("Are we not men?") and trying to steer clear of the doctor's whip lashes. After a shipwreck survivor (Richard Arlen) ends up on the island, Moreau decides to breed him with his most successful creation, the alluring panther woman Lota (Kathleen Burke). Prolific makeup designer Wally Westmore created the excellent "manimal" designs, and that's Bela Lugosi buried under all that facial hair as the Sayer of the Law. This was remade twice under the title The Island of Dr. Moreau: The underrated 1977 version, starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York, is distinguished; the notorious 1996 bomb, with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, is not.

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