Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton / U.S., 1932):

Sometimes it takes a humoristic eye to illuminate true horror, hence Charles Laughton's Dr. Moreau as a depraved Oliver Hardy under the direction of one of the original Keystone Kops. King Kong is still one year away in the opening, Richard Arlen adrift and delirious on a steamer in the uncharted South Seas, one more species added to the animalistic cargo. "The hand that makes" belongs to the "black-hearted, grave-robbing ghoul," white-suited and bullwhip-cracking at the center of a warped jungle serfdom. "All animal life is tending toward the human form," the vivisectionist from London is just speeding the process in the surgery chamber known by the genetically altered islanders as "the House of Pain." From a panther emerges the sarong-wrapped beauty (Kathleen Burke), nuzzling her Klimt mane against Arlen's confused chest while the doctor nods from the sidelines: "How that little scene spurs the scientific imagination onward!" Wells' beastly allegorical satire, mounted by Erle C. Kenton as a pre-Code scald of the lunacy of colonial dominion. (Chocked with shadowy foliage and anguished cries, the alarming isle seems situated somewhere between British imperialism and Mengele's camps.) The compressed surrealism allows for incendiary glimpses of the lumpen proletariat in full uprising, one oppressed mutant after another charging toward the camera with Eisensteinian fervor—"Not men... not beasts... things!" thunders the Sayer of the Law, a mass of fur punctuated with Bela Lugosi's unmistakable mad eyes. The dearth of music enhances the atmosphere of Darwinian unease, an uncanny hush disrupted by moans, chants, and the grinding sound of window bars being removed as the simian Caliban breaks into the bedroom of the hero's fiancée (Leila Hyams). "Possibilities presented themselves," shrugs Moreau before the chaos, seen last enveloped by former patients wielding his own "little knives." Consequences extend to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Apocalypse Now and Cannibal Holocaust, Brando and Frankenheimer run with the Prospero angle in their own remarkable version. Cinematography by Karl Struss. With Arthur Hohl, Stanley Fields, and Paul Hurst. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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