Island of Lost Souls Review

Island of Lost Souls

Another adaptation and another stellar performance by Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls has also arrived on Blu-ray in the UK thanks to Masters of Cinema.

The film’s release history in the UK is one fraught with censorship issues and it is one that provides an interesting case study for the shifting Zeitgeist that has informed and continues to inform the classification and censorship of films in the UK. Originally rejected by the BBFC in 1933, again in 1957 and then given an X certificate in 1958 (with cuts) the film was not actually released uncut in this country until 1996, over sixty years after its original release.

The 1996 release was, perhaps a little surprisingly, still classified as a 12 but when resubmitted to the BBFC last year for this Blu-ray release the film was awarded a PG classification. The film will be shown as part of a season at the BFI to celebrate the BBFC centenary. Presumably in 2112 we will be able to sit in a cinema in the UK and watch the uncut versions of films such as The Human Centipede 2 and A Serbian Film, in a celebration of another one hundred years of the BBFC rejecting films and continuing to be one step behind, although I suspect neither cinemas nor the BBFC will last that long.

That Island of Lost Souls had such power to shock the, admittedly delicate, sensibilities of the BBFC in the thirties and the fifties is almost certainly in large part down to the rather unpleasant themes that the film explores more than any graphic content on display. Sure, there are moments that would have most likely raised an eyebrow with the censors and had them scribbling furiously about cuts but the real power in Island of Lost Souls lies in its thematic content, specifically the disturbing ideas of Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton).

Moreau is the archetypical doctor-who-plays-God, meddling in the ‘natural order’ of things and attempting to create a new race of human animals. Stumbling onto Moreau’s island and into his insane world of cross-bred animal men – including the seductive Lota (Kathleen Burke), a ‘panther woman’ – is Edward Parker, played by the square-jawed and all too wooden Richard Arlen.

This stranger in a strange world opens the door for us to step through, as we are introduced alongside him to the strange and dark experiments going on, but ultimately it is not this hero character that one is interested in in Island of Lost Souls. The star of the film is without a doubt Laughton as Moreau and the film is very much something that circles around his central performance. In truth this loose adaptation of H.G. Wells‘ novel is a little weak at times, with some clunky dialogue and too much crammed into too short a running time, but the film is more than saved by Laughton’s compelling ‘central’ performance.

This review was originally posted at Bleeding Cool.