I would do well on an island full of beast-men, I have the hair to prove it!
Screenplay By: Philip Wylie & Waldemar Young
Directed By: Erle C. Kenton
I’ve long written, and so have countless others, about the ability of horror to tackle themes with heavy societal implications. Island Of Lost Souls is yet another example of the ability horror has to transcend being just a movie and shed light on a topic that should matter to people. Yes, I know that Island Of Lost Souls is an adaptation of a literary work, but that doesn’t change that a film in the horror genre had same serious allegorical connections to make about Western society, science, and Western religion. Horror is my favorite genre, by a wide margin, and Island Of Lost Souls is the type of horror film that confirms all of the reasons why I love the genre so much.
Taking on religion is always a dicey matter, especially when the subject is Western religion (ie; Christianity and Judaism) and their history of converting “savages” to their religion. There’s no denying that Western religion has a colorful history when it comes to treating the natives of the lands they came across less than nicely. Dr. Moreau is a scientific man, but he’s also the allegorical stand in for the march of religion over the supposedly uncivilized people of the world. Those who were uncivilized in the eyes of the Western churches simply did not qualify as human. It was only when they converted and accepted god as their savior, in this case Dr,. Moreau, that they came closer to being human. The uncivilized savages of the world will never be the equals of the civilized church going folk who converted them, but at least by civilizing them the church has done their good deed and can pass into salvation with a free conscience. Island Of Lost Souls is about the destruction wrought by Western religion, and how ultimately the Western religions were wrong and evil in their actions. As the finale of the film showcases, they didn’t convert or change anyone for good, they twisted and morphed them into something they naturally weren’t. All for the insipid cause of religion.
Science is an interesting matter within Island Of Lost Souls. I don’t believe that the film takes an anti-science, but I would understand those who do think the film is against science. Erle C. Kenton’s picture clearly shows the dangers of science run amok, but it is the connection to religion that leaves science itself in the clear. Science in Island Of Lost Souls is the sort of twisted science that can only come from a megalomanical mind. It is perverted and sick, and it’s not seeking the ultimate goal of science, the truth. Rather, the science on display in Island Of Lost Souls is on the same path as religion. It foregoes any sort of decency in search of personal glorification and exaltation. Island Of Lost Souls isn’t against science, it’s against the misuse of science for unscientific gain.
Throughout Island Of Lost Souls the white characters take on a classically British air of refinement. This isn’t just to set them apart from the creatures on the island, but it is to set a clear line between those in power and those stuck under the boot of those in power. Mr. Montgomery is a prime example of the sort of labeling and societal selectivity that is at the root of Island Of Lost Souls. He’s a disgraced man, not truly a doctor anymore. Yet, he still dresses the part of a proper gentleman, and that’s what elevates him above the creatures and above the sailors we see in the film. What is at the core of a man doesn’t matter, what makes someone civilized is the way they dress and the people they know. The Sayer of the Law is the representation of this on the creature side of things. He dresses like a civilized man should dress, and he speaks the words of a civilized man. But, that is not what makes him who he is, it is his core that makes him part beast and part man. He isn’t civilized in the traditional British sense of the word, nor is he a man. Fancy clothes and a few learned words won’t change that, and this is where the theme of society in Island Of Lost Souls ties back into the theme of religious conversion.
At its heart Island Of Lost Souls is still a creature feature. It is a macabre and twisted vision of an island full of beast men and creatures birthed from mad science. Dr. Moreau is the most beastly of them all, but that’s because he is the deliciously vile and slimy villain. The other full humans we meet fit neatly into the types of roles one would expect in a creature feature. This isn’t a negative mind you, they serve the plot well and that’s all they truly need to do. Island Of Lost Souls is a mightily impressive creature feature. It’s fun, exciting, and thought provoking. It’s an intelligent horror film, that is truly horrific in its depiction of religion and civilized society. Island Of Lost Souls was ahead of its time in 1932, and it’s a great horror movie that stills holds up to this very day.