Review of “Island of Lost Souls” (1932)

This is our Saturday pizza and bad movie offering, a flick that got banned, censored, and clipped back in the day. While there’s no sex or nudity, there is some violence. Mostly, it’s heavy and depicts cruelty. It’s not one for the kiddies.

We watched it with Svengoolie.


While traveling to meet his fiancée, Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams), Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is shipwrecked. He is rescued by a ship with a load of animals—tigers, lions, dogs, and a gorilla—bound for an uncharted, unnamed island. Because of a difference between Parker and the captain (Parker slugged him when he beat a man serving slop to the dogs.), he tosses Parker onto the dinghy bound for the island.

Isn’t Parker in a fix.

The man in charge of getting the menagerie to the uncharted island, Montgomery (Arthur Hohl), agrees to put Parker up until he can make arrangements to get to Apia, Samoa, where his fiancée waits for him.

As they unload, Parker notices the “natives” all appear a little…odd. Yet, he says little. The owner of the establishment, Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), comes out the greet them and welcomes Parker. He, um, has plans for Parker. EWWW.


This is an early screen adaption of H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Both feature a mad scientist, Dr. Moreau, who creates human/animal hybrids using vivisection and cruelty. The movie ends differently from the book, the latter of which has the Parker character (named differently in the book) spending an extended period of time on the island in the company of the hybrids.

The film is also pre-Hayes code, so it’s freer to take risks with things like sexuality, violence, and other forbidden topics. Outside of the cruelty—mostly implied—there is not much modern audiences will find objectionable. Well, the cruelty and the smoking, of course.

Crazy Dr. Moreau is not going to hybridize Parker. Dr. Moreau is in the business of cutting out evolutionary steps. He views man as the crowning achievement of evolution. He started with plants, getting them to evolve more quickly. He shows Parker his handiwork. Impressive.

Now, he has the ability—well, yeah, it involves a bit of vivisection and a lot of screaming in the House of Pain—but his more recent experiments start with animals and end up with near humans. However, they have this unfortunate habit of “reverting” …

He introduces Parker to Lota. She’s pretty. And scantily clad. Lota likes Parker and doesn’t want him to leave. When he explains that he’s reading a book about building a radio transmitter that will help him send a signal to get him off the island, she grabs to book and tosses it into a reflecting pool. Parker is aghast. He’ll never get to Ruth now. But Lota is kinda cute until her claws dig into his back…

The animal/men (with the exception of Lota, they’re all guys) live in a village of grass huts. The Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi—really) recites laws forbidding bloodshed and other prohibitions ending with the refrain, “Are we not men?”

Charles Laughton is a creepy Dr. Moreau—creepy as in take a step back from him. He’s not just menacing but slimy to boot, controlling the help with a gong and a whip. The screams from the House of Pain, where he makes “humans” from various animals, cause him no second thoughts. It almost makes the viewer cheer when karma bites him in the rear end.

I think this is one of the better adaptations of Wells’ book. It speaks not to whether a being is human or animal as much as whether that being can feel and remember pain and thus deserves compassion. Wells himself didn’t think much of the movie. In an interview with Screenland magazine in 1935, he repeatedly called it “miserable” and decried its emphasis on horror.

Although the recommendation has some caveats, this movie is worth watching.

The movie can be watched here.

Title: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Directed by
Erle C. Kenton

Writing Credits
Waldemar Young…(screenplay) and
Philip Wylie…(screenplay)
H.G. Wells…(novel)

Cast (in credits order)
Charles Laughton…Dr. Moreau
Richard Arlen…Edward Parker
Leila Hyams…Ruth Thomas
Bela Lugosi…Sayer of the Law
Kathleen Burke…Lota the Panther Woman
Arthur Hohl…Montgomery

Released: 1932
Length: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

2 thoughts on “Review of “Island of Lost Souls” (1932)

  1. Sounds like a classic bummer! LOL. But it has two actors whose names I recognize. I used to watch a lot of these old movies when I was a kid, but the sci fi or fantasy horror were never may favorites. It’s fun to read your reviews!

    1. Thanks for your note and for the kind words. I realize these movies aren’t everyone’s favorites. Yeah, this one was a downer. But karma came back and bit the bad guy in the rear end in a bad way.

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