director Erle C. Kenton
What a film! A classic pre-code horror film, certainly as interesting if slightly less iconic than its Universal Pictures brethren Frankenstein (1931) or Dracula (1931). It does feature Bela Lugosi, here as the fur-faced “Sayer of the Law,” not quite the handsome leading role of his more famous film. But this film has lots of uncanny beasties, a whole island of them, and it’s also the whence of the Devo line “Are we not men?” Can’t go wrong with this stuff.
Adapted from an H.G. Wells novel, the film ups the horror and perversion with the mad scientist Mr. Moreau (played by the inimitable Charles Laughton), who has found a way to evolve various animals into human-like forms. While Wells wrote the story as an anti-vivisectionist tract, the film luridly ups the ante as animal testing is taken to new heights in the room dubbed “the house of pain”. Each humanoid creature is a little weirder than the rest, and Dr. Moreau “tames” them by teaching them “The Law,” the rules of living which include not killing and even being vegetarians. Are they not men? Good question.
When a shipwrecked man (Richard Arlen) is dumped on Moreau, he decides to test him out with his most “evolved” creation, Lota the panther woman (Kathleen Burke), who is far less hairy than her male companions, having only claw-like fingers as remnants of her animal origins. Moreau wants to play God even more when Arlen’s fiancee shows up to rescue him, looking to cross breed regular humans with his new race of “manimals”.
It’s gloriously fun stuff, with suggestiveness that could only have arisen during the pre-code era. It’s marvelous. Can’t believe that I’d never seen it before. And little wonder that Criterion picked it up for their catalog. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must.