Sunday, October 30, 2016

The War of the Worlds Through the Years

Seventy eight years ago tonight (at 8 pm EST, in fact), Orson Welles chose to do a radio broadcast just for Hallowe'en—a radio adaptation of H.G. Well's novel of "The War of the Worlds" on his "Mercury Theater On the Air" broadcast on the CBS radio network. 
  
Welles' "Mercury Theater" show was not that popular, and so a lot of people didn't hear the introduction of the piece stating clearly that it "presenting 'The War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells"; most of those listening to the radio at that time of the evening were listening to the more popular "The Chase and Sanborn Hour", which featured ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy (yes, a show with a ventriloquist was very popular on radio). But, twelve minutes into the comedy show, there was a song interlude, and people did then what they do now—they surfed the dial, looking for something better until the segment was over and they could turn back.

And what they found was this:





At about twelve minutes in, the broadcast was just getting interesting: a faux dance music program was being presented and interrupted by "news bulletins" reporting that plumes of incandescent gas had been seen leaving the planet Mars and headed for Earth. A "return to scheduled programming." Then another interruption saying that meteorites have landed near Grover's Mill, New Jersey (as opposed to Woking, Surrey in Wells' novel) and Princeton expert Professor Richard Pearson (Welles) is brought in to speculate that there is no life on Mars. The next segment is a "live report" from Grover's Mill where "reporter Carl Phillips" (played by Frank Readick, who had "prepped" for this segment by listening to reporting of the explosion of The Hindenburg) reports on the opening of the cylindrical meteorites, the appearance of tentacled creatures wielding a death beam that incinerates the crowd...

And then...silence.

The original script (by the ubiquitous Howard Koch) was deemed too dull by Welles, and a new draft was created, inspired by an Archibald MacLeish radio-play "Air Raid" (in which Welles had appeared). The idea was not to dramatize events as in the novel, but to use the medium of radio to provide the context and the drama of how such an invasion might play out under the circumstances and over the air-waves. More than the audio of a staged play (as most of these things were), it was very much of its source—a radio-play, by, of, and about the experience of getting the news live over this new medium, unfiltered and immediately...without a chance for resolution. 

"Panic" may be too strong a word for the result, and the newspapers played it up to discredit the reliance of radio for news,* but there were many, many, many people who heard the simulated news-casts and, now used to recent advances that allowed "news flashes" interrupting programming, and at a time when Germany was making moves on Austria and Czechoslovakia, took them for the real thing. A cursory search on the dial would have told them that the only network broadcasting the events at Grover's Mill was CBS, but the events were so compelling that not many switched away. Some merely left their radios in their panic to avoid "the coming invasion." It wasn't until the 43 minute mark in the broadcast (which ran no commercials as it was not sponsored) that the network broke in to remind listeners that they were, in reality, listening to a radio-play. This was necessitated as the CBS switchboard in New York was flooded with calls to the point of incapacitation. 

For Welles, three things happened: he became a nationwide celebrity, "The Mercury Theater On the Air" got a sponsor and became "The Campbell Soup Hour", and Welles was lured to Hollywood by RKO Studios, where they hoped he might make a film of "The War of the Worlds," to cash in on the notoriety. He had other plans.  

A film of "The War of the Worlds" would have to wait.


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The War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953) Twenty five years after Welles' broadcast, George Pal made a Technicolor movie out of Wells' novel. Like the radio broadcast, it updated the story for the times. The time is the present and the phenomenon is world-wide while the film concentrates on cylinders landing in Linda Rosa, California, outside of Los Angeles. By chance, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), a scientist involved with America's development of the atomic bomb happens to be fishing nearby when the nearest craft zooms overhead. Investigating, he finds a crowd of people, including Linda Rosa residents Silvia van Buren (Ann Robinson) and pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin), her uncle. The glowing craft is giving off radioactivity and so three locals elect to stand guard until the thing cools down enough to be investigated, and Forrester elects to wait until morning in town. 

Before he can return the meteorite opens up and a snake-like periscope rises from the crash. As the three men approach, the scope emits a shrieking heat-ray that atomizes them on the spot, and knocks out power to the town, alerting Forrester that something's happened and he finds out that Earth is under attack from Martian war-machines, shaped like flying manta-rays.** 
** Although not a tripod as in the novel, the Martian attack-ships start off
elevating on three beams of energy that then disappear
(no doubt owing to the cost of animating)

The 1953 movie is interesting for its inclusion of nuclear power and weaponry into the mix—eight years after Hiroshima and amid other films that, at the time, used atomic energy to produce horrors in Nature. Religion is given far more importance in the 1953 movie than the novel (where Wells dismisses it entirely), although it proves ineffective in the short term, but is given the credit for the long-term outcome. Forrester stands in for Wells' unnamed narrator, separated from his fellow survivors and struggling to evade the war machines to get back to his wife—in the movie's instance, its the newly reunited Ms. van Buren, Forrester's former student.
  
Pal's version became a classic, one of the few science fiction films that the Hollywood establishment took notice of besides its receipts (in no small part due to Cecil B. DeMille's championing of it), winning a de facto Oscar for its spectacular effects combining wire-and-model work and animation (the machines were so popular they were re-used in Pal and Haskin's Robinson Crusoe on Mars). It is still well-regarded as a superior sci-fi adventure film. The Wells estate was so enthusiastic with the result that they gave Pal the pick of any of Wells' stories to make another film of. His choice was "The Time Machine," which was released in 1960.





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War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg, 2005) Fifty two years after George Pal's film and sixty seven years after Welles' broadcast, Spielberg completed his unofficial trilogy of Earth invasion films (after Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial) with his own version of the Wells story, again, updated for the times and without the article "the" in the title, so as to avoid confusion with the original. The invasion is, once again, world-wide, although attention is centered on the east coast of the United States.

This "War" was made within the memory of the 9/11 attacks, as Spielberg stages large infrastructure-dusting battles that tip over intersections and vaporize human beings (leaving their clothes to float empty to the ground). The attackers are not named as "Martians" but acknowledged as "other-worldly" with a suspiciously complicated origin—evidently, they've been long buried in the Earth, only needing the transmission of a spirit via lightning storm that simultaneously energizes the war-machines and knocks out the surrounding power grid. These machine are more the design of Wells original intent—ungainly tripods that still manage to do sizable damage with its heat-rays, black smoke, and red vegetation that carpets the area in a means of terra-forming (all from Wells' source). 

Although it may seem like a "typical" Spielberg project, it is an odd blend of Wells' and Spielberg's sensibilities, and in fact, anti-Spielberg sensibilities. Wells' story was about his narrator trying to get back to his wife amidst the chaos of the war. Spielberg has the same story-line, but his protagonist is another Spielberg "common man" (or as common as Tom Cruise will allow himself to be), who must rise to the occasion—in this case Cruise's Ray Ferrier is a dead-beat, uninvolved dad who must get his kids back to his estranged wife, amidst all the chaos. 

Given that CE3K and ET were films by a less mature Spielberg that broke families apart, offering a glimpse of the heavens, this time, Spielberg's protagonist is doing everything he can (as in Wells' novel) to re-unite his family. Spielberg has grown up by the time these aliens visit Earth. And yet, for all his heroics, the film has more in keeping with the ending of John Ford's The Searchers, as Ferrier is left standing in the street of his in-laws' brownstone (and they're played, naturally, by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson from the '53 version), satisfied enough that he has brought them together, but acknowledging that he is still an outsider without regard for acceptance as reward. He's done what he should have been doing all along. And mature enough now to not expect anything from it.

It's one of my favorite Spielberg endings.





* The Slate article preceding this asterisk debunks the myth by citing lack of evidence—not the most reliable indicator—but what's strange is that when stations repeat the stunt (as reported on Radiolab's episode about the broadcast), the results tend to skew the same way.  There are always going to be a few that will panic, and with mob-mentality as an accelerant, things can get out of hand...even for Martians to handle.



Saturday, October 29, 2016

Black Sabbath (1963)

Black Sabbath (aka I Tre Volti Della Paura—The Three Faces of Fear) (Mario Bava, 1963) One of those Italian horror film omnibi that contracted for distribution with American International Pictures for the drive-in crowd, and one of those that eked out more than passing interest. AIP was under some condition to bowdlerize the thing to make it their own—of course, they dubbed it into English and their lab, Pathecolor, put a different tinge on things (the screencaps of the original are much more vibrant and beautiful), and Boris Karloff served as "host" (just as he'd been doing for the TV series "Thriller"), as well as appearing in one of the three segments. They also changed the order of the three stories, starting with "A Drop of Water" and ending with Karloff's turn in "The Werduluk" and made significant changes to one of them that somewhat confused the issue.

The origins of the three stories are a bit controversial, supposedly in the public domain, but not definitively. They resemble what producers would do with the later "Night Gallery" series, having the same "vibe" and conciseness to keep the shooting costs low.

The three stories were a mixed body-bag of settings and plot (although AIP did some judicious editing to try to give one of them—"The Telephone," which was a psychological thriller piece—more of a supernatural slant like the others. The one thing that unifies them is Bava's beautiful color cinematography and an elaborate production design that, at times, takes one's breath away.



"The Drop of Water"—London, 1910: Jacqueline Pierreaux plays a nurse who is called to the mansion of a medium who has died that night to prepare the body for burial. Noticing a large sapphire ring on her finger, she pockets it and notices strange things begin to happen. The medium's corpse eyes open and freaks the nurse out—the weird woman is dead but her eyes seem to be accusing her. The sound of dripping water (she has knocked a glass of water over in fright) becomes a steady rhythm and she is constantly being pestered by a fly. She goes home. The drips start again. A pestering fly appears. The lights go out. The medium's corpse appears in the bed. SHRIIIEK!


"The Drop of Water" leads the American AIP version, but it was the last of the trio in the original Italian version because it has the creepiest concept and has a steadily increasing amount of tension that finishes with a nicely open-ended coda.


"The Telephone"—Modern day, France: A high-class call-girl (Michele Mercier—she's not acknowledged as such in the American version—returns to her apartment and gets ready for bed. The phone rings. No one's there, not even heavy breathing. She hangs up hesitantly. The phone rings again. There's someone on the other line. She hangs up. 

The phone rings again. This time the caller identifies himself as "Frank" (and at this point, the two versions diverge—in the Italian version, Frank is her former pimp who she testified against, landing him in prison, and in the American version, he's a former lover who's dead). He calls her, threatening her, and she worriedly calls her friend Mary (Lydia Alfonsi) to come over and help. Mary does so, but what Rosy (the call-girl) does not realize is that it is Mary who has been making the phone-calls, disguising her voice.

At this point, things get very confusing—the Italian version has Rosy and Mary as former lesbian-lovers, which isn't mentioned in the AIP version, and the American version has some chicanery with a letter that appears and manifests some ghostly writing. The ending remains the same, but slightly confused given the departures from the original. But, one gets the impression the main reason to have the story is to allow a lot of shots of Mercier in a negligee.

"The Werduluk" 18th Century Russia: Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damon) is on a long journey and comes across a body, with a large knife in its chest and missing its head. He secures the knife and continues on his travels.

He stops for the night at a rural inn, which is in chaos. Giorgio (Glauco Donorato) explains that the family is upset because his father Gorca (Karloff) has been missing for five days, having set off to kill a "wurdalak," a living corpse who feasts on the blood of the living. Durfe notices that the kitchen knife set is missing one piece, the very one that he recovered from the body on his travels. Giorgio offers Durfe a room for the night and begins to ask questions about what he knows, but before they become answered when Gorca enters the room, with the head of the wurduluk, which he then leaves hanging on a post in front of the cottage to warn others.

Well, that's great for outside, but what about inside? Gorca's manner is different than what his family members expect and they begin to fear that before he killed the vampire-creature, he might have been set-upon himself. Gorca's return may be the ultimate good new/bad news scenario.

Karloff displays more energy than he'd had in years and doesn't depend on his reputation to play the old vampire-hunter. In the meantime, Bava's cinematography is at its most flamboyant, letting go of realistic touches to bathe the story in experimental lighting and exotic color schemes. 


The music scores differ, also: the Italian version has a more moody score, and the AIP score (by Les Baxter) "mickey-mouses" a bit, over-accentuating the shocks and surprises. If one has seen the original, the music might reduce one to giggles.

And, oh yes, speaking of music, it's where "the band" got its name.



Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962) Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is a "tough-minded little thing," according to one of the characters of Carnival of SoulsThey don't know the half of it. She's tough and more than a little stubborn. She's in transit, already to go to her next job as a church organist in Salt Lake City. If she's acting a bit like a "cold fish," it's no wonder after what she's been through. Joy-riding with BFF's, caught in a drag-race gone wrong, her car went off a bridge and now they're "dragging" the river for the car. Mary is the only one to walk out of the river. She's acting different. Stand-offish, like she doesn't belong, and she's in a particular hurry to get to Utah.

Funny place, Utah. There's the welcoming sign that mocks "Please Drive Carefully." And for some reason, the radio stations only play haunting organ music. That happens right before
Mary sees a ghoulish face staring at her through her window...but just as quickly as it appears, it's gone, following ... haunting her.


Being as it was made in 1962, Carnival of Souls would fit in well as an episode of "The Twilight Zone"—a more atmospheric one, to be sure. In fact, it resembles an early episode (Episode 16, in fact) from TZ's first seasonitself an adaptation of a 1940's radio play called "The Hitch-Hiker." In the television version, Inger Stevens plays a woman travelling to a new job who sees the same ragged-looking hitch-hiker thumbing his way in her path, she even sees him in her rear-view mirror. By an interesting coincidence, the music for that episode was written by the gifted Bernard Herrmann, using his original score from the radio-play, written by Herrmann's first wife, Lucille Fletcher.* It has a lot in common with one of the last of the TZ episodes, as well, but to reveal which would give the whole movie away.

The entire film was shot for $33,000 by an industrial film-maker named Herk Harvey, who got the idea for the film passing an abandoned Pavilion in Salt Lake City. As a director, Harvey has a good eye for detail, and his locked-down framing of shots is precise and pain-staking. As events of the film get wilder and more phantasmagorical, he throws the camera mount away and begins to employ circling, dizzying shots, making the film more nightmarish and hallucinogenic. The effects are crude, as is some of the acting; Ms. Hilligoss carries the whole movie on her shoulders, and makes a fine vessel for the audience's interest in what's going on, but occasionally can be caught acting, setting her apart from the amateur performances that make up the bulk of the film. Harvey, himself, plays the ghoulish Man who seems to be following Mary, although his effectiveness is undercut in long takes by the worry that his make-up is going to melt off his face.

Still, the movie is long on atmospherics, and that's entirely due to Harvey's direction and a hypnotic organ score by Gene Moore that keeps pumping up "the creep" every time things get a bit dull. If one wants to put some thematic pretensions to it, there's certainly room, whether one sees it as a cautionary tale, a symbolic journey to Hell, or a feminist tract, Carnival of Souls is bleak and oblique enough to warrant some thoughts on any or all of them.

Rough, crude, but with some decidedly sophisticated craft to it, Carnival of Souls delivers enough chills to deserve its cult-movie status.

It's in the Public Domain. You can watch Carnival of Souls here, for free.





* And just to assure you just how incestuous the entertainment industry is, the original star of that radio-play was Orson Welles, for whose first two movies Herrmann wrote the scores: Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons.

Friday, October 28, 2016

10 Rillington Place

10 Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer, 1971) There is a phrase "the banality of evil," which was most prominently used in the title of a book about Adolph Eichmann, describing him as not being particularly emblematic of an evil person who done evil things. He was, actually, a bit clerkish, ordinary, despite having rubber-stamped orders that led to the deaths of millions. How could someone so milquetoast, so weak be responsible for the most heinous of atrocities. Perhaps it was that very quality of insubstantiality that might have contributed—there was no will to resist, no consciousness of conscience that made it easy for him to carry out the unthinkable.

"The banality of evil" might well be the sub-title of 10 Rillington Place, the 1971 true-crime film of Richard Fleischer (who also made Compulsion and The Boston Strangler) depicting the murders perpetrated by John Christie at the titular address where he was a landlord, sub-letting his apartment to potential victims, depriving them of their lives and presumably, their damage deposit.

Christie was very ordinary, and his crimes were brutal and base. He would lure women, whether prostitutes or acquaintances to his flat, claiming that he could aid them with some ailment or other with his "special mixtures," which merely some balsam they would inhale from a jar with a tube running out of it. Christie would then introduce coal gas from the flat's heating system, and it being carbon monoxide, would knock the women unconscious. He'd then have sex with them and strangle them with his neck-tie, disposing of the body somewhere on the premises, in the flower bed, in an outdoor wash-house, in an alcove of the apartment,  and, in his wife's case, under the floorboards of their apartment.

Horrible, unspeakable and perverse crimes. But, where Christie sank to new levels of the deplorable was the destruction of the Evans family (played in the film by John Hurt and Judy Geeson) Tim and Beryl Evans moved into 10 Rillington Place in 1948. Beryl gave birth to their daughter Geraldine later that year and, while Evans tried to maintain work, the couple tried to make ends meet at 10 Rillington. The story goes that Beryl became pregnant with their second child and was considering an abortion. Christie offered assistance, murdering Beryl and her daughter using the same carbon monoxide poisoning and telling Evans that Beryl died in the attempt. Telling the bereft husband that he would be an accessory after the fact, Christie persuaded Evans to "lay low" with relatives while he handled things.

Eventually, Evans went to the police, incriminating Christie. The police did an investigation—completely missing the bodies that Christie had hidden in the place—and forced a confession out of the unstable Evans. He was arrested and convicted of the murders, one of the star prosecution witnesses against him being John Christie. Evans was hanged for the murders in 1950.


A rational murderer. having come so close to the gallows, might have left bad enough alone, but Christie was not rational despite appearances. He would murder four other women before moving out of the apartment, sub-letting it illegally. It was only when the smell of the corpses began disturbing the tenants that any further investigation was made. The bodies were discovered and soon after, Christie was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife, ignoring the evidence of eight other women he had killed. The jury deliberated only 85 minutes before finding him guilty. He was hanged in 1953, the same year as his arrest. 


Fleischer's film is perceptively short on histrionics, or of anything resembling feelings. It was filmed at the actual locations—exteriors were filmed outside 10 Rllington, but the interiors were filmed at 7 Rillington, as it was occupied...amazingly. The film benefits from the scrupulousness to the cinema verite. Richard Attenborough plays Christie, and does so as a bit of a cypher, enigmatic and pathetic; he was a very capable actor who could vacillate between psycho and cuddly. He had started his career playing the socio-pathic criminal Pinkie Brown in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, and Attenborough took the role because he thought the story was a damning indictment of capital punishment, due to the railroading of Evans. Some might have gotten that message, but those who did see it in theaters were probably attracted to the salaciousness of the marketing (designed like a tabloid front page), rather than any higher purpose.  

10 Rillington in the film (top)
Photo of children playing outside the murder scene.



Targets

Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, 1968) The day after the insane shootings at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, Glenn Kenny, in his fine blog Some Came Running, made a comment on it, without making a comment. He simply took frame-grabs from Peter Bogdanovich's directorial debut, Targets.  One could only nod one's head in acknowledgement of the aptness.

The project started out as the most bizarre of industry favor-granting. Bogdanovich had done some work for B-movie king Roger Corman, and the AIP producer emeritus granted the writer an opportunity to direct his first project—with some stipulations: he had some work due from Boris Karloff by contract, and the aging horror star had to be worked into the storyline, and there were some left-over scenes from a past Karloff movie The Terror (featuring as well, a pre-star Jack Nicholson) that Bogdanovich could avail himself of. Other than that, Bogdanovich could do whatever he wanted, as long as he stayed on-time and under budget—about $125,000. With then-wife Polly Platt, who also served as production designer, Bogdanovich came up with a twisted storyline that followed two storylines that would come together at a drive-in theater, the favored venue of most AIP releases. In his commentary for the film, Bogdanovich goes out of his way to acknowledge the considerable help he had in fashioning the script from director-writer Samuel Fuller, who fleshed out and added resonances to the story.


One of the stories follows Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly), as typical a young American as can be. He's sells insurance after having toured in Vietnam, wife's a nurse, and the young couple lives with the Thompson parents, where they have a normal domestic life of communal dinners (with grace said beforehand), and a family evening of television. Son and Dad have a hobby of target practice, in which the son takes great pride in his accuracy, no matter the caliber, no matter the weapon. Before the day is out, he'll grow weary of stationary targets.

Meanwhile, across town Byron Orlok (Karloff) is souring on the movie business. He's just screened his latest low budget horror flick, directed by a kid, Sammy Michaels (played by Bogdanovich), who's pressuring him to star in his next film, while the studio is assuming that the star will keep churning the  stuff out. But Orlok announces he's retiring—oh, he'll do publicity for this one, but, really, with the very real horrors going on in the world meted out by tin-gods and commonsters, what relevance is the costume theatrics he's appearing in.  He feels old, quaint, and antiquated, pretending horror when the world shows a proclivity for it with no bounds.

The two, Bobby and Byron, cross paths twice in the film, one completely unbeknownst the older star, and the other at a moment of destiny, when the two meet again at the world premiere of Orlok's new picture. Both reveal their true selves at the drive-in, and the film ends, as Bogdanovich is wont to do, on a note of ambivalence.

The film was so good that Corman was able to sell it (at a profit) to Paramount Studios for release. Bogdanovich fills it with telling cold-blooded details, especially in the planning and fulfillment of Bobby's activities, which become more and more erratic as things go astray from his plans, and those touches, some ironic, some despairing, are rich and feel like a tribute to the director the film is most in the style of—Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock is always a good primer for film-makers starting out in the low-budget fields, as his films are like blueprints in basic film-making techniques—direct, bald, and effective.  But Hitchcock's subtleties—the stuff that fills the frame of the cutting scheme—are tougher to match. And it takes a better breed of film-maker—like Spielberg, Bogdanovich, and DePalma—to take the Master's schematics and improvise with the form.  One can do all the planning one wants, but it's in the finishing touches that make a house a home, and a movie a film.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mark of the Vampire

Mark of the Vampire (Tod Browning, 1935) Oooh!  Here's a Hallowe'en nugget!  Bela Lugosi as a vampire in a film directed by the original director of Dracula, Tod Browning? What could be better than that?

Well, just about anything, but all is not lost.  The film is full of Browning's atmospheric touches—which made Dracula so creepy—and he does himself better here with extensive fog effects, a "real" flying vampire, and a hot she-vampire that's creepier than Lugosi, himself.


A remake of Browning's London After Midnight (a Lon Chaney silent film classic considered lost), this version is re-set in Prague. Plans for the wedding of Irena Borotyn (Elizabeth Allan) and Fedor Vincenti (Henry Wadsworth) are dampened when her father, Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is found murdered, two holes in his neck and his body drained of blood.  The police are baffled, but not the townspeople, who blame it all on Count Mora and his daughter Luna (Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland), who the locals think reside in the Borotyn castle near town, despite being dead for many, many years


The marriage is postponed, the case, being investigated by Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwell), goes cold and Irena goes to live with her guardian, the Baron Otto van Zinden (Jean Hersholt).  And, wouldn't you know it?  Right before the wedding can occur again, another attack occurs—this time Fedor turns up double punctured after walking by the Borotyn castle.  Then, Irena is attacked.  Things are getting to be a real pain in the neck, so the inspector brings in noted vampire specialist Professor Zellen (Lionel Barrymore), who suggests a two pronged attack (naturally), they'll dig up the body of Sir Karell to see if he in thrall to the vampire, and they'll search the Borotyn castle for Mora and Luna.


There's more to this than meets the eye, and far less with a twist ending that makes horror fans see red


Still, before they stake these vampires, Browning's atmospherics are fun, effective and slightly risible and although it disappoints for toying with the audience (and for the many 20/20 hindsight "but if..." questions after), it's genuinely creepy.








The Island of Lost Souls

The Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932) You gotta be careful who you meet in your travels.  As they say in Casablanca, there are vultures...vultures everywhere.  Thing is, on The Island of Lost Souls (based on H.G. Wells' oft-filmed "The Island of Dr. Moreau"), they just might be vultures, literally.

Or, at least, some human-vulture hybrid.

Edward Parker (Richard Arlen), though, will take any port in a storm.  Ship-wrecked, he's picked up by a freighter delivering supplies to a nearby island.  After Parker causes some trouble after seeing the Captain attack one of the crewmen, he is thrown off the ship to the boat that meets it to pick up the supplies.  It is manned by Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) and Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), and the doctor is only too happy to take the ship-wrecked Parker to his island.

It's not a pretty sight.  All jungle and dark and creepy, until Moreau introduces him to a young native named Lota (Kathleen Burke), who is entranced with Parker.  While Parker tries carry on a conversation with her, screams are heard, which frighten them, but mostly Lota who enigmatically says that they come from "The House of Pain."

Parker investigates and finds Moreau and Montgomery performing surgery on a strange creature on an operating table.  Alarmed that his host is a madman, Parker tries to leave the island but is stopped by a crowd of deformed brutes, until Moreau appears, cracks his whip and forces the creatures to obedience, making the Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) recite the rules, which are echoed by the other creatures: 

Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Are we not men? 
Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men? 
Are we not men?
Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men? 
Are we not men?

"Are we not men?"  Not just a Devo lyric (remember this was 1932. slightly before "their time"), but a profound question of identity. Turns out Moreau is a mad-man with God aspirations, an anti-Frankenstein, the difference being the German doctor was trying to bring life back from death, whereas the doctor with the South Seas practice is altering life, trying to "do" Darwin generations faster by "un-natural selection"—surgically, chemically, any way he can think of, attempting to turn animals into homo sapiens.

And doing a bad job, by the looks of it.  The pre-code movie Moreau presages Dr. Mengele's work for the Nazis by a few years, with vivisection as a specialty, and dictator as a hobby.* Having started with plants and moving on in his designs, his hybrids live as beasts and only the one subject that has yielded the best results—Lota, "the Panther Woman"—has met his standards. Sociopathic in his methods, Messianic in his goals, he sees throwing Lota at Parker as an experiment in biology.  Nothing more.  And Laughton plays the scene like an avid voyeur.

Subsequent films have been make-up experiments to see how realistically latex can be applied to actors to make the illusion playable.  The Island of Lost Souls does a fine job of it, but is expressly concerned with making the hybrids monsters, and the situation nightmarish (as opposed to believable). Realism isn't the goal with this version, so much as driving home the point of the novel (although Wells thought the result was completely different. burying the novel's intentions in horror—he was spared having to see the other versions).  

It should also be noted that this movie has nothing to do with Snapchat filters.
This movie inspired the phrase "The natives are restless."  No.  Really.






* "Moreau" has been filmed a couple times (once with Burt Lancaster and most recently with a risible Marlon Brando as Moreau, that was frankly a bit incomprehensible), but those times the methods have been "magical" injections that can turn men to beasts and/or vice versa, more in tune with Dr. Jekyll than Dr. Moreau.  Supposedly, there's a new one in the works from Leonardo DiCaprio's company.