- Release Date: (Original) 1933
- Running Time: 70 minutes
There’s not much to be said about the film that hasn’t already been said. This adaptation of Wells ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU is one of the absolute pinnacles in the classic horror genre. One of the most notable things about this film is how much its tone contrasts with that of the Universal horror movies of the same era. This film is far darker in its subject matter (vivisection, rape, bestiality) and has an overt air of sexuality that Universal films tended to stay away from. But enough about that, on to the disc itself.
The transfer itself really does stand with the best that Criterion has done. Anyone expecting a transfer clean of all dirt and scratches is setting themselves up for disappointment (and I can’t imagine why anyone would want this film in that “clean” of a version, regardless). But this is the most pristine I’ve ever seen. It is superior to every other home video release by a wide margin. I doubt the film has looked this good since its original theatrical run. Although, my guess is that this is about the best format for the film. I wonder if a lot of these older films that have been restored will hold up when we get up to bigger formats in the future. My guess is most of them won’t hold at a 3K or 4K resolution. But this is absolutely gorgeous.
What really struck me was the re-mastered mono track for the audio. It is some of the clearest I’ve heard from the era. So many times with movies from the 30s and 40s it sounds like the actors are speaking through two tin cans connected by a string. Here, the voices and effects are clear and ever present. Even though he’s almost unrecognizable behind all the hair, Bela Lugosi’s unmistakable accent comes across strong when he asks, “Are we not men?” Brilliant.
The extras are always a place where Criterion shines, and this is no exception. It’s important to remember that the film is from 1933, so making-of documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage aren’t to be expected. That means that Criterion had to create extra content with what is available here and now. The most notable of the extras is the discussion of the movie between director John Landis (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), Rick Baker (Rick Baker), and Bob Burns (horror collector/historian/super fan). We’ve had the pleasure of working with all three of these gentleman extensively and the thing that makes me happiest to see them here isn’t the status of their celebrity, it’s that all three of them are super fans. Talk for 15 minutes to any one of them and you’ll realize that part of what makes them so good in their respective disciplines is that they know their history. This isn’t just some celebs chatting about something that ends up being a testament to how brilliant they are. These three genuinely discuss the film, disagreeing on several points, and really get to the heart of why it has endured. It is really worth taking the time to watch (more than once).
The second extra that really adds to the disc is the commentary by Greg Mank. Again, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Greg on several occasions. This guy is one of the most knowledgeable horror historians on planet earth. The things he knows would make your head explode. When I heard that Criterion was doing this, his was the first name that popped into my head (partially because he was our first call when doing issue 253 on LOST SOULS) because there really is no one better for the gig. He’s fun. He’s conversational. And you’re going to gain an absolute wealth of knowledge and insight from listening to what he has to say.
There’s also an interview with Richard Stanley, the man who was supposed to direct the Marlon Brando/Val Kilmer version of Moreau. But, he was let go before production began (lucky him). He’s very frank about how he wanted to make the film, why he didn’t, and just what a disaster the filmed version turned out to be. He even has some great stories about sneaking back onto the set just to see if it was as bad as the actors were telling him. But I think what I enjoyed most was his discussion of why Moreau is such a hard piece to adapt and what it would take to do it justice.
The last piece is an interview with the founding members of the band DEVO. It turns out that a lot of what they did was based off of the film and the book. Honestly, if you’re not a fan of the band it’s not a very engaging piece.
The bottom line is that this is the definitive version of LOST SOULS. It incorporates not only the best, but also some missing and rare, footage, making it the most complete version. It looks and sounds gorgeous and has an absolutely fantastic wealth of extras that will appeal to even the most educated horror aficionado. The film is a classic and has earned that moniker well. This edition finally allows it to shine and let the world see why it has remained as prominent as it has.
Begin your journey to the Island here!