OCTOBER 30, 2011
I can always count on the New Beverly to provide an HMAD entry or two in October, as their love of classic cinema (i.e. not the stuff I show like Shocker) and the unavoidable horror-heavy programming that most repertory theaters have during the month means they'll be showing stuff from the 30s-50s that I've never seen. Additionally, today's movie was going to be the decidedly non-classic Just Before Dawn, which was the final movie for the Aero's horrorthon, but that didn't happen*, and so I found myself plunked down in my favorite seat for Island Of Lost Souls, the first adaptation of "The Island Of Dr. Moreau".
Surprisingly there have only been three official adaptations of the novel, and considering how the last one turned out, I doubt another will be along anytime soon. I haven't seen the 70s one, but this one is much better than the "Brando has an ice bucket hat" version, at least as a piece of filmed entertainment. I have not read the book and thus cannot speak to how faithful either version is to its source material, but whereas the 1996 film was an incoherent, ridiculously miscast movie with obvious tinkering throughout, this one is wonderfully straightforward and enjoyable, with great performances and the inherent charm of old-school horror films.
Interestingly, it's the things that separate it from many of the other horror films of the era that drew my attention. While Richard Arlen as Parker and Arthur Hohl as Montgomery give the sort of vague/basic (but solid) alpha male performances typical of the day, where you can basically swap their roles and it wouldn't make any difference, Charles Laughton as Moreau gives a terrifically understated performance, rare for a villain. He's not a very proactive guy - even when the others are trying to escape he just sort of hangs out and watches how it all goes down (knowing that the man-imals will get them anyway) - but there's a quiet menace there all the same. And unlike Brando, he's in it quite a bit; in fact I was surprised how early he showed up, and as he is the villain and this is an old horror movie, you can guess how much is left once he is dispatched (hint: less time than it takes to read this sentence).
I also enjoyed the makeup by Wally Westmore (sadly not even credited on the film itself), though there wasn't a lot of variety in the designs - everything sort of looked like an ape or cat type creature. Where's the Dogman, dammit! But it's solid, occasionally even creepy stuff, particularly near the end when 5-6 of them walk right up to camera in succession, yelling at Moreau. Bela Lugosi plays their leader ("Sayer of the Law"), and he of course gets the most complex makeup, however even though is face is otherwise completely covered those eyes give his identity away. Good ol Bela, I wish he was in the movie more. After his introduction around the halfway point he disappears until the climax, as do the majority of the other man-imals; I assume the makeup process was too time-consuming/complex to do too often?
Another interesting thing about the movie is that it was relatively early in the "talkie" era, so it's almost unnervingly quiet during the scenes where no one is talking. I guess they hadn't quite figured out foley yet, so lots of action bits (a man-imal tackling someone from a tree, for example) play mute, as do minor things like pouring a drink or whatever. There's also not a lot of music - this is one movie where remastering the sound to be in 5.1 or whatever would be a total waste of time.
I also noticed that the hero never actually kisses his fiance, which I wonder if was something related to the Hays Code. At one point he "kisses" (they literally just put their mouths together and remain entirely motionless) the Panther Woman, who looks like a regular woman except for her claw like hands, so was there a rule saying that he couldn't kiss another woman in the movie? You'd think a dude who was just reunited with the woman he was going to marry would attempt for some tongue action, but they just hug. Good ol' Code; apparently the movie was banned in Britain for a while and only released with an X (their R) 25 years later, partly because of Moreau saying that he felt like God.
Of course, this means that the horror elements are light; we never really see anything of note happen to anyone on-screen; even Moreau's demise is largely off-camera. It's interesting that Montgomery got away at the end though; while he was never a full on villain, he WAS involved, and part of the Code was that evil does not go unpunished (conversely, the overly helpful boat captain got killed for nothing), so those censors must not have been paying attention. On the other hand, it's structured just like every Universal horror movie ever made; the lovers, the villain who is civil to them, the creepy scenes in the woods, and even a climax featuring the villagers wielding torches! I should note that this was actually a Paramount release at the time (and the print still had its logo); it belongs to Universal now as part of a large acquisition they made years ago (same reason the Paramount production of Psycho is now a Universal title).
Island showed with Them!, which I would have loved to have seen in 35mm, but alas tonight was the first time all month I was able to make it to a haunted house. Sadly it was kind of lame (it was just the one house that takes 2 minutes to walk thorough, set up in someone's house in Burbank) but I was happy to be able to do SOMETHING seasonal related this month. I mean, yeah, there were festivals and all night horror fests, but how is watching horror movies any different than the other 11 months of the year for me? You October HMAD-ers all get to "quit" tomorrow - I keep on going!
What say you?
*After two movies, the managers of the Aero told us all that they were getting shut down by the electric company, who had to turn off the entire block for some reason. Apparently they had been fighting with them for 45 minutes and had gotten nowhere, so they told us all to leave and come back next weekend for the rest of the lineup. Which I and several others did, but apparently after another 15 minutes or so the power company relented and kept the power on and the horrorthon resumed. Of course by the time I found this out I was already back home a half hour away and in no mood to drive again (during which time I'd be missing The Pit anyway), so I got screwed. Thanks, Aero. Luckily, I finally saw Tourist Trap in 35mm, which was worth the price of admission alone, but I learned my lesson all the same - never defect from the New Bev!!