Watching Island of Lost Souls is like falling into a nightmare. It’s a heady brew of straight up terror, sexual and racial anxiety, eugenics, the ongoing terror of colonialism, and the rising tide of European fascism all wrapped up in the sweaty glean of pre-code horror. Of course it’s based on H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau so prescience is assumed but it has a genuine modern feel thanks chiefly to the no-fuss yet determined performance of Charles Laughton, offering up a thoroughly contemporary monster.
In terms of terror it’s the beast-men, the restless victims of the ‘House of Pain’ that seal the deal. Beautifully realized, they are given just enough room to have their own honest nobility yet remain terrifying up to and beyond the moment when The Law is shattered by the actions of their hypocritical, deranged god. From that point on it’s life and death and even more glorious.