Comparing Versions of The Movies, Island of Dr. Moreau

Book cover for The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Book cover for The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

I have always been a movie fan and liked old movies, movies made before 1950. However I must admit my favorites are ‘scary’ or sci-fi movies, so when I first saw the "Island of Dr. Moreau" also subtitled the "Island of Lost Souls", advertised as an upcoming movieon TV, I had to watch it. That was probably back in 1959. It immediately became a cult favorite to me. I'm sure many of you have never even heard of it!

Let’s start at the very beginning.The Island of Dr. Moreau was a sci-fi novel written by H.G. Wells. So, already you know it has to be good if its written by H.G. Wells. It’s about a ship- wrecked man name Edward Prendick who winds up on a beautiful south seas island with a cargo of exotic animals. So far, not too scary. In the novel, the narrator claims that he found the manuscript, written by Pendrick, after the man's death and advises the reader that he cannot confirm the strange tale described within the following pages. (Taken from: http://www.fathom.com/course/21701774/session3.html )The island is the home of Dr. Moreau and houses exotic animals for cruel and unusual experiments. Pendrick , does not want to remain on the island but his rescue ship won’t take him back. He meets Montgomery who befriends him in a strange way. Pendrick is given a room and begins to wonder what is going on behind Moreau’s locked inner enclosure. He then remembers he had heard about Moreau. Moreau was once a respected physiologist in London before people found out about his gruesome experiments in vivisection. Now we’re getting somewhere…gruesome can lead to scary.

The Law of Dr. Moreau
The Law of Dr. Moreau

Without too much detail at this point let’s just say Pendrick starts running into half human-half animal creatures. He starts nosing around and when Moreau catches him he begins to fear he will be the next victim so he fleas into the jungle. There he meets an Ape Man who takes Pendrick to his people – all half human half animal. The apparent leader, Sayer of the Law, is a large gray thing. He’s called Sayer of the Law because he is always reciting a litany of laws which the Beast Folk repeat after him. Seems Moreau wants to keep his Beast Folk in line; saying the law reminds them they are not animals anymore.

Pendrick winds up getting ‘caught’ by Moreau who explains to him that he did create the Beast Folk. Moreau explains the pain he inflicts is only to help him turn beasts into humans. Pendrick now accepts Moreau and his experiments and begins life on the island. Dr. Montgomery, Moreau’s assistant is a former medical student who does not approve of Moreau’s experiments and turns to alcohol to soothe his conscience.

Of course things cannot go along well or this wouldn’t be a scary movie. A violation occurs, and Pendrick gets involved. However, things are beginning to brew with the Beast Folk and a puma Moreau is working on escapes. Moreau pursues and they wind up killing each other. Moreau’s man Montgomery has destroyed all the boats so Pendrick cannot escape from the Island. As time goes by the Beast Folk start to revert back to beasts. Just when Pendrick fears for his life, he manages to get rescued and when no one on the ship believes his story he stops telling it and pretends he doesn’t remember what happened for the year he was ‘missing.’ When he gets back to England he finds he is uncomfortable with humans suspecting them of being Beast Folk, so he turns to solitude and the study of chemistry and astronomy.

Obviously this is the novel in a nutshell. Now, how does the novel compare to the three movies that were made based on the novel? Yes, three movies. In the early ‘80’s I went back to school and took English 101.One of our assignments was to do a comparison piece and I compared the first two movies, the third hadn’t been made yet. The strange thing is each movie included well known Hollywood names in many if not most of the parts and yet, many people have never heard of The Island of Dr. Moreau!

The first Island of Dr. Moreau was made in 1932 and starred Bela Lugosi with Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, and others. It’s name however is not the Island of Dr. Moreau but the Island of Lost Souls. H.G. Wells was not happy with this adaptation of his novel, it being the only adaptation he saw. Our Edward Pendick is named Edward Parker (theatrical license and all that.) Just a little aside bit of trivia: one of the man beasts was Jon Bonomo who worked as Lon Chaney’s stunt double and it was Charles Laughton’s first starring role in America.

In this version Parker is tossed overboard and picked up by a ship whose captain says he's never coming to this island again - set the mood for something evil. Moreau is a whip cracking taskmaster (Charles Laughton.) In the beginning Parker thinks Moreau is sane, but learns later that is not the case. The island also has a lot of strange noises, adding to the impending danger. We meet Mr. Montgomery, Dr. Moreau's assistant. Dr. Moreau is like a demigod to the poor creatures he has created, who fear his “house of pain.”The house of pain is where he turns animals into half-men. Bela Lugosi is the Sayer of the Law. He is half animal half man but he has been trained by Moreau to recite The Law. Lugosi is excellent as Sayer and brings his "monster" talents to this role. At one point Sayers says, "It is a hard way, the way of being a man."

With Sayer, Moreau and the Beasts they recite The Law:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?

Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?

Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?


Moreau with one of his creatures from the 1932 Island of Lost Souls
Moreau with one of his creatures from the 1932 Island of Lost Souls | Source

At first Parker is repulsed by the half man half animal creatures but after learning about the house of pain and what they must endure, he begins to feel sorry for them and realizes Moreau is pure evil.

Lota is a very feline but very beautiful young woman (the panther woman created by Moreau.) She is the love interest in the film with Moreau trying to push her on Parker. During one scene she shows her claws and Parker realizes she is one of the half animal-half human creatures. M’LING is Moreau’s servant. Parker’s girlfriend Ruth Thomas back home and is responsible for his rescue with a Captain Donohue. He wants to bring Lota back to civilization but she is killed by one of the creatures.


1977 Island of Dr. Moreau
1977 Island of Dr. Moreau

The second Island of Dr. Moreau was made in 1977 and starred Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Barbara Carrera, Nigel Davenport, and Richard Basehart.Wikipedia says, “Lancaster perfectly matches Wells' description of Moreau's physical appearance.”In this version Edward Pendrick is Andrew Braddock and a very pretty young woman named Maria has been added to the island; a love interest. Braddock is shipwrecked in this version. As time goes by Braddock feels more threatened by Moreau and the Beasts, now referred to as “manimals.” Of course Braddock also becomes involved with Maria and plans to take her with him when he leaves the island. Moreau catches them and takes Braddock to his house of pain to use him in an experiment. When Montgomery objects Moreau kills him and throws his body into the woods.This agitates the beasts as one of the Laws is “man shall not kill man.” Moreau injects Braddock who starts to take on animal characteristics. The ‘manimals’ storm the house and Moreau is killed. Braddock, Maria, and M'Ling manage to escape, and the compound is burned with most of the man-beasts killed by the wild animals Moreau kept for his experiments. M'Ling is killed in the final escape.

Braddock and Maria sail away in the lifeboat that Braddock arrived in, after a bloody battle with one of the man-beasts. They are later rescued by a passing ship, and the serum has worn off, returning Braddock to his full human state. It also appears that Maria, is returning to her true nature. (from Wikipedia)

Marlon Brando's Moreau
Marlon Brando's Moreau

In the 1996 version we have Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Ron Pearlman, and Fairuza Balk among others. Now, Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando) is using DNA to create his creatures. Only one transformation is successful and the others have to be given daily drugs to keep them from regressing.This is very different from the other two movies in that they were changed and stayed that way until the very end of those movies. In this movie Edward Pendrick is Edward Douglas.To add to the variation the shipwreck is now a plane crash and Douglas has to fight the two men on the lifeboat over the last of the water. Montgomery takes Douglas to the island which he calls his “little island paradise.” The interplay between Montgomery and Douglas centers around a caged rabbit that they discuss then Montgomery kills in front of Douglas. Also in this movie, rather than Douglas remembering something about Moreau’s past, he finds a Nobel Prize given to Moreau. He also finds when Montgomery leaves him that he is locked in his room with barred windows. He manages to pick the lock and start searching the island. He hears cries of pain which lead him to the ‘house of pain’ which is now a building with padded walls. There are many more artistic liberties taken in this movie.

Lota is now called Aissa. When Aissa and Douglas are trying to escape a Baboon like creature starts to attack but Aissa stops him by saying this is a five fingered man. Ron Pearlman is the Sayer of the Law. In all three movies the beasts are afraid of Dr. Moreau because of the pain he inflicted creating them and because the terror he instills in them after they’ve been ‘created.’ Naturally Douglas and Aissa are captured and returned to Moreau who is now a weird looking guy who is intolerant of the sun. (No connection whatsoever to the book or previous movies.) There is a new emphasis in this movie, not to eat meat of any kind, originally it was only the animal/man creatures who could not eat meat. In this version no one is allowed to eat meat so when Douglas is served meat (the rabbit) it sets off a series of events. Montgomery’s character is not as tormented in this version either. Moreau’s whip has been replaced by an amulet around his neck. When he presses the amulet the creatures feel pain. In this version Hyena Man finds a chip in the body of a dead creature and realizes this is what causes the pain. He refuses his injections saying “pain no more.”

At one point Montgomery offers Douglas a joint to smoke to help him understand what is happening on the island, a huge departure from the book and other movies. Hyena man ultimately changes The Law; “to go on all fours, that is the law” at which point the creatures kill Moreau. Moreau’s death is also more gruesome.He is ripped apart by Hyena (a half man half animal creature.) Douglas escapes at the end of the movie.

Obviously all of the accounts I have given of the movies are in a nutshell just as I did with the book.The comparisons show that the movies deteriorated with each making.The 1932 version is considered to be a classic, the others are not. The 1977 version had great makeup and a chilling Dr. Moreau. Both of these versions stayed close to the novel – the idea of not messing with nature or what God has created and the evil twisted mind of Dr. Moreau.The third movie however, changes so much it is sometimes hard to realize it is related to the original novel. It seems the reviews of each movie deteriorated along with the quality of the movie itself. One of my research articles advised doing Dr. Moreau in reverse order; seeing the 1996 movie first, then 1977, then 1932, then read the book.This is probably an excellent idea. While some classics might be remade and improve on the original this is definitely not the case here!

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FYI

Members of the new wave band Devo were fans of the film. The "What is the law?" sequence formed part of the lyrics to Devo's song "Jocko Homo," with Lugosi's query "Are we not men?" providing the title to their 1978 debut album Question: Are We Not Men? Answer: We Are Devo! Oingo Boingo is another new wave band who paid tribute to the film with their song "No Spill Blood," which featured the refrain "What is the Law? No spill blood!" and appeared on their 1983 Good for Your Soul album. The Meteors, a psychobilly band from the UK told the story of the film in their song "Island of Lost Souls" off their 1986 album Teenagers From Outer Space, the chorus being a prolonged chant of "We don't eat meat; Are We Not Men? We stand on two feet; Are We Not Men?" etc. Heavy metal band Van Halen paid homage to the film in the original version of their song "House of Pain", the early lyrics for which directly referenced the storyline of the movie. During onstage introductions of the song circa 1976-77, Van Halen vocalist David Lee Roth routinely gave a brief synopsis of the film. The song was shelved for the better part of a decade, but eventually resurfaced with different non-movie related lyrics and released on the band's 1984 album. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_Lost_Souls_(1933_film))

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Lota from the 1931 version
Lota from the 1931 version
Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law from the 1932 version
Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law from the 1932 version
Creature from the 1996 Island of Dr. Moreau
Creature from the 1996 Island of Dr. Moreau

Island of Dr. Moreau 1977 - to watch click on YouTube link

1996 Island of Dr. Moreau Movie Trailer

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Comments 13 comments

ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I read the book many years ago and well's idea seemed to be a pro-evolution stance. He seemed to be saying the difference between animals and man is the "Superficial" degree of evolution we are at. i.e. men and animals are basically the same.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York Author

I think at issue too was genetic engineering (or whatever they called it at the time) and man proving his superiority over "beasts."


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I never read the book but have seen a couple of versions, even though the later ones were more graphic I tend to like the earlier ones better, because they used more atmosphere instead of all out scariness! if that makes any sense! lol really good read here, and thanks for the memory!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Nell. I know what you mean. I tend to like the older versions better myself.


Multiman 5 years ago

I found none of the movies to be entirely satisfactory, perhaps it was the acting, but as as ussual the book is generally better than the movie. Great Article. Voted Up.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York Author

In spite of its age and the fact that it wasn't the best quality I really did like the first one. Thanks Multiman.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

An interesting article comparing the three Dr. Moreau movies Mary, thanks. I wrote a hub on the Charles Laughton classic about a year ago. For years I searched for the 1933 film on video and DVD, finally a few years ago I found a grainy copy on the internet. There's a remastered version available now on DVD by Criterion.

Voted Up and Interesting.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I'm surprised it's hard to find (the 1933 version) we saw it on TV a few months ago - Turner Classic Movie. Thanks for stopping by. I'll have to check your Laughton hub, send me the link.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

The film was never shown on British TV as far as I know and was banned in cinemas. It wasn't released on video or DVD either, all I could do was read about it for decades. :)

Here's my hub on the film -

http://hubpages.com/entertainment/The-House-of-Pai...


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I forget not everyone here is from America, sorry. The original has been shown on American TV many times as it is considered a classic among horror films. For 1932/1933 this certainly was a risky movie. Laughton was excellently despicable and the young girl who played Lota did a great job, but the 'beast' people are the heart of this movie.


Chuck 13 months ago

Recently saw a documentary called "Lost Soul" about the director of the ill fated 90's remake with Val Kilmer & Brando. Highly recommended!


Chuck 13 months ago

Recently saw a documentary called "Lost Soul" about the director of the ill fated 90's remake with Val Kilmer & Brando. Highly recommended!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 13 months ago from New York Author

Have you seen the other versions Chuck?

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