Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

House of Pain

“What is the law?”

By the time an unrecognizable Bela Lugosi utters those words in “The Island of Lost Souls,” an absolute masterpiece of horror from 1932, you have already seen things you wished you hadn’t. Things that will haunt your nightmares for many years to come.

I last saw this film over 30 years ago, and I remembered it as very creepy. After watching it again last night, I was struck by what a queer piece of art it was. For anyone who thinks films from this period are so dated as to be unwatchable, I would say, watch this. That is, if you can.

Charles Laughten’s performance as Dr. Moreau is Brando-like 20 years before. I make that comparison not because of any physical similarity, rather because the actor’s choices are so bizarrely unusual and effective. It’s a great script, but you can’t write what Laughten does with the role.

Erle C. Kenton’s direction and the cinematography by Karl Struss, together with some very surrealistic set design, creates an uneasy atmosphere of mounting dread. This is a pre-Hays Code film, so expect to see some surprisingly shocking images and unsettling themes explored head on.

To wit: The human/animal hybrids, lurking on the edges of many scenes, are sure to disturb you in a way that won’t be easy to forget. Let’s not even discuss The House of Pain. Seriously.

The mutants, headed by Lugosi as “The sayer of the law,” along with their creator Laughton, will haunt your mind like a fever dream.

“What is the law? Not to spill blood, that is the law.

Let’s see how that works out.