During the 2011 Fantasia Film Festival, I got into a conversation with Film Threat writer Jeremy Knox about the filmmaker Richard Stanley. Stanley was in town for the screening of The Theatre Bizarre, a horror anthology film in which he had a directed a segment. Our conversation wasn’t so much about that, however, as it centered around Jeremy wanting to talk to Stanley about what really happened with Stanley and his aborted involvement with the 1996 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (a project he was fired from and which, subsequently after filming got underway with a new creative team and was finally released, became an infamous joke of a film). I don’t think Jeremy got to have that conversation, but never fear, for Criterion has come to the rescue!
One of the extra features contained on Criterion’s Island of Lost Souls blu-ray release is an interview with Richard Stanley wherein he discusses not only the original H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau and the 1932 film adaptation Island of Lost Souls, but also what went down with his own failed attempt. I can only imagine how much better Stanley’s version would’ve been, especially considering how respectful he speaks of the source material (even at one point admitting his anger when seeing the 1977 adaptation). You get the impression he desperately wanted to do justice to the material, but it wasn’t to be. In the end, Island of Lost Souls, which H.G. Wells personally disliked, wound up being the best adaptation of all.
Prior to watching this Criterion release, I had not seen Island of Lost Souls. I knew of it, and I knew if its history as a controversial-for-its-time classic, but I hadn’t seen it for myself. Having now done so, I completely agree that, despite the liberties it takes with the source material, it truly does adapt the original story the best, or at least the spirit of the philosophy underneath it all. And if you’re unfamiliar with this film, the Criterion edition more than delivers.
Beyond the film itself, the blu-ray is loaded with extra features. There’s the previously mentioned Richard Stanley interview, and interview with Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh where they explain how the film influenced them and led to the creation of Devo, a short film by the band, an audio commentary with film historian Gregory Mank, a fun conversation about the film with John Landis, Rick Baker and Bob Burns and yet another interview with horror film historian David J. Skal. Oh, yeah, and there’s a great essay by Christine Smallwood included as well.
If you’re the sort to celebrate Criterion’s continued salvation and presentation of influential cinema, and if you’re reading this you probably are, then this is another in a long list of releases you should have in your collection. Again, it’s probably the best adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau to make it to screen, and while that may seem like faint praise considering the abomination that surfaced in 1996, the film is definitely worthy of the Criterion Collection treatment.