The Island of Dr. Moreau

Let’s get animal, animal. I wanna get animal. Let’s get into animal.
Don Taylor
Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera
The Setup: 
Man lands on island where a mad doctor is performing terrifying, bizarre experiments!

Okay, so there I am in the bargain video store, looking to find a second title to take advantage of the $2 for $10 promotion, and there this is, part of the Midnite Movie collection, starring my beloved Burt Lancaster, Michael York of Logan’s Run, and an adaptation of the somewhat fun H.G. Wells novel! SOLD! And this is even before I found out it bore the Ai Pictures and Samuel Z. Arkoff mark of quality, also starred Nigel Davenport [of Phase IV], and Babara Carerra [of Embryo]. And to render it all irresistible, the tagline on the front cover reads “The doctor is in—SANE!” That takes inspiration, right there.

Okay, so we open with this boat adrift in the open sea. Inside are York as Braddock, another guy, Charlie, and a third, dead one. They toss the dead one over the side, although obviously they should have EATEN him! I guess they weren’t that desperate yet. Anyway, they finally reach an island. Braddock heads into the interior while the barely-conscious Charlie meets an untimely end. Braddock is spooked by noises in the jungle, and soon falls into a pit trap.

When he wakes, he’s in a creepy jungle compound where he meets Davenport as Nigel, who affects a wearily ironic attitude, but doesn’t divulge a lot of information. He also meets Lancaster as Moreau, bringing his natural authority and presence to the role of the in—SANE doctor. There is also—as always—as BEAUTIFUL WOMAN! She’s Maria, and at first is so mute and responsive to Moreau’s commands you wonder if she’s going to turn out to be one of his experiments. I also wonder if she was in the original novel at all, as often those things were all-male adventures, but had women and romance added when they were brought to the screen. Anyway, we find out that Moreau “bought her for the price of eggs” in a marketplace when she was just eleven and—uh, yeah, I think that has some unpleasant undertones.

So anyway, Moreau has all these exotic animals around the compound [including a Hyena, so I could finally hear the famous laughing sound—extremely creepy], and Braddock starts seeing these half-man-half-beast things, either lurking around outside or serving dinner or being brought into the place in chains. They are at varying stages of man-or-beastliness. And neither Moreau or Montgomery are exactly all answers. So one day Braddock is snooping around and he finds this bear-man strapped to a table. Unfortunately, I do not mean that in the Jack Radcliffe sense, but an actual half-man-half-bear. Braddock is freaked! Then Moreau comes in and explains that—

He’s essentially using stem-cell science to turn animals into humans. I thought that was a creepy little twist, as usually they’re turning people into animals. That means that all the malformed people around were once bears and bunnies and jaguars and marmosets. Which is a weird idea. Moreau wants to turn them fully human, which is why he whips the bear-man when he recognizes the real bear. All of this Braddock finds unbelievably cruel and immoral, and he just doesn’t like it one bit!

At one point, out of the clear blue, Maria comes to Braddock’s room, lets her hair down, and they go for it, in a rather longer sex scene than one would expect. Then Braddock is menaced by the mean manimals outside the compound, and finds their secret cave, where he learns that Moreau has imposed these laws, chief of which is that they shouldn’t spill any blood. He wants to turn them into peaceful vegans! Braddock wants to get off the island, but his boat has a hole, and he can’t work on it too much without being menaced by the nasty manimals. And come to find out that when the manimals stop receiving their serum, they revert back to animal form, but remember their time as humans—and are fucking PISSED about it. And then Moreau drops that there IS a ship coming that can take Braddock off—but not for two years! Talk about a layover.

So for some time since we found out the secret, this has been losing focus [and my interest] as it gets bogged down in the wheres and whys of the science and the rules and the secret societies and who wants what and after a while you just stop caring. Braddock feels all trapped, but the movie makes a mistake in showing that the island is HUGE, and there’s no reason he couldn’t take his little boat and go off to another part and live his own life. There’s some more escalation with the manimals, and finally Moreau injects Braddock and partially turns him into an animal! But by this time I didn’t care.

I will admit that the ending gets a bit of a charge by just how very grisly and chaotic it gets, but it was way too late for me. I mean, it’s not awful, it just doesn’t really work and gets a little too bogged down in all the various sci-fi possibilities and rules and codes and stuff. Not to mention that there are only so many characters and they keep doing the same things, and we seem to see several similar scenes—Braddock leaves the compound, is menaced, is rescued by Moreau just in time—quite a few times. Yeah, it just doesn’t work.

It would be, however, the ideal thing to watch if you were 14 and stuck at home on a rainy Saturday afternoon. So it’s one of those things. Although I’d much rather be home with the thematically-similar but exponentially more awesome Sssssss.

Should you watch it: 

You could do worse, but you could also do a LOT better.