The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
A tropical paradise, untouched by man... where a bizarre civilization exists.
Year of Release: 1977
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Running Time: 99 minutes (1:39)
Director: Don Taylor
Burt Lancaster ... Dr. Paul Moreau
Michael York ... Andrew Braddock
Nigel Davenport ... Montgomery
Barbara Carrera ... Maria
Richard Basehart ... Sayer of the Law
Nick Cravat ... M'Ling
The Great John L. ... Boarman
Bob Ozman ... Bullman
Fumio Demura ... Hyena Man
Gary Baxley ... Lionman
John Gillespie ... Tigerman
David S. Cass Sr. ... Bearman
Animals become monsters - and a man becomes part animal - in this sci-fi shocker starring Burt Lancaster and a galaxy of mutant monsters created by some of the make-up legends behind Planet of the Apes. On a tropical Pacific Island, the mad Dr. Moreau (Lancaster) has set out to fool Mother Nature, conducting nightmarish genetic experiments that have resulted in Lionmen, Tigermen, Bearmen and other marauding monstrosities. But when a storm at sea washes shipwreck survivor Braddock (Michael York) ashore, the sinister surgeon devises a diabolical plan to dispose of his meddling and uninvited guest. Partially transformed into one of Moreau's monstrosities, Braddock must escape from this tropical hell before the mad surgeon can finish the job ... of bringing out the beast in him!
The Island of Dr. Moreau, the movie that reminds us that the only thing scarier than furry fantasies is a furry reality. I guess the upside to being a furry is that if you went to see this in the theater, you wouldn't need a raincoat. I'll bet this movie's huge in Denmark. Okay, anyway, the movie is based upon the book of the same name by H.G. Wells, or as hardcore science fiction fans call him, God. So pay attention, I have a few revelations to preach, handed down by H.G. himself. Lacking Mount Sinai, this soap box will have to do. First, Bill Murray was right. Dogs and cats living together is in fact, mass hysteria. Granted, they live in a cave, walk bipedally and can speak, but try to follow me on this. Second, if everyone on an island is a manimal, or in this case, a womanimal, consider carefully whether you can afford a litter of mistakes, an stomach the sight of mama eating the placentas, before fornicating. An third, never go on a ship named the "Lady Vain." You wouldn't wanna spend your life with a vain lady, so why on earth would you entrust your safety to one? Ship probably found out it was about to be decommissioned for a younger model an deliberately hit an iceberg out of spite. I'm gonna stay on the subject of vanity for the lecture this time, because in the movie, Moreau figures his work is important on the basis that, he may be able to prevent birth defects, and in general, isolate specific genes that are beneficial so they can be passed on. So basically, he wants to make all women look like Marilyn Monroe an all men look like Burt Reynolds. But really, he's trying to fix something that isn't broken here. Now granted, there are a lot of ugly people in the world, but big deal. There are plenty of ugly people to date the other ugly people. And attractive people date attractive people. But it's not quite as simple as that. Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, an what if Moreau's eyes happen to be those of a plastered bar patron at 2am? We could end up in worse shape than we're already in. Besides, the most attractive people often have horrifying character flaws anyway, only a number of which can be fixed by medication. The attractive ones that're screwed up simply date down a few digits an the ugmo that gets with 'em exchanges happiness for looking upscale in public. An the ugmos generally end up happy because they have to have pleasant personalities or they'll die alone. The point is, we've got a system that works here, an people need to quit trying to fuck with it. Besides, I hate blondes.
Island begins with three guys in a rowboat drifting aimlessly in the ocean. No food, no water, an no Ginger or Mary Anne to make their final moments enjoyable. Before long it's just two guys drifting aimlessly in the ocean cause they have to toss the third guy overboard on account of him startin' to reek. Plus the boat's beginning to attract sea goin' vultures. But just when you'd expect the lack of sunscreen alone to do them in, they spot an island an paddle like a dominatrix until they reach the shoreline. The man that's still able to stand and carry dead weight (let's call him Logan), helps his sun parched companion into the shade, an heads off in search of water. But while Logan's gone his buddy gets dragged off by a point of view shadow an Logan hears him screaming an gets this look on his face like he just ran over the neighbor's cat with the lawn mower. He runs in the direction of the screams but comes to rest in a tiger trap, fortunately the spike free variety. Shortly thereafter, the guy that was watching from a watchtower (Montgomery) sees fit to pull him out of the pit, although you can hardly blame him for not warning him about the trap, cause not much happens around here an it's really funny to watch. Logan then wakes up in a hospital, or at least a hut with a scalpel and some ether, an Dr. Moreau (Burt Lancaster) comes in an tells 'em that he'll be alright an that once he's feeling better he can come by an watch the security tape of himself face planting into the pit. The next day, Montgomery invites Logan to dinner with Maria an Moreau, where Logan fills them in on what they've been missing on account of them being hermits for the last ten years. Afterwards, Logan starts chatting up Maria an finds out that all the island's inhabitants are imported, an that the last time a ship had been by it was manned by James Cook. So Logan starts snooping around an finds Burt's study, but before he can find the liquor cabinet Burt shows up an gives him an unsolicited chapter of his life story before showing him his pickled embryo collection an hitting the hay. The next day, Logan's on the beach lookin' for crabs when Maria comes along an shows him her kitty. But it's a little too much for him an he has to chase it through the jungle after it jumps out of his arms an he comes across the creepy house servant doing push ups in the mud.
Logan looks around expecting to see R. Lee Ermy with a bullhorn, but when he looks back, the furry faced butler is gone, then he an Maria pet her kitty for awhile. Back at Chateau Moreau, Logan asks Montgomery why Fido was sucking water out of the creek instead of using a glass like civilized folk, an Montgomery explains to him that it's a "local custom." On an island that had no people before Burt showed up. How very peculiar. More peculiar still, the next morning, Logan sees M&M (Moreau an Montgomery) wheel in what looks like Robin Williams, but under closer scrutiny, he finds the man is far too hostile an doesn't nearly have enough hair to be Robin. Burt makes like Doug Bradley an tells him that this wasn't for his eyes an that he'll explain later. But Logan's thoroughly creeped out by Burt's pickled egg collection an angry Wookies, so he waits for the tide to come in an tries to head out to certain death, but the task proves impossible. If only there was a time of day when the tide went the other direction. So he ties up his boat an heads back, but the instant he enters the jungle he sees shadowy figures running around just out of visual range. With the shackled angry Wookie in mind, he runs like the Sandmen are on his trail until he runs into M&M an tells them that the shadow people were after him, an that the Illuminati probably aren't far behind. M&M ride off on horseback after the bad things that scared Logan, an he returns to the compound where he finds a stable of animals voted least likely to leave you alive after a mauling. He also finds Teen Wolf under a sheet on a gurney. Then Burt shows up an tells Logan that he's rewriting the coding of DNA an before long he'll be able to rid the world of birth defects an give everyone superior genetics so there'll be plenty of foxy ladies for everyone. But Logan doesn't need Burt's help, cause the already foxy Maria shows up at his room that evening an he gets some tail. The next morning, Logan asks Burt if the two female servants were previously animals. He doesn't need to ask about Maria, he already knows, rawr. Burt says they were, as was the big furball he's got hidden inside a cage in the stable. He leads the furball over to a cage housing a bear, where the manimal starts petting it, an Burt has to whip it good so it'll stop getting sexy ideas involving the bear. Logan's starting to put two an two together an goes out into the jungle where he finds a cave, only when he put two an two together he came up with three an doesn't anticipate that the cave's where Jojo the Dogface Boy an his much larger than anticipated family live.
One of 'em wants to eat Logan, but the Lawgiver (lets face it, they'd have used that name if the movie wasn't way too similar to Planet of the Apes) tells 'em he'd better not or Burt'll take 'em back to the "house of pain." That's where he wraps 'em in duct tape, sets 'em on a pallet wrapping machine, attaches the loose end of the tape to the spindle an hits the reverse button. About that time Burt shows up an tells 'em that Logan's gonna be their second Daddy an they'd better do what he says an not eat him, then Burt tells Logan he'd better get his head out of his ass cause if they don't fear him he's gonna end up Purina Puppy Chow. Then the Lawgiver tries to get everybody on the same page but one of 'em doesn't wanna be a man an he really wants to go outside an chase cars an bite the mail carrier. But once he sees a tiger drinking by the stream, there's no stopping him, an when M&M an Logan find the dead tiger they get Fido an the rest of the Wookies to track down the offender. Fido breaks off from the pack an takes Logan to the lawbreaker an it tells 'em it can't stomach the idea of going back to the house of pain because they only had one hit song an he really can't stand being subjected to it playing on repeat again. So Logan kills it before Burt can torture it to death with "Jump Around" an when Burt finds out he gets this look on his face like Logan ate the last piece of cheesecake. That night, Fido, Jojo, an the whole pack give the lawbreaker a proper burial at sea, then come for Burt with torches an all the snarling they can muster, but Burt just stares them down an they slink away before he gets out the rolled up newspaper. Then Logan an Maria try to sneak away to the SS Deathtrap but Burt catches 'em an straps Logan to the gurney an gives him the Wookie serum. The next morning, Logan wakes up an flips his shit when he realizes he's not only got bed head, he's got bed face. Then Montgomery shows up an tells Burt that he'd better release Logan cause he's just the right amount of drunk to knee cap him if he doesn't. Burt says he'll let 'em go, but that the keys are in his room. Unfortunately, Montgomery is not the right amount of sober to see that the instant he turns his back, Burt's gonna tap him like a keg. That evening, Fido an the female servants sneak Montgomery's body out of the compound an over to the cave, where the Lawgiver an the rest of the pack are none too thrilled with Burt's hypocrisy, an when the sun comes up, the place is gonna become The Island of Dr. Morowned.
Was a little disappointed in this one. I think it's probably the pacing. It hangs up quite a few times in situations that don't really need to be happening, the storytelling is a bit choppy. There's excitement, then exposition. Every few minutes something interesting happens then the faucet gets shut off. It's definitely different in that regard. A lot of movies put all the exposition together, or build the character's back story until it's time for things to kick into high gear. Most movies take longer to get there, but once they make that transition, they keep that fast pace until the conclusion. Don't get me wrong, the good parts are good, but every time they build some momentum, they kill it moments later an have to start over again. It's like there's a game of "Red Light, Green Light" goin' on an Don Taylor's just jerkin' us around. That's about the only objection I've got, but it's a big one, which the score will reflect. Interestingly, it's not the first adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel. The first cinematic interpretation was made way back in 1932, an was titled The Island of Lost Souls, which is a better sounding title, if nothing else. Surprisingly, it wasn't released by Universal, who was the company responsible for most things horror at the time, but Paramount, and has a significantly higher rating on the IMDB than the 5.7 currently held by this version. Uglier still, this 1977 version has a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is really harsh, as it's nowhere near that bad. Something else I couldn't help but notice was the similarities between it and Planet of the Apes. Michael York's more or less trapped in this place, just about everyone on the island is cuckoo for cocoa puffs, he gets a hot simpleton to play with, the monsters were all created by many of the same people from Planet of the Apes, the director went on to make Escape from the Planet of the Apes, an the music even reminds me of it a lot of the time. Maybe it's just me. It won't affect the score. That said, this is nowhere near the league of Planet of the Apes, or even any of the sequels. An something else I've gotta say for it, very smart move having the majority of the monsters played by stuntmen. The acting is a lot smoother that way.
With the exception of Richard Basehart, there isn't much acting to be done anyway, an there are several scenes in which these guys have to fight dangerous animals. An if those scenes hadn't turned out well, it would have sunk the movie. Very good editing on the animal fight scenes, there are no shots that hang around long enough for the animals to ease up an make it clear that this is all just rough play for them. So, smart move. The animal fight sequences could have crippled the movie really quickly if they'd been edited poorly. But they're very well executed. As with the stuntmen, the rest of the acting is well done. Burt Lancaster's been in a lot of stuff that a lot of people really enjoyed, but that isn't of much interest to me personally. Michael York as well, with the exception of Logan's Run, in which he was of course, Logan. Nigel Davenport, ditto. But did have a role in Phase IV. So the acting is pretty good, even if the actors aren't of interest to me because they don't often participate in movies of my favor. The shooting location was great. An island's an island after all, a dime a dozen, but you also need an island with an old fashioned homestead on it. All the outside scenes were filmed in the Virgin Islands, hard to say if the indoor shots were done there as well. The homestead obviously didn't have its own zoo, of course. Not a lot of variety, but they're well scouted an provide adequate atmosphere. The special effects are really the reason we're watching, an they're very good. Not as good, I'd say, as the effects from Planet of the Apes, on which many of the make up crew participated, but still very good. Some of the monsters look pretty similar to each other, but when you've got that many different kinds of cats involved, I suppose there's no avoiding it. The monster creations are pretty much what the movie is going to continue to skate on, it's not the plot (though good), it's not Burt Lancaster, it's the fact that we wanna see guys dressed up as manimals trying to kill Burt Lancaster. The soundtrack is pretty good, as I mentioned, it reminded me a lot of Planet of the Apes, for whatever reason. It stays quietly in the background most of the time, as needed, only becoming a little louder and more forceful when called upon to do so by the action on the screen. Overall, not Don Taylor's best work, I prefer Escape from the Planet of the Apes, but still worthwhile.