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Island of Lost Souls [Masters of Cinema] (Dual Format) [Blu-ray] 
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SYNOPSIS: Originally rejected by the BBFC on its original release for being "against nature", this first and best screen adaptation of H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau is a taboo-flaunting, blood-curdling spectacular, and one of Hollywood's wildest, most notorious, pre-Code pictures.
Shipwrecked and adrift, Edward Parker finds himself a guest on Dr. Moreau's isolated South Seas island, but quickly discovers the horrifying nature of the doctor's work and the origin of the strange forms inhabiting the isle: a colony of wild animals reworked into humanoid form via sadistic surgical experiments. Furthermore, Parker quickly begins to fear his own part in the doctor's plans to take the unholy enterprise to a next level.
Featuring a peerlessly erudite and sinister performance by Charles Laughton as the diabolical doctor, a sterling appearance by Bela Lugosi as the half-beast-half-man "Sayer of the Law", and sensationally atmospheric cinematography by the great Karl Struss (Murnau's Sunrise, Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Island of Lost Souls now returns to claim a central position among the most imaginative and nightmarish fantasies from Hollywood's golden age of horror.
Unbelievably, this is the first-ever Blu-ray or uncut DVD release of this Universal horror classic in the UK, finally released in time for its 80th anniversary. A true classic of horror cinema from the early 1930s alongside Dracula, Frankenstein, Freaks, The Invisible Man, Vampyr, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Island of Lost Souls on Blu-ray and DVD, available in the UK in a standard Dual Format Edition & Limited Edition Dual Format Steelbook.
- New high-definition restoration of the uncut theatrical version, officially licensed from Universal Pictures
- Newly created SDH subtitles on the feature for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Uncompressed original monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- An exclusive video piece in which horror critic and historian Jonathan Rigby discusses the film and its source novel
- Original theatrical trailer
- A lavish booklet featuring rare production imagery, and more!
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Directed with a flair uncommon in the 30s by Erle C Kenton (whose other horrors include the not-so-impressive Ghost of Frankenstein, and the fun but similarly ill-fated double act that was to end Universal's more serious monster movie run, House of Dracula/Frankenstein) Island of Lost Souls is striking in its portrayal of the doomed creatures that are forcibly brought out of their natural lifestyle to adopt human characteristics for no better reason other than to prove that it's possible (and maybe to feed the god-complex of the Moreau character, who here resembles an amoral Dr Frankenstein). Bela Lugosi is amongst them, though not receiving a huge amount of screen time. The most notable hybrid, however, is played by Kathleen Burke - slinky, attractive, and meek, the moment that Parker realises the truth about her still sends a bit of a chill through the veins. What struck me about the spiralling chaos of the final act also was its similarity to that of 70s masterwork, Dawn of the Dead, as the creatures get more and more out of control, eventually taking over the 'asylum' as the human survivors make a desparate bid to escape.
I would have bought this from UK suppliers Eureka, but they are unfortunately choosing to release the film in standard definition only (at time of writing), and as matter of course these days I always buy Blu-ray when it's available. Having said that it is likely that the Eureka will feature unique extras so it'll be worth keeping an eye on when it arrives in 2012. Criterion's Blu-ray 1.33:1 Black & White HD (1080p) transfer is comprised of a combination of 35mm nitrate positive (the original negative is unfortunately deemed gone forever) and 16mm print in order to ensure as much audio/video footage, including previously censored material, is present in what we see on the disc. Considering the conditions the film looks very good - soft on occasions, persistently grainy, often pretty detailed and exhibiting good contrast. There is noticeable hiss on the soundtrack periodically but I wouldn't expect otherwise. I suspect that this could be the best this is ever going to look for home cinema, and would like to think it is comparable to original theatrical presentations. Criterion, as usual, have done their absolute best to preserve and restore a classic movie.
I haven't had chance to sift through all of the extras yet, but for information they include segmented interviews with John Landis, Rick Baker, Bob Burns, David Skal, Richard Stanley, Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh (of 'Devo') - these latter pair also provide a short film for the disc. Also present is a commentary by Gregory Mank, original trailer to the movie, plus a fascinating stills gallery showing off close-up images of the 'monsters' along with publicity photos, etc. This is all supported by a lovely booklet giving us an essay on the film, plus details of chapters, cast and the technical side of the transfer. My favourite piece of all this stuff so far is the fifteen minute interview with Stanley, who wanted to and should have directed the 90s remake that Frankenheimer was evetually hired for. This man (who directed the mesmerising Dust Devil if you're unfamiliar with the name) is always a joy to listen to - he comes across as highly educated, knowledgeable on a range of subjects, relentlessly enthusiastic, and is seemingly the beneficiary of a varied and enviable existence, even if he has had his share of tougher times. I could listen to this stuff for long periods of time. This is the sort of extra that most DVD/BD distributors can only aspire to.
It should be noted that this release is Region A only. The booklet and disc are packed in a translucent, standard-sized Blu-ray case adorned by attractive design work. Whilst I do wish that Criterion's Blu-rays had more of a physical presence in the manner that some of their DVD releases did (e.g. Vampyr, Videodrome, etc), one cannot argue with the content. Island... proves itself to be among the elite of 30s horror, and at last there is a release that does it justice and is very difficult to fault - hence five stars.
Unfortunately the uber-desirable USA Criterion release is REGION-A LOCKED although it doesn't say so on Amazon.
So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.
Luckily the “Masters Of Cinema” REGION B release uses the same restored elements and will play on UK machines.
Check you’re purchasing the right version before you buy the pricey Criterion release...
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