Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

The first big budget (sort of) remake of the HG Wells classic arrived in cinemas in the late '70s with a massive fanfare (I remember the TV ads well) but then seemed to disappear from trace. Even the much-maligned 1996 version didn't resurrect interest in this rather impressive and luscious-looking retelling. 

Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is shipwrecked onto a desert island, and is taken in by Dr. Moreau (Burt Lancaster) and his assistant Montgomery (Nigel Davenport). Enamoured by the beautiful Maria (Barbara Carrera) and intrigued by the strange-looking inhabitants he comes across when he's exploring the island, Braddock discovers the Doc is conducting some terrible research which involves turning animals into humans.
The original story, and indeed this version, raises all kinds of ethical dilemmas that we take as no-brainers now (of course, we shouldn't experiment on animals, genetic mutation is wrong, etc.) but when the book, and even this version of the film, came out it was still a widespread occurrence.  As remakes go, this is quite impressive, even if it does have a 'TV movie' quality to it - which is actually not a criticism, but probably down to the transfer of the film to HD for the Blu-ray release. The colour is vivid, lush, and absolutely beautiful. This naturally will show up the imperfections in the make-up on the manimals. These are brilliant, very much in the style of Planet of the Apes (indeed, director Don Taylor made Escape) but may well be a little too fake for today's audiences. There's nothing wrong with them, though and they are quietly effective and very creepy. Richard Basehart (the captain from the classic TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) takes the Bela Lugosi role of the Sayer of the Law, and is brilliantly unrecognisable.
Lancaster's Moreau has a more genial streak than the famous version Charles Laughton portrayed, but is still mad as box of frogs. It's actually surprising that we actually don't see much of what goes on in the House of Pain, but the constant screams and howls which permeate the forest are enough to sicken any right-thinking person.
More of an action-adventure than horror (it's initial release was cut and rated "A" in the UK), it's an entertaining, diverting romp, and even the normally wooden York manages to pull together an engaging part. Add in the impressive man v. beast fight scenes (which don't resort to the actor throwing around a stuffed toy in a pretend fight) and it's worth a look.
101 Films have released the film on Blu-ray in the UK, and although it's a bare bones release, it's a worthwhile purchase to either discover or rediscover a piece of classic '70s cinema. Who doesn't love that poster?
note: screengrabs are taken from an earlier DVD release, not the Blu-ray.
8 out of 10

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