Wednesday, August 30, 2017

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977) (Olive Films DVD Review)


Label: Olive Films

Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: PG
Duration: 99 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono it Optional English Subtitles 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Don Taylor 
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart, Nick Cravat, The Great John L., Bob Ozman, Fumio Demura, Gary Baxley, John Gillespie, David S. Cass Sr.

I very distinctly remember sitting on the floor watching this on TV when I was a kid in the late-70's, I was enthralled by the mad-scientist on an island creating human-animal hybrids - these animal men were horrifying to me, the idea of an animal being transformed into a man-animal hybrid horrified me for some reason, it seemed unnatural, and the movie gave me nightmares for days afterwards. Now, it's been a few good years since I last revisited this incarnation of the classic H.G. Wells story, so let's jump right in and see if nostalgia perseveres today, or is it all youthful movie lust that has faded with time

The movie opens with a man named Andrew Braddock (Michael York, Logan's Run), a ship engineer stranded on a lifeboat after the ship sank. he's on the lifeboat with two other survivors, one of which dies on the boat and is rolled off into the water by the two other men. Dehydrated and on the verge of death the men happen upon an uncharted island somewhere in the Pacific. Braddock is the only one in any shape to adventure inland and he does so, unfortunately his shipmate is seemingly hauled away by strange creatures unseen and killed. Braddock is later found by Montgomery (Nigel Davenport, Death of a Snowman) who takes him back to a compound run by Dr. Moreau (silver screen legend Burt Lancaster, The Swimmer). Braddock is nursed back to health and begins speaking with Moreau who informs him that he has lived on the island for 11-years, he's been performing bizarre experiments which he does not go too deeply into with Braddock, but of course he begins to suspect is short order that something oddball is happening on the island.

While staying on the island Braddock doesn't get a lot of answers from Moreau's right hand man Montgomery, he always refers Braddock to speak to Moreau, so his suspicions are raised. Braddock and a gorgeous servant girl, Maria (Barbara Carrera, Never Say Never Again), the only woman on the island, form a relationship and soon sparks begin to fly between the two, but when Braddock discovers that Moreau is performing advanced evolutionary experiments using his own 'genetic serum', he decides he needs to get off the island, and he's going to take Maria with him. 

As a kid what struck me about the movie were the animal-men who lived in a cave on the island, wild creatures given human form through Moreau's experimentation, they creeped me out. They walked on two legs, had human features but were shaped by their animal origins, thus we have characters with names like Boarman, Bearman, Tigerman and a priest-type character known as The Sayer of the Law, played by Richard Basehart (TV's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), who espouses worship of Dr. Moreau as some sort of God to the animal men, stuff like "His is the hand that makes. His is the hand that hurts. His is the hand that heals. His is the House of Pain. His is the House of Pain. His is the House of Pain. He who breaks the law shall be punished back to the House of Pain.". The House of Pain being the name for Moreau's laboratory where the animal-men were created, a place feared by the animal men, the place where their God inflicts pain and punishment. 

Watching it now I can appreciate the Planet of the Apes styled make-up effects employed to create the manimals, but they are a bit dated, very rubber-faced. I incorrectly remembered some tasty transformation scenes in this movie, but that never happens, we don't get any An American Werewolf in London or Holwingstyled transformation scenes, these were imaginations created by my young mind I guess, but we do get a very minor make-up transformation with the character of Braddock, who when it is discovered he means to escape the island Moreau injects with his serum, and he begins to go feral.

Having just recently watched the pre-code era adaptation Island of Lost Souls (1932) and the more current, and wildly unhinged, '96 adaptation with Brando and Kilmer, this one comes across very tame and sedate, what's missing is the human-animal breeding weirdness of the '32 version, and the over-the-top awfulness/awesomeness of the '96 version, this one glosses over the science part of it all to a large degree, it's only hinted at in any way, we have the serum with a brief explanation but that's about it. Director Don Taylor (Damien: Omen II) instead chose to focus in the man/animal action, and we do get some fun action cinema we have the Moreau's caged animals escaping and attacking the animal men, so there's a flurry of furry action happening involving pumas, tigers, leopards and lions to the backdrop of the entire compound going up in flames, some of these animal stunts are incredible, and also look quite endangering to both the stuntmen and the animals. The final 20-minutes are action-packed and fun, while I think it lacks the depth the movie has cool 70s creature feature vibe and strong for their time special effects work. 

Audio/Video: The Island of Dr. Moreau arrives on DVD from Olive Films framed in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) looking solid, a definite step-up from the now ancient 2001 DVD that was part of MGM's Midnite Movies series. Not sure what the source for Olive's standard definition release is but it's a marked improvement over the Midnite release, though probably not as spiffy as Kino Lorber's recent Blu-ray release, but apparently Kino got the Blu-ray rights and Olive snatched up the DVD rights this time around. Colors and skin tones are warmer, details are more crisp and defined, though the image is still soft in certain scenes, but it is a vast improvement over the 2001 DVD as evidenced by the screenshots below comparing the two. I am seeing some differences in the framing with the Olive at times losing image on the perimeters but also seeing that reversed where the Olive looks to have more edge information, too. The MGM looks vertically stretched to my eyes as well.

BOTTOM: MGM (2001) 

Audio on the disc is English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and it's well-balanced and clean, the brassy Laurence Rosenthal score comes through a little strong at times but I didn't mind, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Extras on the disc include a widescreen trailer for the film, plus a brand new commentary by paranormal author Jeff Belanger and horror-host Dr. Dreck, it's pretty much a fan-commentary and not one I would sit through again of my own free will, when it comes to commentaries I want more authoritative figures who are deeply immersed in the topic and film at hand, and these guys are just fans watching the film, one admitting he'd never watched the film until asked to do the commentary! There's also an 8-page booklet with an essay by Associate Professor of Humanities Emeritus at the University of Michigan, which only touches on wells novella not this or any adaptation of the movie, which again was a disappointment. 

Special Features: 

- New Audio Commentary with paranormal author Jeff Belanger and horror-host Dr. Dreck
- Eight-page booklet with “The Island of Doctor Moreau as Theological Grotesque” essay by Gorman Beauchamp
- Trailer (2 min) 16x9

I have to say that The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) didn't live up to my childhood viewing, but to be fair though it is very rare that any movie does, that said I put this is my least favorite of the adaptations, coming in third after the crazy '96 version, with Island of Lost Souls still winning the day with it's subversive pre-code weirdness. As it is this is a fun 70s entry with some good visuals, some animal on man action and an attractive island setting, and would make a fun Saturday watch with the kids, but it's lost some of it's charm for me through the years as I've aged and discovered the amazing '32 version, but this is still a fun curiosity from the 70s.