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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Island Of Lost Souls --- Part Two

The Panther Woman contest was valued advance publicity for not- yet-shooting Island Of Lost Souls. September 1932 saw assigned director Norman Taurog replaced by Erle C. Kenton. Paramount is having trouble injecting comedy into Island Of Lost Souls fantastic yarn in which a dog's soul becomes a man, to which Variety added that he (Kenton) will supply a more subdued type of comedy in his direction. Here, if nothing else, was sampling of daft data the trade sometimes received on films in progress. If Paramount went for lightening this Island's load with comic relief, they must have reconsidered and cut same prior to release, as there's little mirth in the pic as it stands.

There was, according to Variety, much difference of opinion between Paramount's east coast home office and "west coast factions" on how best to sell Island Of Lost Souls. Some favored going with the so-called horror angle, while New York's "specially prepared campaign" for the Broadway date opted for Panther Woman emphasis. East Coast final authority, said the trade, decided that the chiller thing had been done to death in every way, adding Paramount has spent much time and expense exploiting the Panther Woman angle, including a contest, and it was also believed this should be cashed in on.

Admission prices had just been reduced when Island Of Lost Souls bowed at the Rialto (1-12-33). The first week was sufficiently healthy (over $35,000) to generate a trade ad aimed toward showmen down the line (Something New Hits Blasé B'Way!). Competing chiller The Mummy was meanwhile in its second week at the Mayfair, taking the toboggan on its holdover, slumping to $7,500 and may go out tomorrow, said Variety (Universal's monster had a good first week at $19,000, making its dismal second frame all the more a letdown). Subsequent Island Of Lost Souls playdates made clear where exploitation should focus: In theatres where it's been sold from the Panther Girl side, draw has been better than where sold as an another chiller (Variety).

Distaff response was a concern. Variety addressed Island Of Lost Souls from "The Woman's Angle" on its review page: Chills of distaste at the hideousness of this shocker's men-made-out-of-animals are not the kind of chills ladies like in pictures, while a separate column titled "Going Places" by one Cecilia Ager compared Kathleen Burke's Panther Woman unfavorably to the good common sense and clean Nordic look of co-star Leila Hyams. Clearly, the theme of bestiality, and suggestion of at-the-least miscegenation vis-à-vis Burke and Arlen, raised alarm in this and other observers. Now that bloom was coming off the Panther contest Rose, this Island was one increasingly deserted by patronage as the show wound its way beyond first-runs toward less receptive subsequent dating (too freaky to draw, came word from Lincoln, Nebraska).

Don't know how Island finished in terms of gross (does anyone?), but many (including Para staffer Arthur Mayer) recalled it as a disappointment. Not helping was revenue lost when U.K. censors banned the film altogether (too horrible being their curt March 1933 summation). Considerable of a blow to Paramount, said Variety, because the picture was made from an H.G. Wells story and features Charles Laughton, both British. Stateside snipping saw Island prints coming back a lighter weight to exchanges befuddled by content standards varying from one locale to another, dialogue and whole sequences being yanked willy-nilly and in most cases, not put back. Print inspectors must have sighed relief when a newly enforced Production Code brought at least something of an end to hinterland editing.

Lobby Card For a 1958 Paramount Reissue --- Can Anyone Confirm Playdates For That Year?

So are we finally in possession of a complete Island Of Lost Souls? I've found at least three different running times listed from 1933 trade reviews to a Blu-Ray present day. There were apparently reissues during the interim. One in the early forties (ad here) tendered The Sex-Starved "Tiger Woman," which certainly had possibilities, but imagine Code-cut remnants that audience saw. Paramount prepped a 1958 encore with new accessories, but I've not found theatre ads to reflect actual bookings. With sale to television the same year, Island Of Lost Souls bent to vagaries of 16mm printing. These were at the least variable and seldom fully-intact. Souls struck B Movie author Don Miller as more out-of-focus than eerie when he caught late-night telecasts.

For collectors, this Island was treasure filled. Soft as they pictorially were, we all wanted a print. William K. Everson played his to a Huff Society crowd in 1962 and classified Island Of Lost Souls as the last of the lost horror pictures of the thirties that we're likely to see. Everson called Island "a rather nasty and tasteless little work," but made contact with Erle C. Kenton by phone to talk about having directed it (a film he liked making, because he enjoyed doing horror films, but which he didn't seem to care for as a film, reported WKE). Observers of the Blu-Ray have noted dialogue restored that was missing from TV and Universal's laser disc. Kudos to Criterion for going that extra mile to put a complete-as-possible Island Of Lost Souls back in circulation (to which I'll add Greenbriar's humble request for next year ... The Uninvited).


Anonymous Grand Old Movies said...

What amazing ad copy ("Terrifying! Shocking! Frightful!" "Beasts Living and Loving!") - it would make a show in and of itself. Thanks for such a fascinating post. So glad Criterion has finally brought this film out.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Dbenson said...

A plug, but timely: Local Barnes & Noble currently has Island and other Criterions 50% off.

3:59 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald, I was at Barnes and Noble in Winston-Salem yesterday and they had four of five Blu-Ray copies of "Lost Souls" at 50% off.

I picked up a Blu-Ray "M" at that discount, and they had plenty of other Criterions.

7:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer returns to the Island and recalls his intro to the Lost Souls ...

It seems incredible that I never saw Island of Lost Souls on television when I was growing up. Most of the VHF stations in the Philadelphia area had horror shows and all of the UHF stations that began broadcasting in the mid-sixties did. Even as late as the nineties, Channel 3, the NBC affiliate, was running "Saturday Night Dead"--the title a pun on "Saturday Night Live," the network show it followed--with a cute Elvira-knockoff hosting it called "Stella, the Maneater from Manayunk," Manayunk being a section of Philadelphia.

The packages they had were varied, with the Universals and AIPs, some Warners, and oddities like Creation of the Humanoids, Teenagers from Outer Space, the Ed Wood opuses, Mermaids of Tiburon, and Carnival of Souls. But Island of Lost Souls never showed up that I know of.

I certainly would have been on the lookout for it, after reading a Robert Bloch article in the 1964 Famous Monsters annual, comparing science fiction films to horror and fantasy films, and with a big picture of Charles Laughton "hamming it up in a white suit," as the caption read. I'd love to have that issue today, but, alas, it disappeared during one of my mother's periodic purges of my reading material, what she called "cleaning my room."

Maybe it was considered just a little too rough, though I recall the Early Show on Channel 10, the CBS affilliate, offering a week of science fiction and horror films that included one about an artist murdering beautiful women, then freezing their bodides in aesthetically pleasing poses. However, this might have been something of a mistake, as the Early Show did not repeat this sort of programming the following year, when it had been an annual attraction I looked forward to.

Apparently, the first time I saw Island of Lost Souls was at the TLA theater in the mid-eighties. The TLA had been a second-run house on South Street in a seedy part of Philadelphia, where the counter-culture took advantage of the low rents to set up coffee houses and head shops. The theater was gutted inside to create the TLA, or Theater of the Living Arts, with bare brick wallls and and pipes and conduits exposed overhead. A few panels were installed on the walls to calm the acoustics a little. At first it was a live performance venue before quickly being subsumed by the growing reperatory movie scene. That's where I went to see films by Goddard and Truffaut, Hitchcock, the ever-popular Ed Wood, and also revivals of the science fiction films I first saw at kiddie matinees as a boy. After the reperatory houses died with the video tape revolution, it went back to being a music venue, which it remains today. My nephew Carson's group, The Tombs, played there last year.

And yes, when I finally did get to see Island of Lost Souls, I agreed that it was a "nasty piece of business," which is to say that it was "strong meat" indeed, to use the words of a certain writer to TV Guide in support of the rough stuff he grew up on, as opposed to the pablum being laddled out by a more sensitive generation to their children.

It was worth the wait.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous r.j. said...


The "One Cecilia Ager" that you refer to was a very well-known columnist and critic of that time, and for several ensuing decades. In looking up her bio, she was one of the first in fact to champion "Citizen Kane" and recognize it as a ground-breaker. Her thoughts here may seem a bit prosaic by our current standards, but this was after all, 1933.

Great job as always on a film worthy of this kind of attention that only you could give it!


5:00 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...


Your mention of "THE UNINVITED" reminded me if what a great pleasure it is to show these films to audiences that don't give a damn about a film's historical importance and are there to be entertained.

I had the privilege of watching this film scare the yell out of my audiences many times.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Bill Luton said...

Love the pressbook poster page John. I'll have one each of the 1-sheet, 3-sheet and 6-sheet please. And what the heck, throw in that 24-sheet. $3.90 total.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Carl said...

I was thrilled to finally have "Island of Lost Souls" on DVD. I am sorry to report, though, that I showed it to my nephew, and his only comment, after it was over, was, "Well, that was boring." Vintage chillers don't always hold up well for contemporary audiences, I guess.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Allan said...

I have to agree with the comment that vintage chillers don't always hold up well for contemporary audiences, particularly teenagers, who are put off by the slower, moody pacing the older films often used and who, raised to equate horror with explicit gore and bloodshed, would find Frankenstein much more interesting if there was a shot of the monster ripping out a villager's still-beating heart and showing it to him, as blood gushed from the wound in his chest in loving close-up. As for me, I'm thrilled to have Island of Lost Souls. It's been a hard-to-find goodie for decades.

3:57 PM  

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