Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: David Gregory
Starring: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Peter Elliott, Marco Hofschneider, Edward R. Pressman, Robert Shaye & Tim Sullivan
H.G. Wells is one of those fantastic authors with amazing stories that nobody can get quite right on film. Though THE TIME MACHINE and WAR OF THE WORLDS have both been adapted into some quality movies, two of his most interesting novels still remain without a proper adaptation. Attempts at THE INVISIBLE MAN (his scariest novel in my honest opinion) venture way too far into the goofy side of things, never fully exploring just how dark and terrifying that story is. THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU is a novel ripe with commentary, deep meanings and imagination. However, even with three film adaptations, there has never been one to do the book justice. 1932’s ISLAND OF LOST SOULS was just okay (more a monster movie than a horror adventure) and 1977’s ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU went way off the rails into pure mad scientist territory. The 1996 adaptation has secured a place in cinematic history as one colossal mess thanks to a nightmarish production. This is the topic that LOST SOUL recounts in painstaking detail.
Without a doubt, the most interesting parts of this documentary are the interviews with Richard Stanley. He was an up and coming horror director making waves with the killer robot flick HARDWARE and the highly original DUST DEVIL. This man seemed like the perfect person to take on ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU and had a hugely ambitious script to back him up. When New Line sank 8 million (which later turned into 40 million) into his project, horror fans everywhere were really excited for good reason. However, there are distinct instances where it seems that Stanley was biting off more than he could chew. This oddball director (complete with witchcraft beliefs and strange fashion decisions) had trouble going through the studio system. LOST SOUL seems fairly balanced in showing Stanley’s side of the story, experience of crew members, and the studio politics of the project. In blending all three of these angles, LOST SOUL is fascinating for anyone who wanted a proper MOREAU movie and wound up being disappointed by the mismatched end result.
Though LOST SOUL could have strictly been focused on Richard Stanley, the interviews with producers, cinematographers and actors are just as interesting and entertaining. There were a lot of cards stacked against this movie from the beginning, the biggest of which being Marlon Brando (behind-the-scenes stories about him are absolutely mind-boggling and hilarious). Other creative decisions like an unnecessary location of the set that further complicated production as well as a script that seemed to be rewritten every other day definitely had a place is mucking up MOREAU. LOST SOUL does a solid job of going through the step-by-step process of how what might have been a potentially brilliant horror film became the much-reviled critical flop and box office bomb that it is today. There isn’t much in the way of production values or clips, because LOST SOUL mainly centers on stories from cast and crew members…which wind up being equally entertaining and upsetting.
While anecdotes and insights about this nightmarish production are cool, it feels like LOST SOUL was missing a few pieces and had a tad biased feeling to it. The way in which one journalist briefly talks about DUST DEVIL makes it sound like that film was a huge hit and Stanley’s experience with the studio was great. In actuality, his cut was ripped apart to a 87-minute mess that was released straight to video in the USA. There’s also a noticeable absence about the casting of David Thewlis. There are casting stories about everyone else (good and mostly bad), but I would have liked to hear about how Thewlis even became associated with the film. In a perfect world, we’d have a 1996 horror classic starring the original ideal cast of Bruce Willis (as castaway Edward), James Woods (as psychopathic Montgomery) and a more restrained Marlon Brando (as insane Moreau). This funny and fascinating documentary sheds light on why we can’t have nice things.