Film Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Release Date: August 23rd, 1996
Directed by: John Frankenheimer, Richard Stanley (uncredited)
Written by: Richard Stanley, Ron Hutchinson
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Gary Chang
Cast: Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, Temuera Morrison, Mark Dacascos, Ron Perlman

New Line Cinema, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Well, things didn’t work out. Moreau wanted to turn animals into humans and humans into gods. But it’s instinct and reason, instinct and reason. What’s reason to a dog?” – Montgomery

Well, here we are. I’ve already reviewed the other Dr. Moreau film adaptations and so I figured I’d save the best worst for last. Well, it’s considered the worst by many and in fact, it’s considered one of the worst films ever made. Well, that’s definitely not true, as there are many, many, many movies that make this thing look like a masterpiece.

The thing is, I actually kind of like this movie in spite of its issues, most of which were due to this legitimately being one of the most poorly managed productions in motion picture history.

Frankly, this is a “bad” movie but there’s so much about it that’s kind of cool and intriguing that it actually overshadows the bad shit, in my opinion.

To start, Stan Winston’s special effects in this are really good. I like how he designed the creatures and applied it, giving different humanoid animal species distinct features and fur, allowing the mind to easily differentiate between them. But the makeup also works so well in the moments where the creatures lose their humanity and slide back into their wild, animalistic tendencies.

Also, the cast is as good as it can be, all things considered. But if you want the full story of the insanity that was this production, especially regarding the personal issues between Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, as well as the two different directors, you should watch the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, which I reviewed here.

At times, the acting can be a mixed bag but it’s not any worse than similar mid-’90s sci-fi productions. This has a lot of characters, more than the previous adaptations, but it does a fair job of trying to balance them, even if the movie had to shoot around their temper tantrums and bullshit.

I like some of the narrative changes but this one is the bleakest of all the films, tonally and in how it ends. Although, it works for what this story deals with and the questions it raises.

In the end, this is certainly far from great but it’s not a total dumpster fire like people have claimed for decades now.

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Release Date: July 13th, 1977
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Al Ramrus, John Herman Shaner
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Laurence Rosenthal
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart, Nick Cravat, Fumio Demura

Major Productions, Cinema 77, American International Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“If one is to study nature, one must become as remorseless as nature. You should know that!” – Dr. Paul Moreau

I saw this once, when I was a kid. However, I thought it was a really cool movie and it was my introduction to H. G. Wells’ work beyond just “The Invisible Man”.

In fact, I was initially excited for the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau but between the critics and my friends trashing the hell out of the film, I ended up going into the theater, prepared for disappointment. Needless to say, I was very disappointed but I also barely remember the movie now and plan to rewatch it in the very near future.

Anyway, this is about the ’70s adaptation, which I can now say isn’t as good as the ’30s version but I do think it’s closer to the source material and more fleshed out.

Additionally, I thought that Burt Lancaster and Michael York both put in really convincing performances and they had a good rapport in the film, until shit started to go sideways. The film reveals its mysteries like a slow burn and even if you know how this story is going to go, the reveals of what’s happening on the island are still effective.

Honestly, I’ve liked York for ages but this is one of my favorite performances by him. It’s also cool seeing him be able to hang with a legend like Lancaster.

I love the practical makeup effects in this, as well, and while they are vastly improved upon in the ’90s adaptation, there is something creepier about how they’re applied, here. You still see the humanity in the faces of the distorted creatures and their eyes are utilized well, speaking through their disfigurements.

This actually stands up to time, fairly well. In fact, it’s similar to how the original Planet of the Apes movies utilized similar effects that have also stood the test of time in spite of the limitations of the era in which they were made.

All in all, this was pretty damn cool to experience again, so many years later.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Also known as: The Island of Dr. Moreau (working title), H.G. Wells’ Island of Lost Souls (poster title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1932 (Scranton, PA)
Directed by: Erle C. Kenton
Written by: Philip Wylie, Waldemar Young
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Arthur Johnston, Sigmund Krumgold
Cast: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke

Paramount Pictures, 70 Minutes

Review:

“Have you forgotten the house of pain?” – Dr. Moreau, “You! You made us in the house of pain! You made us… things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man… part beast! Things!” – Sayer of the Law

For several years now, the name “Dr. Moreau” has been immediately associated with the 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau, which was plagued with incredible production issues that were so legendary that there’s a feature length documentary about it (I reviewed it here).

However, that 1996 movie wasn’t the first Dr. Moreau film and in fact, the first sound era adaptation was this film, which was released way back in 1932 and featured the talents of Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, who had just come off of Dracula.

For the most part, this was a decent adaptation of the ideas, concepts and general story of the original 1896 novel by H. G. Wells. Sure, there are certainly some differences and the movie is also limited by what was possible in 1932.

However, in spite of those limitations, this movie makes the best with what it is able to do and honestly, this was a hell of an achievement for its era. The special effects, especially in regards to makeup and the creatures, was top notch stuff. Being that this was the first time that I had seen this film, I found most of it to be visually impressive and really cool.

Now the acting was a mixed bag but Laughton gave a solid performance as Dr. Moreau and Lugosi was as enjoyable, as always. Lugosi just makes a great monster and in this, he was much better than what any other actor probably could’ve done, except for maybe Boris Karloff.

Additionally, Kathleen Burke was really impressive as Lota, the Panther Woman. I liked her look, she was incredibly expressive like she was playing in a silent picture and she really made a hell of an impact alongside talents like Laughton and Lugosi.

I was also impressed by the sets from the compound, the lab and the island itself, which was haunting, lush and tropical.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this in the quality department, as I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. I’m glad to say that I was really satisfied with it, overall, and wish it was as revered as some of the more famous horror pictures of its time.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: John Patrick Stanley
Written by: John Patrick Stanley
Music by: Georges Delerue
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Barry McGovern, Ossie Davis, Amanda Plummer, Nathan Lane, Carol Kane (credited as Lisa LeBlanc)

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” – Patricia

This is one of those weird movies that always spoke to me, even as a kid. It’s like I knew I’d grow up and eventually find myself at a monotonous, seemingly pointless, unrewarding job for bosses that just yell nonsense and are just as lost as everyone else. So now that I am an adult and find myself in that position, this movie has even more meaning. I guess I should’ve heeded its warning when I was eleven but alas.

I also think that I liked it for the Tiki aesthetic in the movie’s third act, which sees Joe arrive at a South Pacific island where he is supposed to throw himself into a volcano in order to save the island’s tribal inhabitants.

What the movie is really about though, is living your life. It’s about not being a prisoner of what the modern world expects of you and how it’s expected for you to achieve what’s considered to be the “American dream”. Work hard, little or no play and then wash, rinse, repeat until you’re dead because retirement isn’t something most can really afford.

I love the message and the overall point of Joe Versus the Volcano, even though Joe has to go on a crazy adventure and is lead to believe he is dying and has very little time left. Joe has to believe that he’s out of time in order to really start living his best life.

Along the way, Joe meets three versions of Meg Ryan and falls in love with the best one. He also discovers that after his attempted suicidal sacrifice that he was never really dying. With this news and his new love, however, the world is Joe’s to enjoy, as he has a new, refreshed sense of being.

Beyond the story and it’s odd but somewhat clever way of delivering its message, I like just about everyone in this. Tom Hanks is pretty much his standard ’80s persona but Meg Ryan really turns things up while playing three very different characters. She excels in this movie quite magnificently and it’s kind of a shame that this was a box office dud and most people barely remember it at all. Most people I bring this film up to, haven’t seen it or even heard about it.

Joe Versus the Volcano is a weird enigma of a motion picture but I love it and always will. While I can’t consider it Tom Hanks’ best movie, it is still my personal favorite and one I like to watch when I need a kick in the ass.

Rating: 7.5/10

Book Review: ‘Gentleman Ed Francis Presents 50th State Big Time Wrestling!’ by Edmund C. Francis, Larry Fleece

The Hawaii wrestling territory is one of the old school wrestling territories that I know the least about.

Growing up in Florida, I was way too far away to have any sort of access to it and in the pre-Internet era, it literally existed as an island to itself.

Granted, 50th State Big Time Wrestling did attract massive stars because it was run by the great Ed Francis and who wouldn’t want to get paid to ply their trade in an island paradise?

I always hear stories about how many bottles of beer and wine Andre the Giant drank but I really want to know how many Tiki drinks he put down while on the island.

This is basically a coffee table book, as it is formatted into a large, hardcover square. Then inside, it is packed full of pictures on every page that perfectly compliment the stories and tales within.

Ultimately, this made me appreciate something I would’ve loved had I known about it other than blurbs in wrestling magazines when I was a kid. 

For those with a wrestling book library, this definitely deserves to be added in. Plus, it was actually pretty inexpensive for its size and quality.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other books on the history of the old school territory wrestling business, as well as biographies on the personalities who lived it.

Book Review: ‘Indiana Jones and the Interior World’ by Rob MacGregor

This was the last Indiana Jones book written by Rob MacGregor and also the sixth of the twelve ’90s novels published by Bantam Books.

I was kind of excited going into this one, as it featured Easter Island, a place that has always fascinated me. With that, I hoped it had some Tiki flavor and tapped into that stuff, which it did to a point, but then this gets more focused on what lies beyond the surface… literally.

The book also spends some time in South America and it draws some comparisons to my favorite MacGregor Indy book, The Seven Veils. But sadly, this didn’t match that one in quality.

I thought that the first few chapters in this were really good and it built up my hopes further, as I wanted to see MacGregor go out with a bang. However, it just kind of gets duller and duller as one reads on.

Overall this book turns into an acid trip and it doesn’t really embrace what makes the Indiana Jones franchise so beloved and that’s adventure.

I like that MacGregor ties his books together and the characters and MacGuffins bleed into other works but I just feel like the guy was out of steam here. Maybe he had a six book contract and he was just trying to get it over with, I don’t know. This just feels rushed and severely lacking.

Being that I’m now halfway through the ’90s Indy novels, I am going to take a bit of a break. I will review the other six in the near future but honestly, this one was just tough to get through and I have so many other books in my stack on my reading desk.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Indiana Jones novels from Bantam Books’ run in the ’90s.

Book Review: ‘Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise’ by Sven A. Kirsten

There are books on Tiki culture and then there’s Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise by Sven A. Kirsten and publisher TASCHEN.

What I mean by that is that this book is the bible on Tiki history in the United States, as it covers its genesis, all of its key elements, how it expanded into everything in pop culture and ultimately, how it faded away and then saw a bit of a revival.

Like all books I own by TASCHEN, this is image heavy and presented on premium paper stock. It’s a legitimate art book that truly delves into Tiki history and displays everything that one could imagine from that pocket of Americana.

This book is a very thick hardcover that covers so much territory, even for being chock full of hundreds of images and also being translated into three languages.

I found every single chapter intriguing and well researched. My only real gripe about the book is that the written part of each chapter is kind of short and I felt like it all could’ve been greatly expanded on. Maybe the author can do that in the future, as this has so many great entry points to different parts of Tiki pop that can be expanded upon in many books.

Regardless of that, this is still the greatest book I have ever come across on the subject. Plus, it’s beautifully and immaculately presented. For lovers of Tiki culture, this is absolutely a must own and it’s also really inexpensive for its size and quality.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other books on Tiki culture and pop culture from bygone eras.

Film Review: In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Release Date: November 14th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Lowell S. Hawley
Based on: In Search of the Castaways by Jules Verna
Music by: William Alwyn, Muir Mathieson, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman
Cast: Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Keith Hamshere, Jack Gwillim, Wilfrid Brambell, Michael Anderson Jr., Antonio Cifariello

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know which is worse, by George: having you so happy you sing all the time, or so glum you won’t even talk. “The ombu tree is gorgeous. Enjoy it!” Huh!” – Lord Glenarvan

While these kids today won’t have the attention span for this movie, it’s still one of the greatest family adventure films of all-time!

Sure, you may disagree, but you’re wrong.

This was made by Disney at the height of their live-action adventure epics. It also starred one of their most bankable stars, at the height of her young career: Hayley Mills.

In Search of the Castaways was also an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel and while it might not be as well known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In 80 Days or Journey to the Center of the Earth, it is still a grand adventure of the highest and most exciting caliber.

Disney did a fine job in creating this motion picture and despite a few spots with wonky effects, it is one of the best effects blockbusters of its era. Sure, some of it looks dated but there’s also a certain appeal to it. And frankly, none of it breaks the movie or ruins the magic. In fact, it adds an extra level of charm and for fans of classic filmmaking, it’s just cool to experience on the screen.

This is one of those larger-than-life classic films that I wish I could’ve seen on the big screen but it predates me by a few decades. Unfortunately, I’ve never caught it playing anywhere but that’s probably because it’s a fairly forgotten movie. Hell, it isn’t even streaming on Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+.

Honestly, it’s a film that deserves more love. From start-to-finish it is energetic and fun. You’ll like most of the characters, even if the French guy can sometimes grate on the nerves with his singing and goofiness. But for something that is only 98 minutes, the picture covers a lot of ground, goes to a lot of exotic locations and constantly pushes these characters into new situations to overcome.

The core of the story is about two kids looking for their father who is missing somewhere in the world. They’re not immediately sure where but they set off on a long journey, trying to find answers to their father’s whereabouts.

I’m actually kind of surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to reboot this movie yet. I mean, they probably will at some point because original ideas in Hollywood are like trying to catch a leprechaun. However, it’d be damn hard for a modern version of this story to have the same sort of cinematic magic.

All in all, this is just an amusing and lovable picture. It’s a sort of perfect storm of several important factors just coming together and gelling the right way: a Jules Verne story, Disney’s blockbuster filmmaking style and Hayley Mills in her prime. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the ’50s & ’60s, as well as other Disney Hayley Mills movies and other Disney adventure films of the time.

Film Review: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Also known as: Mosura tai Gojira (original Japanese title), Godzilla Against Mothra (Japanese English title), Panik in Tokyo (Germany), Godzilla Fights the Giant Moth (Worldwide English title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, The Peanuts, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki, Yoshifumi Tajima

Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not as afraid of Godzilla as I am of the editor… he’s meaner.” – Reporter Jiro Nakamura

While not my favorite Godzilla movie of the Shōwa era, this one still holds a pretty special place in my heart, as it pits Godzilla against Mothra for the first time. Granted, they’d become solid allies after this movie, as Godzilla would evolve into a hero and Earth’s protector once King Ghidorah shows up in the picture following this one.

This is still a fun film that merges the two monsters into the same franchise, this being Godzilla’s fourth movie and Mothra’s second after 1961’s simply titled Mothra.

The story sees one of Mothra’s eggs get taken from Infant Island, the kaiju’s tropical Tiki-esque home, and put on display in Japan. Godzilla shows up, the egg hatches and we get some great kaiju action. In fact, the battles and the effects are some of my favorite in the series, so hats off, once again, to effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya.

And while I’m mentioning Tsuburaya, his miniatures in this are some of the best he’s done. The vehicles looked and performed superbly.

The film also stars some of Toho’s regular actors from the tokusatsu genre, which I always consider a good thing despite familiar faces appearing multiple times throughout the franchise as different characters. In this one, we get Kenji Sahara, who I always enjoy, and Hiroshi Koizumi.

Mothra vs. Godzilla has a simple story but it works. This is a kaiju movie from the best kaiju studio from the best era in the kaiju genre. It brings together two of the most popular characters in film history and it is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be while slightly exceeding those expectations.

This doesn’t have much of anything wrong with it and its just enjoyable through and through: a true tokusatsu classic.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Film Review: The Leech Woman (1960)

Also known as: Leech (working title)
Release Date: May, 1960
Directed by: Edward Dein
Written by: David Duncan, Ben Pivar, Francis Rosenwald
Music by: Irving Getz, Hans J. Salteri (uncredited), Henry Vars (uncredited)
Cast: Grant Williams, Coleen Gray, Phillip Terry, Gloria Talbott, John van Dreelen, Estelle Hemsley, Kim Hamilton, Arthur Batanides

Universal Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“What woman lives, who has passed the prime of her life, that would not give her remaining years to reclaim even a few moments of joy and happiness and to know the worship of men?” – Old Malla

This is another one of those Universal B-movie horror pictures that was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, just like some of the others, it’s far from terrible and is actually one of the better movies to be mocked on that show.

Now I can’t say that this is as good as The Mole Poeple or This Island Earth but it’s still an enjoyable romp that has an old school Tiki vibe, lots of crazy science and even a romantic plot.

The plot, in a nutshell, sees a scientist go to the jungles of Africa because there is an old tribal sorceress that has the ability to make herself younger with an arcane ritual. The ritual does involve murder, however, as one of the ingredients needed is the secretion from a male pineal gland. Of course, the scientist and his wife want to steal the secret to use for their own selfish means. This obviously leads to tragic consequences for the pair.

The film is goofy but it’s also kind of cool. While a good portion of it takes place in the African jungle, the sets and the style feel more like they are using a Tiki aesthetic. I mean, that’s fine because in the time when this was made, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about accuracy or even research. African jungles, Pacific islands, Caribbean islands, voodoo bayous… all had the same aesthetic in film circa 1960.

For the time, the genre and the budget, this is a pretty standard film. It’s not well acted and the script is wonky but it is also salvaged by its style, its absurdity and the fact that it’s pretty fun.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other Universal horror films of the era.