I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

tn_islandofdrmoreauThe ’70s version of the classic Herschell Gordon Wells tale does not hold a candle to the ’32 version I reviewed at Halloween time. The lifeless color scheme pales compared to the evocative black and white, the screenplay feels much slower and less eventful, the makeup may be more sophisticated but it’s less creepily believable, and somehow they made it in the ’70s without making it nearly as perverse. If the girl he’s fucking is part panther like in the old one I don’t think it’s ever mentioned.

It’s from AIP so it’s what you might expect from those guys, kinda trashy but kinda dull.

mp_islandofdrmoreauMichael York plays the guy shipwrecked on the island, Burt Lancaster plays the doctor. Both are fine. The opening scene, with York and two others near death in a small emergency boat, is pretty tense, and got me anticipating the mysteries of the island. But when those mysteries reveal themselves they’re not that exciting.

The animal people just live in a cave. I guess that’s easier than building a village ’cause you just shoot them 2 feet in front of a rock wall instead of having to create a whole world behind them. Their designs vary in quality. I suppose we as a society have been conditioned to accept the sight of a wolf man, while the same can’t be said for a boarman or a bearman. Maybe the younger generations will be more accepting of these types of animalmen than mine. I’m sorry, they make me uncomfortable. There should never be a man with a bear’s nose or some shit like that, it makes me sick. Keep it in the cave.

Some of them have good confused expressions, some are just kinda dumb monsters without much personality. I like Moreau’s right hand animal man, he’s the most human but least intelligent looking one. I can’t really decide if he has a good job or a shitty one. He gets to stay in the house instead of some fuckin cave that must smell like wet dogs and bearman piss. There is no evidence of plumbing or even a litterbox in that cave, there’s no way it doesn’t have all kinds of crazy animal-human hybrid shit and pee everywhere. So not having to live in that has got to be a hell of a blessing for this guy. On the other hand he has to serve the food, turn the big crank that raises the gate, gruntwork like that. Nothing that is gonna give him pride or give him opportunity for advancement.

And like many individuals of mixed heritage I bet he feels like he doesn’t quite belong anywhere. Moreau doesn’t respect him, but the animals probly hate him and consider him a sellout. When the shit goes down he stays in the compound with the humans. So his true loyalties come out.

But we really don’t know why he chooses the human team. Does he think he’s a human? Does he think he has to stay because the boar men will consider him a traitor and tear him apart? Or is he just being honorable, knowing it would be a punk move to suddenly switch teams now, when it’s convenient?

I bet it’s the last one. I bet it’s honor. Good job, guy. Respect.

There is one aspect of this movie that’s really impressive though, and that’s the stunts with the live animals, and there are alot of them. Due to his scientific pursuits Moreau has a bunch of tigers and lions and shit in cages. And when everything gets crazy at the end they all get let out. There are multiple scenes with characters in animal-person makeup in frame with and even wrestling these big cats. There’s a bear running behind a horse, shit like that.

still_islandofdrmoreauAccording to the trivia blurb on the back of the DVD the life of the guy wrestling the tiger was saved by the fiberglass helmet underneath his makeup, which got bit by the tiger. Even knowing about these hidden helmets it’s insane to watch these scenes. How did they know it would be safe?

Director Don Taylor did a ton of TV and other movies from the late ’50s to the late ’80s. The one that jumps out at me is ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, that’s the third one where Cornelius and Zira go into space and get warped back to earth circa the ’70s. He also did DAMIEN: THE OMEN II and that movie some people like called THE FINAL COUNTDOWN.

Craig R. Baxley’s cousin Gary (stunt coordinator for the Dukes of Hazzard spin-off Enos) plays the lionman.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, December 12th, 2011 at 12:18 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)”

  1. The joke in the first line of this review is my favorite thing so far today.

  2. Okay, I am a proud defender of 70s Moreau. Just a few of the things I love about this movie:

    -The aforementioned hair-raising, jaw-dropping stuntwork. This is right up there with THE ROAD WARRIOR for moments where you watch them in absolute disbelief wondering how the hell people didn’t get killed. The tiger fight and the big finale are some of the finest acheivements of pre-CGI filmmaking. I’m glad I wasn’t the guy got inside a real burning building with a real Bengal tiger as it went crazy, but I’m grateful as hell to whoever did.

    -Lancaster’s body with the burning compound in the background.

    -Micheal York’s animal man monologue: “I–am–like–you–now! Like you! LIIIKE YOUUUUU!”

    -A few truly beautiful, haunting images, like the funeral procession of the animal men down to the beach. Once and a while, just for a scene or two, Don Taylor briefly becomes Werner Herzog or John Milius.

    -Richard Basehart as “The Sayer Of The Law”

    -and the Japanese guy who played Hyenaman. That guy really gives it 100% every moment he’s on screen. And the climactic fight between Carerra, York and Hyenaman is VERY good. When he chases them onto the beach, it’s scary. And there’s a truly frightening moment later that I’d argue is one of the best jump scares of the 70s.

    Yeah, it’s not as good as the Laughton film, and it isn’t a work of visionary madness like the 90s Brando film. But it’s pretty cool.

  3. Michael York looks like a cat-person now. Seriously, google some of his recent photos.

  4. Vern, IT’S CLEAR that you should review Logan’s Run if you haven’t already

  5. nabroleon dynamite

    December 12th, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    I’m with JD!! This movie was the shit to me back in the day when my old pops took the god to see this at the green acres drive in!!

    Basil Exposition was on one in this joint!!

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