A young sailor, Braddock (Michael York), is adrift at sea looking for signs of life. Unfortunately for him he finds them in the form of an island populated by a mysterious doctor and his servants. Gradually Braddock realises they’re not the only ones on the island. They’re also sharing it with the part-human part-animal products of the doctor’s experiments. Will it turn out to be the best science experiment since the that bloke injected cowpox into people who had smallpox, or the worst science experiment since the discovery of the chemical compound that makes Skips dissolve in your mouth?
Lord of the Flies meets The Fly, but with no flies; this is a film which combines the monstrous sci-fi of Frankenstein with the cinematic quality unique to the 70s. The prosthetic effects used to create the feral part-humans are dated, but continue to be effective – with actors having to get up at 3 to apply their makeup ahead of the day’s shooting.
The amount of real lions, tigers and bears that are included deserve a mention, particularly as they spend a lot of the film locked in hand-to-hand combat with the animal people. None of this CGI animal nonsense we’re used to; you’ll be left wondering how no-one involved in the making of this film was killed. Whatever modern stunt men have to confront, you can guarantee it won’t be living big cats. While Dr Moreau takes insane risks in the name of science, director Don Taylor takes insane risks in the name of entertainment. But, to quote John Cleese, pain is temporary, film is for ever.
There’s an element of The Wicker Man to it, as an outsider arrives on a strange island with animal-faced inhabitants. The difference is that in The Wicker Man they’re wearing masks. It’s every bit as chilling as well. It has a natural, earthy feel to it which makes the doctor’s experiments seem more real and the sincerity of the performances makes it believable, even in its more absurd moments.
The whole thing is filmed on location, with the doctor’s bambooey compound at the heart of the island making for an impressive backdrop, especially for the film’s surprisingly action-packed finale.
And like with all great film’s it’s been parodied on the Simpsons, so enjoy: