Uncovering Curiosities: Don Taylor’s THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU

Director Don Taylor’s 1977 screen adaptation of HG Wells’ 1896 novel The Island Of Doctor Moreau is a wonderful sci-fi/horror from the iconic masters of schlock at American International Pictures. Taylor’s film has the perfect pace to tell Wells’ tale – a slow, creepy and somewhat dreamlike progression which really gets under the skin. 

Michael York plays Andrew Braddock, a shipwrecked sailor who washes up on a mysterious island, owned by Burt Lancaster’s Doctor Moreau. Braddock soon realises that the friendly doctor is conducting experiments to create human/animal hybrids. This causes friction between the two men, and then Moreau’s ‘creations’ begin to cause trouble.

When most people think about The Island of Doctor Moreau, they think of the ill-fated 1996 film starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, and overlook this hidden ‘70s gem. The story is pretty much the same, but this avoids the camp of that version by playing things very straight. Lancaster is the perfect Moreau – he’s a gentleman who you want to believe and trust, but there’s an inherent madness under the surface and you know that what he’s doing is wrong. York, who had an impressive run as a leading man in the 1970s, also does some good acting work as Braddock.

The make-up and effects in The Island Of Doctor Moreau is impressive, easily matching the work done by the great Stan Winston in the 1996 version. However, what makes this movie so memorable is the animal stunt work. Don Taylor’s film features a lot of stunning stuntman interaction with animals. This looks like dangerous stuff, heightening the drama and giving the film an edge that few films like this have.

Wrongly overshadowed by John Frankenheimer’s notorious 1996 film, this version of H.G. Wells’ tale needs to be seen. When it comes to classic stories, the Moreau the merrier.