If you’ve ever seen the films I pick out for my milestone reviews you’ll be aware that I have a bit of a love for really bad movies. A particular kind of really bad movie. The ones that are joyfully bad made with pure passion or batshit insanity. I’ve never reviewed the 1996 Island of Dr. Moreau but it would fall into the batshit insane category of bad movie. The reason for this is because the film was made under batshit insane conditions by a number of batshit insane people. Lost Soul is a documentary about the making of that film and man… you will not be ready for how crazy this film’s production got. I think, after watching this film, this may be the most nightmarish production I’ve ever heard of. So, for me rambling about how mental the whole story behind The Island of Dr. Moreau is, click the link below.
So… where to start? How about with Richard Stanley himself? You may be forgiven for not knowing who he is. If ever there was a prime example of a promising director that faded into obscurity it would be him. In the early 90s me churned out a couple of popular cult films in the form of Hardware and Dust Devil. Not masterpieces but they showed genuine skill and appealed to the post video nasties crowd of the day. He had a passion project in mind with the subject being H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau and developed it for a number of years. As is often the case in these documentaries about failed productions, the concept he had sounded really good, a little daring and something that could have really been memorable. Well, memorable for the right reasons. A few days into shooting the actual film Richard Stanley was fired from the film after a number of disasters. A hurricane, a difficult lead star in Val Kilmer, a possible no show by another lead, Richard himself showing signs of stress and anxiety. This was the beginning of the problems due to beset The Island of Dr. Moreau.
When you watch Lost Soul and you reach the point where Stanley is let go and then realise that this is only the halfway point you’ll likely wonder how much worse it could have gotten. What follows is an abridged list of a few of the things that happened post Stanley’s departure. Lead Actress Fairuza Balk trying to escape the country to get away from the Australian based production, not being aware just how far away Cairns is from Sydney. John Frankeheimer being brought in with no interest in actually making a decent film or carrying on with any of the planned vision. Marlon Brando going full Brando with rewrites and character direction. Val Kilmer and Brando hating each other, even resorting to classic film set douchebaggery of refusing to leave their trailer until the other does. Actors due for just a few days being kept around for months, in full animal person make-up, despite rarely actually being filmed. Actors basically going native with drink and drugs due, in large part, to a pack level stir craziness. The former director being found living in the woods and then being snuck back onto the set dressed as a dog man… and even getting in the film.
That last one is 100% true. Richard Stanley even has the mask still to this day. At one point, during the Dr. Moreau funeral scene Stanley was handed a flaming torch and was left stood next to a stack of gas canisters. He probably could have blown the whole set up there in revenge. He didn’t though. I think he was just finding it hilarious that he was able to sneak into the film with no-one noticing. That wasn’t all the stuff that went down either. The film explains the story behind Moreau’s Mini-me companion, who’s got his own bizarre charms. The former world’s smallest man , Nelson De La Rosa, essentially took away a role meant for Marco Hofschneider’s M’Ling, who found himself cut down from being the lead animal person to having around 4 scenes all because Brando found Nelson hilarious. Reckon that would require mass rewrites? Possibly. Brando wouldn’t have cared because he didn’t bother learning a single line and preferred to have them fed to him through an ear-piece.
Conspicuous by their absence is both Ron Pearlman and David Thewlis. Both have pretty large roles in the 1996 disaster, especially Thewlis, and neither appear. Thewlis isn’t even mentioned once. They discuss James Woods being cast in the role Thewlis would eventually take (There was also another actor between them that goes unmentioned), but despite this change in cast Thewlis is still not mentioned at all. It leads to creating a slightly strange gap in the documentary’s narrative as we’re told about the character casting but never told why James Woods wasn’t there when the film entered production or why his replacement isn’t mentioned either. Originally Bruce Willis was cast in what became the Val Kilmer role and his departure is fully discussed. The problem when a documentary skips over a key part of information is that now you’re left with the feeling that other relevant information is being omitted.
I would say that I believe there is no concern whatsoever of Lost Soul presenting only one side of the story. That is because everyone involved clearly hated every minute of the production to a degree that I could comfortably called unanimous. I honestly think if there was one person that said they enjoyed making the film they were either saying it because they enjoy hellish situations or they were outrageous liars. It’s actually pretty comical just how much everyone regards the experience with disdain. A few, including Stanley, show that they can laugh about the events now, and there’s not too much bitterness overall, but it is very clear that they would have probably preferred to have never experienced this particular job. I do wonder if anyone has been able to watch the finished film since. It’s difficult to watch at the best of times so must be horrendous for those involved.
Lost Soul is a fantastic look at just how messy a film production can be. It does a great job of showing just how much can go wrong once studio politics, random circumstance and Hollywood egos can destroy a film before it really has a chance. It’s also quite interesting to see a documentary with this subject on a film that actually did get made. The Island of Dr. Moreau is a classically terrible film and it’s amazing anyone’s career survived it. Many didn’t though. Richard Stanley faded into the realms of low budget indie films of little note. Val Kilmer pretty much bombed out of Hollywood after this. Brando didn’t give a shit if he wasn’t working. Fairuza Balk managed to get into a few great films (American History X and Almost Famous for example) but how many people remember her now? Also, I suppose, Ron Pearlman recovered the best, although he did have to go through Star Trek Nemesis first.
Regardless of vanishing careers and egos receiving a much deserved slap down… I’m referring to Val Kilmer here… he’s a certified twat by all accounts, Lost Soul gives us a look at how just one film can change the way many artist’s careers can go. The metaphor of it being a car crash is entirely valid in this sense. Some survived, many didn’t. A few managed to go on to have perfectly kick-ass lives. The lives of everyone involved was clearly effected though and it must be pretty damned cathartic to have had the chance to talk about just how much of a mess this all was. Now… do I actually watch the island of Dr. Moreau for review. Not entirely sure I want to put myself through that. You should though. Don’t let me or an entire documentary about how terrible that film was put you off.