H.G. WellsJohn Patrick JordanDebra MayerJacob Witkin
Dr. Moreau's House of Pain
Medium: film
Year: 2004
Director: Charles Band
Writer: Earl Kenton, H.G. Wells [uncredited]
Keywords: The Island of Dr Moreau, horror
Country: USA
Actor: John Patrick Jordan, Jessica Lancaster, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Lorielle New, Ling Aum, B.J. Smith, Debra Mayer, Jacob Witkin, Laura Petersen, Jack Kennedy, Steve Quimby, Tony Simmons
Format: 72 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0400383/
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 25 August 2011
It's surprisingly okay. By Charles Band and Full Moon Entertainment standards, it's even excellent.
Before discussing the movie, I'm going to talk about Band for a bit. You can't fault his dedication. He shot his first film in 1973 and he's still at it today, writing and directing on average one a year. He's built production companies and then seen them go under, in large part because he's had his name on a lot of trash. (He's the producer of hundreds. Seriously.) However he's not Troma. He's not taking the piss. Instead he's more like Roger Corman, churning out low-grade horror movies because that's his chosen niche rather than because he thinks it's funny.
My experience to date of his films is that they've tended to be unmemorable and pointless rather than brain-exploding schlock, but he can get trashy when he wants to. The Creeps stars a mad scientist who needs to sacrifice a naked virgin to bring to life the Mummy, the Wolfman, Dracula and Frankenstein's monster... but they're midgets. Evil Bong has a Tommy Chong cameo and a magical killer bong that transports you into a world of strippers with teeth-like bras. Evil Bong 2: King Bong has drawn the indignation of Fox News for a scene of a young girl giving sexual favours to a bong.
Those sound awesome (and undoubtedly aren't), but for the most part, Band plays it straight. Not good, but straight. His best-known movie is Trancers, which normal people have often heard of.
This film, as the title suggests, is a lot like The Island of Dr Moreau. What's more, I quite liked it. Its problem is that the script's not up to much, being basically a runaround, but H.G. Wells's characters and situations are strong. They've even added a few interesting twists. Firstly, this Dr Moreau (Jacob Witkin) is a captive of his creations. His "Manimals" have left their South Seas island and moved to Los Angeles, with a chained-up Witkin in tow. He has a complicated relationship with them, at once necessary and hated by these beings that know he turned them into monsters. (The manimals aren't allowed a huge amount of emotional weight, but they get one good speech that makes you feel for them.)
They also need relationships, like anyone else. Panther Woman (Lorielle New) is violently aggressive in all things, including sexuality. She works as a stripper and is hunting for men. Moreau's sidekick (Ling Aum) has a daughter who's grotesque even by Beast-Man standards, for whose sake he's prepared to kill Moreau if he won't make her normal again. A huge, stupid lump loves his midget pig friend.
The other scary idea is the one about breeding the next generation, i.e. rape and bestiality. In fairness Charles Laughton had his mind on that too in 1932, but he wasn't in a Charles Band film. Here it has more weight. There's on-screen sex, with worse implied and insanely worse threatened. You'll see Lorielle New naked a lot, although mysteriously there are two other actresses who go topless and yet the camera stays modestly behind them. Just because the budget's not huge, that doesn't make this pure exploitation, you know.
As for the production, it could almost be called impressive. The Beast-Man make-up isn't the most realistic and one of the deaths is lame, but I'd defy any filmmaker to make a pig-man that doesn't look a bit goofy. It's inherent in the material. I thought it was fine. More interestingly though they've set it in 1930s Hollywood, with dialogue references to Shirley Temple and Charlie Chan. What's more, Band is having fun with that. The costumes, lighting and even camera angles are flamboyant, with colour-coded heroes and sets that might get lit in shocking pink or green. The dialogue's ripe too. "Give me a bourbon and some answers." "Flashing a lot of green to impress a broad." It's merely pastiche rather than actually being good, but it's lively and has flavour.
The actors are better than I'd expected. The heroes are sparky and lively, easily up to the requirements of a Full Moon Entertainment film. Most of them have appeared in quite a few of these. The Beast-Men aren't great, but one forgives more from an actor buried under latex. The disappointment is Ling Aum, who's never acted in anything but this and is superficially non-risible but barely giving us ten per cent of the emotional power that his role required. He hurts the film. However Jacob Witkin is actually acting, being an old British thespian whose CV goes back to 1972 and includes the likes of Bergerac, Hammer House of Horror, The Professionals, Father Brown and Lovejoy. He later moved to America, where on the upside he's managed to make a career, but on the downside much of it has been either voices in video games or else Full Moon Entertainment. However in fairness, he was in Lost. I liked him. He's doing more than required.
Debra Mayer is hot, incidentally, although Lorielle New is kind of scary when naked. I suppose that's good casting, or possibly even good acting.
Overall, I thought it was okay. It's watchable. It's a hundred times better than I'd expected. At one point it even made me jump, which I don't often do these days. I liked the first half, although it goes downhill once we're stuck with the Beast-Men and the script has shown that it doesn't know how to handle its ideas. The biggest problem might be the risk that the audience won't empathise with the characters, since we've got powerful emotional material being filtered through uninspired writing, some weak performances and a ton of latex make-up. Besides, it's Full Moon. Of course the themes are classic and there are things the film's doing more vividly than better-recognised H.G. Wells adaptations, but a lot of viewers won't be able to get past the surface. Visit its imdb page and you'll see that it has its fans, but there are also user comments like, "Please tell me that is a joke, the only reason I cried is because I had no choice in turning it off and burning this movie in a fireplace immediately. DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE!!!"
The DVD's trailers made me want to watch Strange Things Happen At Sundown, by the way, but its mash-up of ingredients sounds like the definition of overkill.