LOST SOUL: Fantastic Fest Review

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Every Fantastic Fest finds its own motifs emerging and if there’s one thing that Fantastic Fest didn’t lack this year it was great documentaries about film. Lost Soul, the story of Richard Stanley’s attempt to make The Island Of Doctor Moreau, stands as this year’s Jodorowsky’s Dune, a fascinating act of cinematic forensics that tries to reconstruct a great “What If?” of a film as well as document its unraveling. If it does not quite reach the fascination of its forebearer, that’s only because Richard Stanley is no Jodorowsky (then again who is?) and seems to have brought a fair amount of trouble on his own head.

Island Of Doctor Moreau is of course roundly regarded as one of the worst films ever made. One of those debacles where it is almost impossible to fathom just how wrong every decision was made. If the child is the father of man, than so in this case was the production father to the finished project, a stunning demolition derby of waste, ignorance and ego. It all makes for some juicy vignettes.

The Island Of Doctor Moreau started life as a proposed modestly budgeted horror movie for a budding genre filmmaker. Trouble began early as the studio’s ambitions and proposed star power caused the scale of the film to quadruple. This was compounded as exactly the wrong personalities for stability were signed onto the film; Marlon Brando at the height of his “don’t give a fuck” phase and Val Kilmer at the height of his power and assholery. When bad weather ground the production to a halt, Stanley was fired from the film and replaced by John Frankenheimer, at which point he ran off into the Australian jungle where he lived like a hermit for months before rejoining the film as a masked dog man in the sort of story that is worth telling.

Lost Souls hits the sweet spot of bitchy storytelling, where enough time has passed so there’s no political gain to not telling the story but it is near enough in the past that everyone is still pissed off about it. I have heard serial killers reminisced about with more warmth than the assorted interviews speak of Val Kilmer. While in the meantime Brando functions like the shark in Jaws disappearing for long enough for you to discount his presence, before resurfacing in the last twenty minutes and making a hell of an impression.

The documentary is genuinely even handed. With nearly every living major player on both sides of the camera making an appearance. Kilmer is the obvious exception, though both Ron Perlman and David Thewlis are conspicuous in their absence. Though the documentary is clearly on Stanley’s side and makes a convincing case for the idea that his vision of The Island Of Doctor Moreau could potentially have been very good, it also takes him to task for losing control of the scale of his picture and being unable to admit that two films in he may have been a bit green to direct a film that cost 40 million Clinton era dollars.

Still the passion that Stanley had for the project shines through. It’s obvious that he’s a man who has been living with the film inside his head for the past twenty years. Lost Souls has the cathartic feel of an exorcism.

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The Author

Bryce Wilson

Bryce Wilson

Confirmed film geek and literary nerd. Writer for Paracinema and Art Decades Magazine, columnist for the San Luis Obispo New Times and author of Son Of Danse Macabre. Resides in Austin, TX.