The most striking thing about `Island' is its claustrophobic, nightmarish atmosphere. Some people criticize the hero, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen), as bland and colorless, but I think this works in the film's favor. Since he has no personality of his own, he can be more of an Everyman; he also has no strength to draw upon and is therefore powerless against the horrors around him. He sees the perverse monstrosities Moreau has created on his island, finds himself attracted to and then repulsed by the cat-woman Lota, and then struggles to free himself from Moreau's manipulative control. It's like those nightmares where you try to run away from something terrible but your feet won't move.
Charles Laughton steals the show as Dr. Moreau; his disarming, cherubic exterior somehow enhances his aura of menace. He may not look as blatantly evil as Bela Lugosi, but after a few minutes you just know there's something terribly wrong with this man. The irony is, the creatures Moreau creates are far more humane than he is. The creatures themselves live in a tight society, bound by the laws Moreau has given them; instead of dwelling on their physical awfulness, the film imparts them with a curious dignity and innocence. When the inevitable rebellion comes, I found myself cheering the creatures on, much like I felt my heart go out to the Frankenstein Monster or King Kong.
`Island' is one of those movies you need to watch on a humid summer night, when your clothes cling to your skin and every breath feels like it's coming through a wet towel. Feel the suspense and the terror seep into you, and then try to tell me the old horror movies weren't infinitely better than what passes for horror nowadays.