Did Charles Laughton direct Island of Lost Souls? The film shares so many images and feelings with Laughton's Night of the Hunter you wonder: if he didn't actually have a hand in it, Laughton must have learned a lot from the director, Erle C. Kenton.
H.G. Wells is on record as disliking this version; I'm not sure he's altogether correct to be so unhappy. The Frankenstein theme is still there, clear as ever. A suggestion of bestiality was inserted, between the Panther woman and the hero (renamed Edward Parker), but the eroticism of their scenes together add to the horror, not detract from it, and bring the theme of "the animal in us" home in a way Wells never dreamed of (Does he object because it's too successful? But Wells is supposed to be a liberal on such matters...). The animals are less varied and less distinctive, but Kenton is smart enough to relegate them to the shadows, where they're most effective. The period of spiralling doom and the sense of despair it inspires has been drastically shortened, but Moreau has been given a far more horrific (and ironic) end. Overall, I think the film does not embarrass its source material.
Laughton is magnificent here. It's not so much the fanaticism of Moreau that's so shocking as his playful languor--at times he seems like a big fat cat, toying with his prey, and poses accordingly. His interest in the Panther woman's growing interest in Parker has a voyeuristic edge to it; he seems to have been thinking up of all kinds of perverse scenarios for his creations, as much for his own pleasure as for the scientific interest (Did he have similar plans for Parker's beautiful blonde fiance? I wouldn't be surprised).
Kenton's direction is superb, doubts notwithstanding. He shoots without music most of the time, and the silence is often unnerving (music, even classic horror-film music, would have dissipated the tension). A veteran silent filmmaker, Kenton uses faces, lighting, shadows with great expressiveness (one might even say 'great Expressionism'). Bars are an important motif, Kenton's way of suggesting the restraints animals and humans alike continually apply to their unconscious feelings, to be released at both our peril.
The method of vivisection ignores what we've learned of genetic compatibility and tissue rejection, issues addressed by the later remakes (the dull Burt Lancaster version, the loony Frankenheimer/Brando/Kilmer version). But there's an old-fashioned horror to the idea of cutting up the parts of different animals and stitching them together that the more genetically enlightened versions lack. Not the most faithful version of Wells' classic, perhaps, but I do think it's the most powerful.