New Film Reveals Behind the Scenes Disaster of Dr. Moreau

Richard Stanley trying to make The Island of Dr. Moreau

The 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau was not a big hit, and Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer were known to be difficult. However, the degree to which the film was a disaster in the making has now been chronicled in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, which played at Fantastic Fest in Austin last week. For one, the fact that John Frankenheimer directed the finished film tells you something. Richard Stanley only shot for four days before the studio replaced him, and that was only the beginning.

Lost Soul is full of crazy anecdotes about Marlon Brando shenanigans. He showed up the first day in white paint (it’s in the movie) and wanted to have a dolphin head in another scene. “I remember one particular story about Marlon advising Thewlis to shave one half of his mustache and come in like that to see if anyone noticed,” Stanley said.

Rob Morrow is interviewed in the documentary, and you might wonder, Rob Morrow wasn’t in The Island of Dr. Moreau, was he? He walked off the set and had to be replaced. Fairuza Balk tried to leave too and wasn’t able to get out.

“At one point, [producer] Tim Zinnaman called a psychiatrist who’d worked on The Craft who called one of his friends in Australia,” Stanley shared. “They did discuss the option of having her declared legally insane in Australia so they could simply force her to do what they wanted. The situation was pretty brutal. Rob was the only person to actually break contract and leave the production.”

Other actors, like Bill Hootkins, were cut out of the film inadvertently. “Bill played the grizzly bear man. As far as I can tell, Bill’s shoulder is in one scene in the movie. Bill was there throughout but his face never quite makes it into the frame the entire movie.”

The film tells stories about location problems, scheduling issues and weather conspiring to keep filming from happening. What can you film when Dr. Moreau himself is not available and the sets aren’t built yet? Some of the problems were even simpler, like no one bothered to give Stanley transportation for his own film.

“The most obvious problem is that I don’t actually have a driving license,” Stanley said. “This was a consistent problem in terms of getting pickups throughout the entire movie. Tim often mentions how I walk from Burbank to Hollywood and that I’m isolating myself and not coming into the office, but there was a consistent issue over just getting rides or being able to get from A to B. I remember having flaming rows with the guy about it at the time. I was under the impression that Tim or some element in the production office was deliberately stopping information moving from A to B. For instance, I never saw the rushes from the first two, three days. I’ve never actually seen the material we shot. Almost everyone else managed to see the rushes. People back in Hollywood were watching the rushes but trying to even get in front of the footage we were shooting was technically impossible for me.”

Stanley shared one of the scenes he did manage to shoot in his brief time with the film. “We did shoot a sequence with Barbara Steele in a rather insane way. Barbara Steele was playing Moreau’s ex-wife. I always had the idea that Moreau might have married the doctor from Joe Dante’s Piranha. The idea was that after Moreau dies, the castaway character is trying to stop the cat lady from reverting back into an animal again and is desperately going through Moreau’s notes. I wanted all of his notes to be on disk, so as he’s going through the disks we’re reviewing his past in the early days on the island, mostly in reverse. So we were shooting Dr. Moreau’s home movies rather at that point in time.”

A lot more crazy stories about the production of The Island of Dr. Moreau are featured in Lost Soul.

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