On the surface, the beautiful Lota (Kathleen Burke) is simply a striking, if exotic, woman living on a tropical island. Yet when razor-sharp claws protrude from her fingers, it becomes obvious that she is not what she seems. In fact, Lota is a genetically engineered hybrid created by the eccentric scientist Dr. Moreau. In an attempt to “speed up evolution” and create “perfect” human beings, Moreau splices together man-beast hybrids (Dinello 367). Lota is supposedly his “most perfect specimen.” Because of this, Moreau schemes to mate her with a shipwrecked man (Parker) and see if she can bear human children. This puts under scrutiny the boundaries between human and animal, miscegenation, and the reach and consequences of science. Based off H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, Erle C. Kenton’s 1932 film adds the character of Lota “the Panther Woman,” introducing an emotional and sexual angle. In Lota’s budding love for Parker and hints of animality in Parker’s lust, Lota further blurs the line between man and beast, nature and science.
Above all, the theme at the heart of Lota and Island of Lost Souls is one common to studies of horror and monsters in general: boundaries. Lota plays into what Jeffrey Jerome Cohen deems a “refusal to participate in the classificatory ‘order of things,’” thus creating a “disturbing hybrid.” In other words, a monster constitutes “a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions” (Cohen 6). In evoking this ambiguity between man/animal and nature/science, Lota speaks to the theory that horror of monsters comes from a disruption of categories. She is doubly threatening as both a hybrid between human and beast and a sexual figure—the woman as “Other”—who brings out lustful “animality” in Parker. This ultimately forces the question: what truly constitutes humanity? Finally, her story indicates the consequences of man attempting to manipulate nature (as Dr. Moreau does with disastrous results). And with modern exploration into genetic engineering and artificial creation, the questions of the borders of nature, science, and humanity that Lota inspires continue to be relevant.
Beauvoir, Simone de. Introduction. The Second Sex. By Beauvoir. Trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Vintage Books, 2011. 46-82. Print.
Danta, Chris. “The future will have been animal: Dr. Moreau and the aesthetics of monstrosity.” Textual Practice 26.4 (2012): 687-705. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.
Dinello, Dan. “Island of Lost Souls.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 27.5 (2010): 367-69. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.
McHugh, Susan. “The call of the other 0.1%: genetic aesthetics and the new Moreaus.” AI & Society 20 (2006): 63-81. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.