The Island of Dr Moreau

brando … The …

The Island of Dr Moreau. 

Which is probably the most cursed movie

That was the beginning of the nightmare.” “And at the end of the movie he takes off his hat and he’s actually a dolphin.” “So then I knew we were in serious, serious bad shape!”. There are cursed movies. And then there is The Island of Dr Moreau. Which is probably the most cursed movie that has ever been produced. Not so much the movie itself, which is pretty unremarkable and might well have been forgotten entirely, had it not become notorious for having one of the most difficult, stressful and - frankly - nightmarish productions in the history of cinema. It’s a trainwreck that was so bizarre and so awful that it’s actually kinda funny.

It’s a story of clashing egos, stupid drama, wasted talent, and absolute insanity. And how a dream can go from a reality, to a nightmare. You’re gonna want to buckle up for this one. Because it is a wild ride. The Island of Dr Moreau is actually third major film adaptation of the 1886 novel by H. G. Wells, about a deranged scientist who creates a society of human-animal hybrids through sick experiments and vivisection, which was a hot button issue at the time. As you can imagine, the book explores themes such as human identity, cruelty, and man’s metaphorical and literal putting his dick in nature.

The 1996 film follows UN negotiator Edward Douglas. Whose plane crashes in the Java Sea and is brought to the island by Moreau’s assistant, Montgomery. Where he is understandably horrified by the community of hybrids created by Moreau in his perverse quest for perfection.

Skimming over a lot of detail here,

Some of the hybrids rise up and kill dr moreau, before indulging in more destruction and degeneracy than your average furry convention.

(I’m sorry, the furry jokes are just too easy…). Montgomery goes insane and tries to take his place but is also killed, as is Moreau’s daughter and original cat-girl Aissa. Douglas tricks the rebel leaders into killing each other, the peaceful faction takes over again, and Douglas leaves, contemplating the savagery of Man as the hybrids decide to quite literally return to monkee. The film was a childhood passion project of director Richard Stanley, who spent 4 years developing his vision for the movie before New Line Cinema gave him the thumbs up.

He wanted to deliver a dark and satirical take on the novel, and on the back of directing weird low-budget sci-fi and horror films such as Hardwire and Dust Devil, he was seen as being suitably strange enough to deliver the goods. It was exactly the kind of film New Line was looking for, and it was to be Stanley’s big break into the big leagues. All great so far, right? Well, get your popcorn ready, because we’re about to spill some tea. You see, New Line were some sneaky bastards, and went behind Stanley’s back to offer the movie to Roman Polanski. You know, the director who was then in permanent exile from the US after admitting to sodomising an underage girl. When Stanley discovered this betrayal, he was *beyond* pissed. “You okay?” “Nah man. I’m pretty fucking far from okay.”.

So he demanded to see Marlon Brando, the legendary double-oscar-winning actor who New Line had managed to secure for the part of the titular doctor. Being rather quirky and eccentric, Stanley had even consulted with a warlock called Skip, who cut his arm and drew a magic sigil to help Stanley convince Brando of his case. And no, I did not make that up! I told you this story was nuts! New Line had insisted that one of their executives tag along. So Brando - being the absolute mad lad that he was - turned up the air conditioning in his house until she fell asleep. Brando was then won over by Stanley’s vision for the movie and his understanding of the material, as well as its similarity to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness and the film Apocalypse Now, which Brando also starred in and was still obsessed with. So he told New Line that he’d only do the film if Stanley directed it. Now, to say that Brando was a legend in Hollywood is a severe understatement. Most people in the business would’ve happily gargled the contents of a buffalo’s nutsack for the chance to work with him.

And since his involvement was considered essential, New Line had no choice but to bring Stanley back onboard. “Because he’s Marlon Brando”. Which is going be a running theme. Brando also had a well-earned reputation for being more difficult to work with than a sandpaper fleshlight. But we’ll come back to that later. For now, let’s just imagine how big the shit-eating-grin on Stanley’s face must have been. After Brando was secured, Bruce Willis was also cast as Douglas, with James Woods playing Montgomery. Having these three leads to draw in the audience allowed New Line to increase the film’s budget from an estimated $8-10million to a significantly more chonky $40million.

Fairuza Balk was given the female lead as Aissa, while veteran of prosthetics Ron Perlman also had a supporting role. On the film’s location in Cairns Australia, things were *almost* ready to go. But then, the shit really started to hit the fan. In the most tragic way possible. Seriously, this bit isn’t funny, it is just tragic.

Brando’s daughter Cheyenne took her own life,

And the devastated brando retreated to his private atoll in tahiti.

Leaving Stanley and New Line with no

Idea when or even if he would show up to film.

Oh, and just to rub it in even more, on the first day of filming, the French government detonated an nuclear bomb not far from Brando’s island.

When it rains, it really fucking pours, doesn’t it? Then Bruce Willis had to drop out of the film entirely to deal with his divorce from Demi Moore. To replace him, New Line wanted to recruit Val Kilmer, who had just starred in the massively successful Batman Forever. And was at the peak of his fame, and also of his ego. He was a star, but my god, didn’t he know it. He accepted because he wanted to work with Marlon Brando (that’s another running theme, by the way). But he was a big-shot movie man now, and his time was precious. And so he demanded that his required workload be cut by 40%. Having been told by New Line that Kilmer’s involvement was the only way to save the movie at such short notice, a flabbergasted Stanley had to give in.

Kilmer was also able to take advantage of the studio’s panic over the movie’s prospects to browbeat a New Line executive into giving him the lesser role of Montgomery, one which required far less effort. So that meant James Woods was out, and Rob Morrow was hastily brought in to play Douglas. But Val Kilmer being Val Kilmer, before filming had even started, he wanted to pull out due to creative differences over the film’s direction. But New Line needed his star power to sell the movie and couldn’t afford to lose him, so they forced him to abide by his contract. He wasn’t going anywhere. And thus began the infamy of Val Kilmer: hollywood actor, and total piece of shit.. Kilmer would later say that he acted this way because his wife was suing for divorce, which he only found out about when he saw it on TV. Oof, that had to hurt….

But whatever the reason, his behaviour would make Alec Baldwin or Shia LeBouf look like. Keanu Reeves in comparison. He didn’t want to be there, and he made sure noone else wanted him to be there either. He showed up to set two days late, having not learned his lines and knowing nothing about his character. Like a real professional. As many of the cast and crew attest, he was constantly rude, abrasive and arrogant. He also argued with, undermined and belittled Stanley. “Richard wanted to give him some direction.

Val said: “‘Richard, directors stand behind the cameras, actors are in front of the camera.’ “‘Now go stand behind the camera.’”. He refused to read his lines as they were written, and insisted on adding weird things to his costumes. At one point he is said to have sat on the ground and simply refused to stand up. Ron Perlman, who was only supposed to be there for 3 weeks, ended up having to stay for over four months because his character was given some of the lazy Kilmer’s lines. But on the other hand, German actor Marco Hofschneider- (I’m really sorry if I fucked that up) had his role cut down significantly because Kilmer didn’t want to be upstaged by him. Yeah, that’s the kind of petty asshole we’re talking about. And Stanley was so thrown for a loop by Kilmer’s obstinacy that the entire production suffered. But everyone involved had no choice had to put up with his bullshit because the studio needed him.

Hollywood, everybody! As if they needed more evidence that the movie was cursed, other dark omens included: Stanley’s personal assistant getting bitten by a venomous spider, causing her flesh to melt.

Skip the Warlock getting infected with a flesh-eating parasite.

I guess he didn’t have a spell for that one…. Stanley’s mother’s house being struck by lightning not once, not twice but three times! And almost immediately after filming began, a hurricane came in and destroyed large parts of the set. The boat bringing exotic animals to the set got caught in the hurricane, and as Stanley was trying to help keep the animals safe, he got pissed on by a puma. When it rains, indeed. By the second day of shooting, Rob Morrow said “fuck this shit!”. And was allowed to go home after tearfully pleading with the chairman of New Line.

Kilmer complained to producers that the film that he was doing his best to ruin was not going well, shockingly! And his complaints went up the chain. New Line blamed Stanley for not being able to control Kilmer, and were also fed up with his unwillingness to attend meetings. Suffering under an immense amount of pressure and stress, and without his main ally Brando to back him up, he became increasingly paranoid and erratic. Something had to give, and New Line abruptly fired Stanley over fax. The cowards. But executives were worried he might try sabotage the film, and offered him his full salary if he would shut up and go quietly. And they charged an assistant to personally escort him onto the plane back to LA. Except Stanley didn’t get on the plane.

He’d gone full-on Arthur Fleck, shredded a load of documents out of spite, and then simply disappeared. Stanley had been a very amiable and passionate director and was greatly respected by the cast and crew. (Except Cunty McCuntFace of course). And his sudden firing came as a shock to them. Fairuza Bulk argued furiously with executives, even threatening to cut her own heart out with a sushi knife. She then stormed off the set and got an assistant to drive her 2500 miles from Cairns to Sydney in a rented limousine. She wanted to kick up an even bigger fuss, but was warned by her agent in no uncertain terms that her career would be completely destroyed if she didn’t go back to set. I’m imagining that scene in Bojack Horseman where Bojack threatens to quit to support his friend and then the executive is like “Don’t be stupid” and he’s like “Oh, okay”.

But the crew were obviously in Stanley’s camp, and after the production designer joked about burning down the set, the studio took no chances and tightened security, legitimately worried that Stanley would conspire with the crew to sabotage the shoot. Things were looking pretty fucky so far, but trust me, we’re nowhere near done. New Line had invested millions of dollars into this movie, and they couldn’t simply walk away. So production was stalled for 3 weeks while a new director was found. After a bunch of directors took one look at the project and “fuck that noise”, veteran director John Frankenheimer took the plunge. He’d actually taken over from fired directors twice before, and had a reputation for bringing difficult actors into line. So he was exactly what New Line needed. He also wanted to work with Brando - because he’s Marlon Brando - but was also able to leverage the studio’s desperation to bag himself a three-picture contract and a shit-ton of money.

Frankenheimer has been referred to as one of the last “old style” directors in Hollywood. For which you should read “asshole”. He quickly alienated the cast and crew with his authoritarian approach.

He was said to have treated them

Like animals, being dismissive, domineering, and verbally aggressive.

And holding the project and particularly the

Australian crew in contempt.

The latter showed that it was mutual in some rather creative ways. He also asked one of the Aboriginal actors to smash a diggeridoo over someone’s head, which…. Yeah, those things are considered sacred, so no….

Meanwhile, David Thewlis had been cast to replace Morrow, who had refused to return. Thewlis also wanted to work with Brando, and fancied a free trip to Australia and a fatass paycheck. But when he got there, Brando, who had by then arrived on set, told him: “Go home David, this is not a good film to work on. It’s cursed.”. Well he certainly wasn’t wrong…. Everything that was shot during Stanley’s tenure was deemed unusable, and production was once again shut down for a week-and-a-half. Frankenheimer brought in Ron Hutchison, a screenwriter he had worked with previously, to do rewrites that were so extensive that almost nothing of Stanley’s original script remained, despite him still receiving credit. Whatever vision Stanley had intended for the movie was lost, and Frankenheimer had nothing to replace it with.

And not only were the re-writes, in Thewlis’s words, “shit as well”, but they were delivered only a few days before they were shot and everyone else was kept in the dark during the process. Which led to several of the actors re-writing their characters or simply improvising their scenes. And then, finally, Marlon Brando arrived on set. Which means that we can finally talk about him. Like I said, Brando was a *legendary* figure in Hollywood. But my god, didn’t *he* know it as well. After earning an Oscar for On The Waterfront and helping to revolutionise the art of film acting itself, he had long since stopped giving a shit what anyone thought of him, and his outrageous diva-like antics and directorial interference during the production of Mutiny on the Bounty had caused the film to flop, turned him into a laughing stock, and destroyed his career for the next ten years.

Until he picked up another Oscar for The Godfather.

Even after this revival, he was still considered one of the most difficult actors to work with in the entire industry. And was clearly bored with making movies. So when he came in, it was less like a wrecking ball, and more like a snorlax rolling over and blocking the road. Like, one day, he just showed up to the set in a dress, and noone was brave enough to tell him to take it off. Because he’s Marlon Brando. And because he’s Marlon Brando, he made many “suggestions” that resulted in many *more* rewrites and changes. This ridiculous getup was all his idea. He also wanted to wear a long hat so that he could have an ice bucket on his head, which the crew had to then make out of a cooking pot.

When his character repeatedly complains about the heat, he wasn’t acting. He also wanted his throne to have peacock feathers in it, so the art director had to acquire some from an unfortunate peacock he found by the roadside. He also became obsessed with Nelson de la Rosa, at the time the world’s smallest man, who was only intended for a small part. No pun intended. But Brando saw him, and he wanted him. So the script was revised and Hofschneider lost even more of his lines to de la Rosa because Brando insisted they be in every scene together, complete with matching costumes! And in case you’re wondering, yes, this was the inspiration for Mini-Me in Austin Powers, as well as Dr Mephesto in South Park.

He also wanted to be wearing an elaborate hat which he would then take off at the end to reveal that he was a dolphin all along.

Although apparently *that* one was a bit

Much for new line.

Because he’s Marlon Brando, he refused to learn his lines, instead wearing an earpiece so his assistant could give them to him, something he done on films previously. The earpiece is actually visible in the movie. Problem was that the receiver would also pick up police radio signals. And he once blurted out: “There’s a robbery at Woolworth’s!”. He would spend hours in his air-conditioned trailer, eating large quantities of pizza and talking with Frankenheimer about the film, all while everyone else was kept waiting around like idiots. In his biography, Hutchison claims that Frankenheimer showed him 90 minutes of footage in which Brando had De la Rosa on his lap while he sang a song to him, Saying: “This is all I can persuade Brando to do.”. Its one thing to be unprofessional, but Brando’s shit very quickly started to piss everyone off. Again according to Hutchison, the relationship between Brando and most of the cast got so bad that one actor was even “prohibited” from handling any kind of gun.

But speaking of hated actors, Kilmer continued to act like a schoolyard bully. Even burning a camera operator’s face with a cigarette while the camera was rolling. And he proved as difficult for Frankenheimer to handle as he had been for Stanley. Frankenheimer would later state: "I don't like Val Kilmer, I don't like his work ethic, and I don't want to be associated with him ever again!". He was also reported to have said: “Even if I was directing a film called The Life of Val Kilmer, I wouldn’t have that prick in it!”. And on the last day of shooting Kilmer’s scenes, he allegedly said: “Now get that bastard off my set.”. It tends to be the people with the biggest egos that clash the hardest. And although Kilmer would later defend and praise Brando, on set they quickly grew to hate each other.

Brando would tell Kilmer: “Your problem is you confuse the size of your paycheck with the size of your talent.”. And to annoy Kilmer, Brando would eat large amounts of cabbage before a scene, and then produce numerous silent but deadly farts. He really was just an *old man*, wasn’t he? It got to the point where both actors would refuse to come out of their trailers until the other one had. Which meant that the cast and crew were left sitting around for hours, in full makeup and costume, in the Australian heat, waiting on the possibility that they *might* be able to shoot something. I’m getting secondhand embarrassment from this. The result of all this utter nonsense was that a shoot that was supposed to take six weeks dragged on for almost six months. Multiple days would pass where nothing usable was filmed, and with overhead costs of roughly $150,000 a day, New Line was practically pissing its money down the drain. Sunk cost fallacy is a hell of a drug.

Reality started to mimic the fiction, with the cast and crew becoming increasingly alienated from the director, noone really knowing what was happening, events becoming more bizarre, and everyone just wanting it to be over. The actors who played the hybrids had to spend hours in makeup only to find that they wouldn’t be needed. And they couldn’t be recast because the costumes had been designed for each of them specifically, so they were contractually forced to continue. They were still getting paid a lot though, so they spent most of their downtime drinking, doing drugs, shagging, and basically living out the furry fantasy. Again, life did really start to imitate art. Oh and on top of all this, Thewlis fell of a horse and broke his leg, while an extra had *his* leg broken after being mugged in Sydney. That’s just the icing on the fucking cake. Now you’ve probably been wondering: amidst all this chaos… where the fuck was Richard Stanley? I mean I’m hoping you didn’t forget about him because that would be kinda awkward….

Well, by pure chance, Stanley was discovered nearby by some of the extras.

He’d run off into the rainforest and

Had been recovering on a plantation with some local hippies while doing large amounts of weed.

Which- *laugh* which is fair enough! Wanting

To show solidarity with the cast and crew he had roped into this mess, and morbidly curious about what was being done to his film, with the help of the extras and the makeup department, he disguised himself in full costume as one of the hybrids and snuck back onto the set.


He even made it into several scenes in the movie. He took part in the violent final act, and later admitted that destroying the set was an appropriate end to his character arc. He was also somewhat reassured that the shoot was even more shambolic without him. Stanley would not reveal himself until the wrap party. At which Kilmer, having reflected somewhat on his behaviour, apologised profusely for costing him his job.

Stanley would tell him: “It was a little too late.”. But somehow, after what must have felt to everyone like crawling through the length of Satan’s digestive tract, filming was eventually completed. And after being plonked out of Satan’s asshole and mushed into something screenable, the movie was finally released. But the result was…. well, it was just very anti-climactic really. It’s been described as one of the worst movies ever made, but… it’s really not. It’s not *terrible*, but it’s not exactly great either. It does have plenty of issues like you’d expect, and Thewlis, Kilmer and Brando give performances that make it very clear they didn’t want to be there.

It doesn’t quite manage to pull off anything it was attempting to do. You can see what they were going for, but they didn’t quite manage to achieve it. And aside from the absurdity of the Mini-Me moments, there isn’t really anything to laugh at either. It is a bit of a cliche, but Dr Moreau really is a fever dream. It just feels… *off*. Even if you didn’t know about the film’s troubled production, you’d know that *something* was wrong. But the film was a critical and commercial bomb. Losing New Line money, entering the halls of cinema infamy, firmly establishing Kilmer’s reputation as an asshole, and once again making Brando into a laughing stock.

Stanley has since refused to watch movie in full, which I think is understandable. He withdrew from Hollywood to focus on making documentaries. Until making somewhat of a comeback with his 2019 H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Color Out Of Space. He was slated to do two more Lovecraft films, and then umm.. this happened…. Which…disappointing! No bueno my dude. What the fuck?! So yeah, that is the story of the insanity that was The Island of Dr Moreau.

I’m in the habit of covering bizarre, cursed, and frankly bad stuff, but I don’t think anything’s ever going to top this in terms of sheer chaos and second-hand anxiety. And as fascinating as this clusterfuck has been, I kinda hope it doesn’t happen again. Because… fuck…. The turbulent production is more fully explored in the documentary. Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr Moreau.

Which I can’t recommend highly enough.

So go check it out. But the biggest lesson to be learned from this is: never meet your heroes.

Because sometimes, your heroes are just pricks. Hey folks, I’ve been up all night getting this article for release today, Saturday, because I needed to get it out by the end of the month in order to fulfil obligations. And as I was sat here with it almost finished, I got hit by a very powerful sense of irony. Because making this article has…kinda been a Dr Moreau-like experience in-and-of-itself. I was actually planning on making this article about a year ago, and while I was deep in the research for it, somebody else made a article on it that did really well. So I figured I needed to delay mine, because the urgency just wasn’t there anymore, and also I didn’t really wanna be called a copycat. And then when I actually did try and make the article, both me and my editor fell ill while we were trying to make it! And that caused further delays. And then various other production and technical issues happened, hence why I’m pulling an all-nighter to get it out for today.

And then on top of that, a bunch of personal and health-related stuff came up which made this month even worse. You may have been able to hear it in the article, but my voice wasn’t exactly 100% this month. It was really quite hit or miss. And that’s because I was pushing through. Because I wanted to get this made. And much like Dr Moreau, this article started off as a passion project, but now I’m just kinda glad that it’s over. Having said that, I am glad that I pushed myself through it and saw it through to completion. I hope you enjoy it.

And now I can move on to other things. I know this last month has been a bit barren in terms of content, but things have been… things have been a bit weird. And honestly, I’ve kinda been lacking inspiration because a lot of stuff that’s come out over the last few months has just been so boring. But so much stuff is coming out within the next two months that I want to cover that I’m not even gonna have time to get around to covering it all. It’s actually quite frustrating! So yeah, this movie *is* cursed. Just don’t make a article on it. If you were tempted to, just don’t. It’s not worth it.

See you in the next one. Thanks for watching folks! If you liked the article, give it a like and a share and all that good stuff! And of course subscribe for more.