The 1977 film version of The Island of Dr Moreau is a somewhat unfairly maligned effort. While it was always going to suffer in comparison to the 1932 version of H.G. Wells’ book, The Island of Lost Souls, Don Taylor’s film is not terrible – there’s a solid central performance from Burt Lancaster, some impressive monster make-up from John Chambers and a solid hero in Michael York. The pacing is a bit off but it’s a pretty entertaining film, and head and shoulders about the lamentable 1996 version. Certainly, it had the audience roaring with approval when I saw it double-billed with Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park (which played UK cinemas in 1980 as Attack of the Phantoms – a story for another day), though I suspect that was less to do with the artistic qualities of the film and more to do with Barbara Carrera, who – depending on the aspect ratio that the film was shown at – provided some 1970s PG-level nudity as she romped with York.
Carrera, a model turned actress, was at the start of a solid film and TV career in 1977. Prior to Dr Moreau, she’d appeared in low-budget tat like Embryo, but after this she had leading roles in the likes of Never Say Never Again, Condorman, When Time Ran Out, I The Jury and Wild Geese II. It would be fair to say that she was in demand as much for her beauty as her acting ability (and she was, it should be said, a pretty good actress), and film companies were never shy about exploiting her sex appeal in publicity material. The Island of Dr Moreau producers, for instance, were keen to have press shots of her dressed in bikinis and swimsuits against the backdrop of shooting location St Croix in the Virgin Islands.
Carrera was not embarrassed about nudity, even if an unexpectedly large amount of her work was in PG-rated movies. She would pose for Playboy twice at the peak of her career – in 1982 and, earlier, to promote The Island of Dr Moreau in 1977. This shoot appeared in the July issue that year, and is oddly not mentioned on the cover, even though the film was a relatively high-profile new release that same month.
Inside the magazine, the spread features photographs by Chris Von Wangenheim, featuring a naked beast-man (presumably created by Chambers and his team) that were shot on the film’s sets and locations. The concept for the shoot is explained by Carrera: “He set out to capture a beauty-and-the-beast tableau. It is his interpretation of H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. Where the film is Victorian, the photos are contemporary. The theme is simply conquest and submission. The man’s submission at times, my submission at others.”
The resulting shoot is pretty weird, but also pretty sexy and artistic. It doesn’t feel especially gratuitous, though anyone going to see the movie based on this shoot would probably have been very disappointed.
H.G. Wells, famously, hated Island of Lost Souls, finding it gratuitous in the way it interpreted his novel. We can only speculate at how he would have reacted to this translation of his ideas…