Known informally as the Hays Code, the Motion Picture Production Code was officially established in 1930 but not rigorously enforced until 1934. The time before the enforcement of the Hays Code is often called "pre-Code Hollywood" and is responsible for a number of controversial movies, not to mention some of the best horror movies of all time.
While we may think of classic black-and-white horror films as fairly tame by modern standards, there were a few motion pictures released back in the old days, especially during those "Wild West" pre-Code years, that had scenes every bit as vivid, shocking, disturbing, and strange as anything you'd find at the multiplexes today. From the Universal monster movies to silent shockers, there are plenty of weird and wild things waiting in the wings of classic horror films... for those who know where to look.
In their re-release of the film, Criterion called Island of Lost Souls a "twisted treasure from Hollywood's pre-Code horror heyday." It was banned in a dozen countries, including England, where British film censors refused it a certification and described it as "against nature." None other than the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester, who was married to the film's star Charles Laughton, replied, "Sure; so is Mickey Mouse."
As the first cinematic adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, the film's frank discussions of insensitive topics were more than enough to put it on the bad side of plenty of film censors. Audiences who saw it were reportedly nauseated by the experience, helped along by eerie shots of the film's beast men, not to mention their strange language, which sound engineer Loren L. Ryder supposedly created by recording assorted animal sounds and human languages and then playing them backward at varying speeds.
The pièce de résistance of uncensored moments in Island of Lost Souls, however, comes when the various beast men turn upon Laughton's Dr. Moreau, dragging him into his own "House of Pain" and turning his enthusiasm for vivisection upon him as he screams.
Filmed alongside the original King Kong, this 1932 adaptation of the Richard Connell story of the same name borrowed some of King Kong's jungle sets and also its starlet, Fay Wray. Instead of an adventure story about a giant ape, however, The Most Dangerous Game is about a hunter who hunts other people. The film is thought to have partly inspired the real-life Zodiac slayer, who wrote in one of his coded messages that he enjoyed taking lives and said, "It is more fun than [hunting] wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all."
In one of the most infamous sequences in the film, we see the hunter's trophy room, including a man's head in a jar and another one mounted on the wall. According to many accounts, the original scene was as much as 10 minutes longer and featured some instances of full-body human taxidermy, which proved to be too much for test audiences, even in a pre-Code 1932. A few of those props may have been re-used in RKO's 1945 take on the same material.
Everyone knows the scene: The Frankenstein monster, played by Boris Karloff under makeup by Jack Pierce, comes upon a little girl who is throwing flowers into a lake and watching them float. The monster picks up the little girl and throws her into the lake, but she doesn't float. The next time we see her, her father is carrying her remains, riling up villagers to hunt for the monster.
While the scene is one of the most famous in the Frankenstein canon, it was very nearly removed from the film. Censors at the time demanded that the scene be excised, and so the moment ended before the Frankenstein monster picks up the little girl, making the later appearance of her lifeless body less clear and even more sinister. The scene wasn't restored until home video releases in the 1980s. Censors also objected to Henry Frankenstein's line, "Now I know what it feels like to be God!"
To find out why censors found this scene so troubling, we must look no further than the often-cited taboo that, even in horror films, you don't take the lives of kids. Though, of course, there are countless effective exceptions to this rule, dating all the way back to Frankenstein itself.
Dorian Gray, a handsome and wealthy young man, wishes his portrait could age in his place. Dedicating himself to a life of debauchery and wickedness, Dorian remains unchanged while his portrait takes on a sinister and repellent aspect. The 1945 adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel was not the first time the story was taken to the big screen, but it was one of the most successful and won an Oscar for cinematography.
At the center of the story is the eponymous portrait itself, which was painted by Ivan Albright for the film. While the rest of the movie was shot in black and white, the portrait was filmed in Technicolor to better showcase its degradation.