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After an unexplained explosion destroys the freighter Pedro Queen in the South Pacific, its sole survivor, petroleum engineer William Fitzgerald, washes up on the shores of the small Isla de Sangre, where medical surgeon Charles Girard and his assistant, Walter Pererra, discover him. Girard takes Fitzgerald back to his home where he conducts experiments with the reluctant assistance of his wife Frances and the sadistic Walter. Unknown to Fitzgerald, Girard and Walter found him while out searching for an escaped animal used in Girard's experiments. After the Girards retire for the evening, the creature stalks a nearby small native village, attacking and killing two people. The next morning the panicked natives flee to a neighboring island, leaving behind only two villagers, Selena and her little brother Tiago, both of whom work for the Girards. The next morning the recovered Fitzgerald explores the small island and comes upon a campfire still smoldering in the deserted village and, nearby, several fresh graves. Later, the engineer runs into Girard and Walter who are completing the camouflaging of an animal trap pit, but the doctor remains evasive regarding details on the creature. Over dinner that evening, Girard admits that the villagers fled the island, but insists it was out of ignorant superstition. After Walter bitterly comments about the need to recapture the animal, a panther, he departs and Girard explains that he and Frances arrived from Manhattan two years earlier to dedicate themselves to his unusual research. Sensing that Frances is uncomfortable with the topic, Fitzgerald inquires how often a supply ship stops at the island and discovers it will be another two months until the next visit. After dinner, while Girard and Walter resume their search, Fitzgerald accompanies the restless Frances outside and she admits to being in a continual state of fear. When Fitzgerald observes that it is unusual for so small an island to sustain a panther, Frances uneasily reveals that her husband purchased the animal specifically for his experiments. Frances then confesses her misgivings over her husband's work and declares that she has decided to leave the island on the next supply ship. Girard returns soon thereafter to report the capture of the panther in the pit. Overcome with curiosity, Fitzgerald sneaks downstairs to Girard's laboratory to glimpse the animal and is surprised to see a man-sized figure swathed in gauze and strapped to a gurney. The next morning, Fitzgerald discovers Frances alone resting on a small beach and asks her about the graves near the village. Frances relates that the graves contain the bodies of Selena and Tiago's mother, victim of the panther's first escape, and the others who were killed during the second escape. Pleading with Fitzgerald to cease his questioning, Frances then reveals her dream to escape the island and travel. When Fitzgerald, attracted by Frances' melancholy demeanor, attempts to kiss her, she refuses. That night after dinner, a drunken Walter tells Fitzgerald of his loathing of island life and his conviction that Girard is wicked. Still curious, Fitzgerald explores Girard's library and finds books and notes on transmutation. Girard joins Fitzgerald and acknowledges that he has spent the past twelve years attempting to modify one species from another in an effort to "speed up" evolution. Fitzgerald suggests this is unnatural, but Girard dismisses the notion and invites him to view surgery on the panther creature the next day. On edge from a storm that has hit the island, Frances finds Fitzgerald later and admitting her attraction to him, kisses him. The next morning, before the surgery, Tiago offers Fitzgerald a good-luck necklace, which he accepts. Frances refuses to assist during the operation, which Girard proudly divulges is the fifty-third procedure he has performed on the panther in an effort to turn it into a man. After the day-long surgery, Frances visits the creature and finds Walter, who reveals that he is aware of her plans to leave Girard and her attraction to Fitzgerald. When Walter attempts to force himself on Frances, the creature struggles to break free from its bonds, but Walter subdues it, then viciously beats it after Frances departs. The next afternoon, Selena approaches Fitzgerald in the garden to ask if he would take her and Tiago away when he leaves. Startled, Fitzgerald nevertheless agrees. Later, Girard asks Fitzgerald to describe the creature and the engineer admits that its eyes appear almost human. Back in the lab, Fitzgerald is fascinated by Girard's attempts to get the animal to communicate, but they are interrupted when Walter's arrival drives the creature berserk. Girard orders Walter away and gets a hypodermic filled with a sedative, but allows the creature to wreck the operating room. Fitzgerald follows Walter upstairs where the men tell Frances what has occurred. Fearful that Girard is in danger, Frances and the men return below. Although Girard has succeeded in injecting the creature with the sedative, Walter abruptly attacks it with a lighted torch, setting fire to its bandages until Fitzgerald and Frances knock the flailing creature to the floor and extinguish the flames. Upstairs, Walter rejects Girard's description of the creature as a man and insists it must be destroyed. When Girard returns to the lab to tend to the creature, Walter takes a pistol and follows, threatening to kill the creature and the doctor if he interferes. Just then, the power generator sputters and when the lights go out, the creature kills Walter, then runs upstairs and out of the house. Girard follows and orders Fitzgerald to help him recapture the creature, in spite of the continuing thunderstorm. Unknown to the men, the creature remains near the house and when Selena steps outside to search for Tiago, it strikes her down. Frances sees the creature and screams, but the creature does not attack her but instead carries her off. Attracted by the screams, Girard and Fitzgerald return to the house, to find Selena's body and Frances missing. The men track the creature throughout the night and near dawn spot it near cliffs over the ocean. The creature sets Frances down as Girard approaches, but in spite of the doctor's confidence, the creature slashes him, then hurls him over the cliff into the sea. The creature roars threateningly at Fitzgerald and Frances only to turn and go down to the beach where, suffering from burns and surgical wounds, it staggers into the water where Tiago waits with the dinghy in which Fitzgerald arrived. When Fitzgerald and Frances reach the beach, Tiago tells them that the boat is gone.