Yesterday's film put me in the mood for some classic Universal horror, and a sale on Vudu provided the perfect pick.
It's certainly no secret that I love the works of H.G Wells. I've been a fan of his stories ever since a snowy Halloween night when my dad dragged out a battery-powered radio and played Orson Welles' 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast for me during a power outage. I'd always been a fan of fantasy, particularly sword and sorcery tales and films, but Wells awakened a love of science fiction in me that has shaped both my passions and my career.
In middle school, when my classmates were reading stories like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Where the Red Fern Grows, I had my nose buried in books like The Time Machine or The Invisible Man. I remember my English teacher turned up her nose at my choices, always trying to force "more appropriate" reading material on me, but I couldn't be swayed. It's from the same brilliant mind behind those books that today's movies came, so lock the doors and stay close, because it's time for 1933's The Invisible Man!
As our story opens on a snowy night in a peaceful English village, a man wrapped in heavy bandages stumbles into the Lion's Head Inn and demands a room and food. His strange appearance worries the locals, and they speculate he must be some escaped convict or other troublemaker. The stranger sets up a laboratory in his room, but after weeks of commotion, cursing, and not paying his rent, the innkeepers grow tired of him and attempt to evict him. The man flies into a rage and gleefully removes his bandages, revealing that he is completely invisible. The invisible Man flees the Lion's Head and spreads havoc throughout the village before slipping away.
Meanwhile, Doctors Cranley and Kemp speculate on the recent disappearance of their colleague, Dr. Jack Griffin. While searching his laboratory, they discover Griffin had been working with a chemical called monocane known for its powerful bleaching power but also known to pause insanity when administered to a living being. Griffin arrives at Kemp's home and tells him the nature of the experiments that made him invisible, as well as his futile search for a clue. Griffin is set on using his condition to seize power, and Kemp becomes a prisoner in his own home as the Invisible Man plots his reign of terror.
The Invisible Man sticks out like a sore thumb among the other classic Universal monsters. The story is hardly terrifying and lends itself to extended scenes of slapstick confrontation between Griffin and his enemies (usually the police). Professional screamer Una O'Connor, known for playing hysterical characters turns the slapstick up to eleven with her performance as the innkeeper's wife.
Now of course I want to talk about the movie's effects, which are rather impressive for 1933. Through various tricks, the Invisible Man terrorizes people in various states of undress, at one point dancing around his room in only a shirt and in another scene chasing a woman as a pair of singing trousers. The effect doesn't always work, however, as sometimes the empty clothes appear translucent against the background. Again, though, for 1933 in a time before green screen and CGI, I have to say I'm impressed.
While The Invisible Man deviates a bit from the novel and relies on slapstick comedy for its "scares," its entertainment value is undeniable. Griffin's malicious antics are actually a delight to watch, particularly when he torments the nosy Lion's Head patrons. While there are a few murders, and Griffin's nefarious plans do include a passing mention of rape, the movie is mostly safe for younger audiences, like most of its contemporaries. In fact, the innkeeper's head wound may possibly make it the goriest of all the Universal monster films. The Invisible Man is short, funny, and worthy of any serious horror fan's collection. Check it out.