Saturday, October 6, 2012

Night of Terror #5: The Invisible Man

Nothing says "Halloween" like the Universal Monster series. So many of the iconic images we associate with Halloween were churned out by this studio between the years 1931 and 1954. One interesting/boring comparison one could make is between the monsters of early sound movies (and into the 50s) and the superhero craze of today. They were mostly based on previously popular properties (31 Articles of Alliteration dot blogspot dot biz), and they started teaming up with each other in sequels. Sorry, tangent. Universal Monsters = cool.

Sometimes when called upon to tell people my favorite Universal Monster, I cite James Whale's 1933 scifi/horror/comedy The Invisible Man. I will admit a LITTLE bit of contrarian attitude there, as this movie doesn't have anywhere near the reputation that Frankenstein or Dracula has, but after watching the movie again last night my opinion that this is a damn good movie that can stand next to either of those has been cemented.

Let's start, as one always should, with the monster. Claude Rains' performance as the see-through guy is just as good in its own way as Bela Lugosi's Dracula or Karloff's Frankenstein's Monster - his depiction of unhinged megalomania is the stuff of pulp fiction and comic books, but it's both grounded in a weirdly sympathetic character (see the lone scene between he and his ostensible "love interest" in the picture for proof) and ridiculously entertaining. Has anyone in any medium said the word "fools" as well as Claude Rains in The Invisible Man? I can't think of anyone. And Rains is well-served to say the least by a fantastic makeup job and character design - he looks genuinely unsettling wrapped in bandages, particularly in the beginning of the movie when he has some hair of a wig poking up through the wraps. And the special effects utilized to bring his invisibility to life are still some of the best ever - some of the shots are so complicated that it gives me a headache to try to imagine how exactly they were accomplished. I also liked the cinematic trick of having the camera follow him even when there was nothing to see - strikes me as sort of a cutting-edge idea for the 1930s.

James Whale famously married horror and camp for high artistic dividends in Bride of Frankenstein, but he warmed up his comedy muscles here, with some very effective wry humor and sight gags. The funniest thing about it though would have to be the police officers in the story, all with their own distinctly "slow" speech patterns and line readings. You get the sense that everyone's having a lot of fun with the more humorous aspects of this story, which is not something you often get in genre films from this era. And yet, the movie is surprisingly brutal too, with some shocking bits of violence (check out the scene where Rains smashes a cop's face with a small wooden bench) and a very high body count.


  1. It's considered somewhat unprofessional to attract attention to your alliteration.

  2. Also, what did you think of that Invisible Man movie they made with Chevy Chase? I think it was loosely based on a true story.