Tag Invisible Man

Invisible Agent (1942)

Invisible Agent (1942)

Today’s most amazing sensation!

Frank Raymond, grandson of the original Invisible Man, still has the invisibility formula but considers it too dangerous to use and has tried to start a new life under an alias name. When German agents try to get it by force, the Allies approach him to work for them but he refuses. However, the bombing of Pearl Harbour compels him to volunteer his own services to spy on the Germans, using the formula to render him invisible.


It’s sad to see that Universal’s The Invisible Man series is nowhere near as fondly remembered as their Frankenstein, Dracula or even The Wolf Man films. 1933’s The Invisible Man is one of science fiction’s greatest ever films and features some of cinema’s most incredible special effects, yet it’s place at the table that built the famous studio is often overlooked. The great thing about the underlying story is that there were so many different possibilities to expand upon the concept of invisibility for sequels – it’s a less rigid formula than that of the Frankenstein or The Mummy films which virtually cycled the same story over and over.

The fourth entry into the series, Invisible Agent was made a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbour (hence why it’s mentioned in the film) and thus the writers construct a strong propaganda-based narrative designed to perk up the spirits of the contemporary 1940s audience, where Germans are portrayed as bumbling idiots, the Japanese are sneaky and sly, and the bad guys get what’s coming to them at the hands of the square-jawed American hero. There is a little too much propaganda going on here, which does detract a lot from the narrative, but this is a criticism that can be levelled at most films that were made during this period with anti-German and anti-Japanese sentiment. Besides which, the writers do a great job of making the two main villains so hissable and detestable even amidst the war sentiment. But more on them in a bit.

The previous entry, The Invisible Woman, veered far too much into comedy for my liking so it’s good to see the makers of this one reign it in a lot more. There are some silly, slapstick scenes where the Invisible Man torments a German officer having dinner and these are purely played for laughs. It’s in the film’s most serious moments where it really shines – the scene where Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s clever Nazi official traps Raymond in his office and insists he keep swinging in the chair so that he knows where is work well to get across the menace of the enemy along with the main character’s almost superhero-like qualities. It’s all straight-forward dashing hero and smarmy villain nonsense as soon as the Invisible Man arrives in Germany and there are no big twists to be had, just some enjoyable sequences which are handled professionally.

John P. Fulton returns to do the special effects as he had done for the previous Invisible Man films and they’re just as good here – seeing the Invisible Man soap up his legs and arms is a fantastic piece of effects work, even for this day and age. He strips down in mid-air, has numerous slapstick fight scenes with bumbling German officers and even manages to do his usual smoking trick. There are a couple of dodgy-looking wires, particularly during the dinner sequence, but these can be overlooked given the strength of the more impressive moments. Rightly so, the film was nominated for an Oscar for the effects.

The cast are strong here too. Jon Hall has the difficult task of acting without being on screen for most of the film and it can get a little weird seeing the other characters talking to empty chairs or empty spaces. It’s hard to really comment on his performance barring the bookended scenes at the beginning and end with him as normal. Ilona Massey adds some glamour as the female German operative he’s sent to make contact with, and then fall in love with. She does most of the hard work in convincing the audience that there is an Invisible Man, particularly the dinner sequence.

It is the bad guys who have the most fun. Hungarian character actor Peter Lorre would have fared better as a German agent rather than a Japanese one – he looks about as Japanese as I do, even with the penchant for slicking hair back and applying lots of make-up to the face as per many films of this era – “I can’t tell you Japs apart” sniggers the main character here, in a clear dig at how much the American public despised those responsible for the sneak attack in Hawaii. Lorre is particularly good whenever he’s on screen and just has one of those magnetic personalities that draws you to him when he’s on the camera. Between him and Hardwicke, the bad guy quota for the film is more than adequate. Sid Cedric Hardwicke makes for a ruthless Nazi spy, with his cold, calculating voice and stoic mannerisms and between the two of them, they chew the scenery with aplomb.


Invisible Agent is what it is for the time – a propaganda piece masquerading as a sci-fi film – but it still does it with a tongue-in-cheek and with one eye on the quality that made the original such a success. It’s good, escapist entertainment which comes off a lot better than it has any real right to.





Invisible Man Returns, The (1940)

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

They hear him! They feel him! But they can’t stop him!

Framed for the murder of his brother, Geoffrey Radcliffe is to be hanged. But after a visit in prison from his friend Frank Griffin, Radcliffe literally disappears and escapes to the bewilderment of the police. Griffin’s late brother, the original Invisible Man, had discovered an invisibility drug before he went mad and his brother has now given Radcliffe the serum to aid his cause. As Griffin tries to find an antidote to the invisibility, Radcliffe sets out to track down the real killer before he goes mad as well.


Like their successful forays with Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolf Man, Universal Studios were always quick to capitalise on big hits and after their fantastic version of The Invisible Man, it was only a matter of time before the studio would see fit to sequelise it and get the tills ringing again. During their second wave of horror, with sequels to their major hits being pumped out like The Ghost of Frankenstein and The Mummy’s Hand, Universal created an original story for H.G. Wells’ infamous literary character (having signed a multi-picture deal to secure the rights) and trotted him out in the first of many sequels, two of which were released in the same year. Though the logic behind Radcliffe taking the invisibility serum is a little far-fetched at first, once the film gets down to business this minor inconvenience is quickly forgotten about.

As it turns out, The Invisible Man Returns isn’t a patch on the original but it’s a solid sequel, let down by a sense that anything the film would try and do, the audience would have already seen before  (‘seen’ being an inappropriate phrase!). There’s nothing here to match the first unveiling of Griffin in the original, nor his rampage through the small village. Instead, what was once a story about a madman loose with a startling new weapon has now been turned into a standard old school murder-mystery where a wrongly-convicted man seeks to clear his name – only with the added bonus that he is invisible. In fact being invisible doesn’t really add a whole lot to the narrative as the crime drama is nothing that couldn’t have been handled should the character been visible.

Though camera tricks had advanced in the seven years following the original, there’s nothing in The Invisible Man Returns which is a patch on what came before it. That’s probably being a tad too harsh on John P. Fulton’s special effects which were nominated for an Oscar and are still impressive. But you’ll not be completely blown away by anything you see here. There are some nice scenes involving the police trying to smoke Radcliffe out (showing some good continuity from the previous film in that they’ve learnt how to track an invisible man) and seeing the Invisible Man revealed by rain but they’re not jaw-dropping standout moments. The moment with Radcliffe and a scarecrow is more poignant than astonishing.

Legendary horror Thespian Vincent Price assumes the role of the man in the bandages and sunglasses in what would be his first foray into the horror and sci-fi genre, in fact one of his first major screen roles of any kind. Price’s distinctive vocal tones make for the perfect choice to be the Invisible Man because he can’t rely on body language for a great deal of the running time and needs to emote through his voice. But though Price has a sinister expression, it’s never been an overly menacing one and it lacks the thuggish threat that Claude Rains’ voice projected in the original. Instead of strangling you to death or psychologically tormenting his victims, Price’s Invisible Man is more likely to pretend to be a ghost and shout “boo” at you or invite you around for a cuppa so you can laugh at him when you see the tea draining through his invisible body.

But that’s part of the film’s main problem – the character is not meant to be a psychopath this time around but an innocent man, framed for a crime and desperate to put things right. It gives the character more empathy as one of the problems with Rain’s portrayal was that he was too much of a self-obsessed asshole to really root for. Price makes up for that by playing the role as a tragic, sympathetic hero but the film loses some of the excitement and terror of being hunted by an invisible man as a result. Whilst you know he’s capable of doing some things to clear his name (i.e. becoming invisible in the first place), you never get the sense that he’ll resort to outright murder to put things right. And this is what the film loses by turning him into a good guy. The freedom that invisibility brings lends itself to more darker intentions which are sorely underplayed here.


The Invisible Man Returns lacks the sinister edge that the original had and comes off as a bit of a pointless rehash at times, really harming its overall impact as an effective sci-fi horror. But it’s entertaining in its own right and is definitely a cut above most of the sequels Universal was churning out for its main franchises.





Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

AS PRIVATE EYES…they’re getting an Eyeful!

Boxer Tommy Nelson is accused of killing his manager and injects himself with an experimental invisibility serum in order to hide from the police and find out the real killer. He enlists the help of two bumbling private detectives, Bud and Lou, and with their help, he devises a plan to trap the real killer by having Lou pose as a boxer, aided by his invisible punches.


Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was such a popular hit that the much-loved comedy duo were regularly paired off against some of Universal’s classic gallery of monsters. The seeds for Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man had been sown at the end of their first horror outing, as the Invisible Man (voiced by none other than Vincent Price) introduces himself to the duo at the end of the film. Price sadly does not return in this one but maybe he saw what was coming. The result is a film which grossly fails to live up to the potential shenanigans that Abbott and Costello should have been getting up to with an Invisible Man.

I really don’t get the love for this one. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is nowhere near as funny as some of their other ‘Meet’ films yet it has received way more critical praise and was financially more successful than their horror outings. This one is hardly played for the horror factor as the character of the Invisible Man was never really meant to be in the same league of monstrousness as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. It’s perhaps this which doesn’t do the film any favours. The character of the Invisible Man, Tommy Nelson in this one, is played seriously and there are attempts to give him some sort of story with the warnings of becoming psychotic after being invisible for too long. But unlike the horror elements of their previous outings, the drama doesn’t really click here. Abbott and Costello don’t really seem out of their element as they did when they were up against Dracula and Frankenstein and everything happens as a matter of fact. The duo go along with Nelson’s plan from the beginning, taking on board the notion of an invisible man with little apprehension.

The highlight set piece of the film is the boxing bout at the end where Lou is to go up against tough boxer Rocky Hanlon, with Tommy providing invisible punches. I’m sure it all sounded a lot funnier on paper and what we get is an overlong sequence of Lou pratting around in the ring in his shorts and pretending to fall over, slip, trip and stumble like the buffoon his character is meant to be. The physical comedy just isn’t funny and I always preferred the verbal sparring that Abbott and Costello did with each other, most notably their variations on the “Who’s On First?” routine. They manage to hit a few decent home runs with a couple of scenes but there’s nowhere near enough material to keep the film consistently funny. Lou Costello was always the stooge and his clowning around can get pretty tiresome as he looks at the camera with that knowing look to break down the fourth wall with the audience. One of the highlights of the other ‘Meet’ films, even the worse ones, was that Costello spent the majority of the film trying to convince Abbott that there were monsters lurking around. This lead to all manner of mishaps with bodies appearing and disappearing, chases around corridors, castles and tombs and Costello trying to hold it all together before he thought he was going crazy. But here, Abbott learns of the existence of the Invisible Man quite early which strips away most of the comedy potential. Seeing the two work hand-in-hand with the monster of the movie isn’t as entertaining as watching Costello fall apart on screen as Abbott reprimands him.

The true star of the show is the invisibility special effects. Truly excellent for 1951, we get to see scenes of Bud and Lou playing cards with the invisible man and taking him out to dinner where he eats spaghetti. The invisibility aspect plays host to a number of sight gags throughout the film as various characters don’t know where Tommy is. In the film’s best effect, the Invisible Man receives a blood transfusion and begins to visualise, with his veins materialising first as the blood is pumped in followed by the rest of his body. The effects were great for their era and still hold up extremely well today. It’s a pity that the comedy doesn’t.


Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is an undignified end to Universal’s Invisible Man series and a run of five previous films featuring H. G. Wells’ classic character was to come to an end. Abbott and Costello would be back to face more Universal monsters but this is not one of their better efforts and doesn’t hold a candle to the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.





Invisible Man, The (1933)

The Invisible Man (1933)

Catch me if you can!

Jack Griffin is a scientist who has developed a way of making himself invisible but he does not know how to reverse the process. As the drugs he had experimented with slowly make him go insane, he recruits a visible partner in the shape of Arthur Kemp. But the invisibility has granted him unlimited power and he begins a reign of terror unlike anything seen before. As the authorities close in and Kemp becomes an unwilling co-conspirator, Griffin must struggle with his sanity and find a cure before its too late.


After scoring a hit with the ultimate landmark horror film, Frankenstein, director James Whale was called upon to helm this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel and it was highly anticipated after his earlier success. Using a similar template to Frankenstein, with a triangle of main characters and a lead character who suddenly acquires God-like powers which corrupt them, Whale sets out to tell one of literature’s most famous stories in what has now become one of cinema’s most famous films. The Invisible Man is, if you’ll pardon the pun, like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The film opens with a gripping introduction – the shadowy figure of Griffen, all gauze-bandaged and waterproof-coated up, trudges through the snow towards a guest house before opening the door to the busy bar area and demanding a room in front of the shell-shocked regulars. There is no gradual transformation – we arrive in mid-story as Griffin has already transformed into the Invisible Man. Everything is much more interesting to the audience at first, not knowing who Griffin is, how he came to be and why he wants to be left alone to continue his experiments. The rudeness and aggression in his voice instantly singles him out as unlikeable but there is something utterly compelling about the character. The assuredness that he commands those around him with and the brash confidence that he has in his own abilities is too hard not to like, or at least respect.

As the film progresses and Griffin descends into total insanity, the horror of the chilling events that unfold comes to life. He has no qualms about taking life to prove a point. By the end of the film, Griffin is responsible for the deaths of over one hundred people, with his most heinous act being the derailment of a train. A far cry from the physical monstrosities associated with Frankenstein and Dracula, the Invisible Man is a monster for the new age – human, corrupted with the thoughts of absolute power. But running concurrently alongside the terror, there is a distinct comic tone with supporting characters, particularly the townspeople, playing up the comic relief. From bumbling police constables to a landlady who does nothing but incessantly scream, the comedy aspects shouldn’t work alongside the absolute horror but bizarrely enough, they make them seem worse.

The effects work is nothing short of outstanding, near flawless at times. Even in today’s CGI cinematic world, these practical effects from the 30s look believable, bordering on the ridiculous at times for just how hard it must have been to pull them off back in the day. From footprints appearing in the snow to bicycles riding themselves down the street to the sight of the Invisible Man smoking a cigarette or undressing himself in front of a mirror, they are the stuff of science fiction come to life on the screen. The last shot of the film with the reappearance of Griffen on the hospital bed is still fantastic. Granted some of the effects do look a little gimmicky in today’s world – the stuff that you’d see at a ghost train ride or circus haunted house – but put together they have lost none of their magic. Most importantly, the special effects never detract from the quality of the human drama. As good as they are, it is the characters and their conflicts with each other that are the real stars.

Claude Rains is excellent as Jack Griffin, though at times the script does him few favours and forces him to overdo the melodramatic fervour with some grandiose lines of world domination-like intent. You only get to see his face in one shot throughout the duration of the film. For one half of the film, he’s buried beneath a layer of bandages and for the other half, he’s invisible. So Rains must act with his voice alone and that he does admirably. It’s a strong, commanding voice which demands the attention of the viewer. Through his voice alone, Rains turns Griffin into one of cinema’s most evil characters, following this up with his actions later by callously pushing men over cliffs or causing trains to derail. A couple of throwaway lines in the film by his employer, Dr Cranley, states that Griffen never used to be this way and was a kind, caring man before the drugs started to make him go insane. This takes the edge off the character somewhat, softening him up for audiences and getting us on board to sympathise with the character. But this doesn’t detract from the monstrous nature of Griffin when he’s invisible. No remorse. No pity. If you needed further proof, his maniacal laughing after he’s committed a heinous act will leave you disgusted.


It is the mix of H.G. Wells’ unforgettable story with a wonderful voice-only performance from Claude Rains and a bevy of incredible special effects and technical feats which make The Invisible Man one of the all-time classics. To this day, there hasn’t been a single film about invisibility which has managed to top this one for sheer spectacle – the first and the best.





Hollow Man 2 (2006)

Hollow Man 2 (2006)

There’s more to terror than meets the eye

An experiment to create invisible soldiers goes wrong when the subject, Michael Griffin, quickly begins to deteriorate both physically and mentally. He escapes and goes looking for a buffer – a serum designed to slow down his death and stop him from rotting. His search leads him to scientist Maggie Dalton but she is given police protection for her own safety after Griffin kills one of her fellow team members. On the run from the invisible man, Dalton and Detective Frank Turner must battle an enemy that they can’t see.


Hollow Man was a decent time waster, ably lead by the always-reliable Kevin Bacon, helmed by the great Paul Verhoeven and containing some decent special effects. But sequel-worthy? I don’t think so. What bothers me with sequels like this is that the originals were pretty big budget films filled with top drawer effects and an A-list cast so what hope do these straight-to-DVD films have of recreating the same feel with a lower budget, worse special effects and bargain basement actors? Not much is the correct answer!

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Hollow Man II. It’s not exactly Malibu Shark Attack or Ghoulies IV and I didn’t feel bored or roll my eyes in disgust whilst watching it. But there are some major problems with the film and it’s just a total waste of the invisible man idea. He’s not even the main character in this one which is a bit of a bummer as the film focuses more on the detective and female scientist (hence the reason why his name is presented as ‘and Christian Slater’ on the front cover). Even this is a tiresome retread of many sci-fi films with the military creating some form of weapon (man or monster) and it is accidentally freed to cause chaos. So the military attempts to stop it and cover everything up. Yadda yadda ya…..you’ve seen it before.

There’s little in the way of back story to this invisible man. In the original, Bacon’s character at least had plenty of human scenes to let us get to know the character. Here the guy is already a complete psycho to begin with so his degeneration into a killing machine doesn’t exactly take a big leap of the imagination…..and he’s already invisible too! So bang goes the money shot of the transformation scene! Christian Slater steps into the role of the doomed invisible man this time and at least Bacon had some screen time in human form in the original. Slater hardly appears at all here and it’s mainly just voiceover work he does. The rest of the cast is filled up with plenty of unknowns whose sole job is to pretend that they are acting in front of an invisible man. Since he hardly appears in flesh form, it’s a no-brainer that most of his ‘screen time’ is taken up with characters talking to spaces where he’s supposed to be. His voice isn’t even that imposing either so I don’t know why he was cast. The special effects aren’t particularly great but there are not an awful lot of them. At least the finale has two invisible men fighting each other in the rain so it’s easy to see where the majority of the cash was spent.

One of the problems with both of the Hollow Man films is that neither really delved into much depth about what everyday people like you or I would do if we were invisible. There are so many ethical and philosophical angles to this dilemma but the films aren’t sophisticated or intelligent enough to deal with this angle. Yes there is a dark side to everyone and so we’d do the silly, juvenile things like spy on people we fancied, maybe have some fun by playing tricks on unsuspecting strangers, etc. but what about putting it to good use? Going undercover and solving crimes maybe? Helping out businesses by acting as a lab rat for security systems? Neither film really touches upon this subject, instead letting the invisible men just run with revenge plots to get even with people who want to shut down their experiments or use it for military purposes.

Being invisible would be a lot of red-blooded males’ fantasies even if they wouldn’t like to admit it. So if this film wasn’t going to be all serious and question the morality of being invisible, then why not take it to the other extreme and go all gratuitous? Horror films shouldn’t find violence, sex and gore as essentials but many a crap b-movie has salvaged itself by featuring boobs and bloods. At least you know the director acknowledges what some horror fans want to see! There are some token kills from the invisible man (at some points this does resemble a slasher film) and there’s even a token breast shot but it’s just wasted because the rest of the film is just filled with recycled garbage full of the usual sci-fi clichés of a man-made weapon going on the loose.


Hollow Man II is a feeble sequel with no fresh slant or ideas on the invisible man story. It’s content to churn out the same stuff we’ve already seen and we’ve already disliked. Being invisible should never be this dull.