According to Invisible Man lore, once you go vanish, your sanity will banish – meaning of course that after undergoing the injection, a common side effect is a noticable change in your personality. Maybe this explains the identity issues the Invisible Man franchise had over it’s third an forth entries that saw an invisible woman take on the mob and an invisible agent stick it to the Nazi’s. While the results were mixed (Invisible Agent is actually pretty fun), one thing the movies were missing was an overdue return to it’s original ideals – where was the erosion of sanity, where was the thrills of having an unseen marauder in your midst, in short: where were the mad scientists in this mad scientist series?
In 1944, Universal decided to go back to the roots of The Invisible Man by having an utter nutter once again be the recipient of cinema’s most extreme makeover and all the iconography that goes with it (The bandages/trenchcoat/goggles ensemble makes a welcome return) – but will this return to horror/thriller territory also mean a return to form?
Robert Griffin returns to his old stomping ground with an eye of revenge after a murderous escape from a mental institution in Cape Town and sets his sights on the well-to-do family he feels wronged him. That family is the wealthy Herricks and he holds them not only responsible for an accident that left him for dead in the African wild, but he wants his share of the diamond mine they found while on safari. After being told that the mine has been lost thanks to some bad investments, Griffin’s next demand is then the hand in marriage of the Herrick’s daughter Julie, but after a strange reaction to alcohol, he’s taken out like the trash and left to fend for himself. After a further, feeble attempt at blackmail is similarly walloped back like Boris Becker returning a serve from a six year old child, Griffin stumbles on far more extreme methods to get what he wants and teams up with rogue scientist Dr. Peter Drury who has been dicking around with an invisibility serum that’s so far resulted in a house full of transparent animals – although I can’t imagine why the fuck would you want invisible pets, surely cleaning up their invisible scat alone would be a nightmare beyond reckoning.
Declining to be Drury’s guinea pig, Griffin uses his newfound transparency to wage war on the Herricks instead, employing fear tactics to persuade them to transfer all their wealth and properties over to him – but his main target remains Julie Herricks. It seems that he’ll finally get all that’s promised to him if he cane regain his visible status via a blood transfusion, but this is where Griffin recrosses the line from stalky lunatic to cold blooded murderer, but will Julie’s reporter fiance, Mark Foster, manage to get to the bottom of things?
This fifth installment of the Invisible section of the Universal Monsters pantheon was technically the last gasp of the character as the next time the invisibility serum was seen (so to speak) it was in the employ of Abbott & Costello, and the notion was mined for broad comedy much in the same way Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man and even the Mummy was. With this in mind, it’s kind of gratifying that this final “straight” movie goes some way to reclaim much of the menace the original and ends up being probably the best of all the sequels.
Helping immensely is the fact that for the first time since a megalomaniac Claude Raines bellowed his lungs out at bunch of terrified barflies, the Invisible character is once again an antagonist instead of the protagonist – and what an antagonist he is.
Even before getting jabbed with Drury’s serum (and if you let David Carradine inject you with anything, you probably deserve what you get) Griffin seems to be two Hobbits short of a Fellowship to start with after betrayal and numerous blows to the head has left his sanity a tattered wreck. Paranoid and prone to violence, Griffin is robustly played by Jon Hall, who interestingly enough also played the invisible hero in the previous adventure Invisible Agent and thus proves his range when playing see-through leads. The added notion of Griffin having to drain victims of every drop of blood via a transfusion in order to temporarily regain the ability to be seen adds a nicely ghoulish wrinkle to the basic formula.
However, the movie isn’t exactly interested in filling in plot holes: the riddle of whether or not Griffin actually was hoodwinked by the Herricks is left untouched although Lady Irene’s apparent drugging of Griffin to get him out of the house is insanely suspicious – did all rich people during the 40’s have drugging materials close at hand at all times? Actually, now I think about it – probably… Also the movie seems to be blissfully unaware of how blood transfusions actually work as Griffin seems strangely unconcerned about finding a match to his blood type simply tries to pump the plasma out of any poor sap he can belt unconscious – but these aren’t massive problems that should effect a sci-fi/thriller from the 40’s.
The invisible visual effects aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but are used well – Griffin splashing his face with water to scare someone with a ghostly image of his face is as best a use of the gimmick as seen in the series thus far, but despite this return to more classic Invisible Man tropes it was to be the end of the series as we knew it. In fact an extended sequence where Griffin helps a stuttering lackey cheat at a game of darts harkens at where the series would ultimately end up – with an unseen lug helping Abbott And Costello rig boxing matches in 1951.
But still, with the re-emergence of some of H.G. Wells’ original themes, this final, “straight” Invisible Man entry is a sight worth seeing.