THE INVISIBLE MAN (OCTOBER 4TH)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
I have a confession to make. For someone who professes to be an avid horror fan, I've not actually seen as many of the old classics as I should have done. My defence is that as I was growing up and discovering my love for the genre, the 'older' films that appealed to me and became 'classics' in my head were films like The Shining and The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I didn't really have too much of an appreciation for the stuff that came before this. I was after stuff that was 'scary' and liable to give me nightmares, the prospect of PG-rated black and white movies held little appeal back then. And whilst I am now in awe of the stuff that was being made in the early days of horror and have seen a number of titles from that era, I still haven't seen anywhere near the amount I should have done.
Luckily for me, I have had a rather awesome blu-ray box set of Universal Classics sitting on my shelf for about a year now. I've already got through The Wolf Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (both of which I loved) and today I plumped for another revered classic that I am ashamed to say I haven't made the effort of watching all these years. The Invisible Man (1933).
This movie is perhaps one of the first horror-comedies every made and it's a joy to watch. I mean, I know that some people look at these early films with rose-tinted glasses and can be guilty of heaping praise on a film because they feel they 'should do'. And then there's the other crowd who sneer at this kind of stuff because it feels 'dated' (people like me when I was about 19). But this is a real treat.
The story starts with a man turning up at an inn in the middle of nowhere looking for a place to spend the night. The locals are instantly suspicious as he's completely covered, from head to toe. A thick jacket, gloves, and fabric around his face. Has he been in a horrible accident and is burnt all over? Or maybe he's on the run from the police and is trying to hide his identity? Nope – he's actually carried out an experiment on himself (he's a scientist) and as a result, has turned invisible. However, that's not all. It turns out that the concoction he has been on in an effort to achieve invisibility also has some nasty side effects – namely, turning into an ego-maniacal nut-job intent on world domination.
The source material for this is H.G. Wells 1897 novel of the same name and it really is remarkable how it still stands up. Amongst all the hilarity and violence (he derails a goddamn train so it falls off a cliff at one point!) the underlying themes of the abuse and fear of science are never far from the surface. 'My darling... I failed. I meddled in things that man must leave alone.' The message is loud and clear. Don't try and play God, capiche?
However, as relevant as all that is, it's never too in your face because you are far too busy chuckling at the Invisible Man's (played by Claude Rains) dialogue. Some examples.
- "Put a warm rug in the car. It's cold outside when you have to go about naked".
- "I'm frozen. Cold enough to freeze the icicles off an Eskimo."
- "An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody will see him come, nobody will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and rape, and kill!"
He's probably the most agitated, rude antagonist out there. He pulls off some greats pranks whilst invisible too. Chucking people's hats in the river, knocking people off bicycles, slapping people, bashing a policeman's head in with a chair. Haha, all good fun!
But the real stand-out performance here is the special effects (engineered by John P. Fulton, John J. Mescall and Frank D. Williams). For something made six year before the outbreak of the First World War, they are quite something. Some of the best moments are seeing choreographed scenes where the Invisible Man runs amok, moving furniture out of his way, opening a window, kicking someone in the nuts. It's brilliant.
If I were to ever nit-pick here I would probably say that any empathy towards the Invisible Man is virtually non-existant throughout the story as we only ever know him as a moody, enitled asshole of a scientist. Sure, the girl that he's sweet on might mention that he's a nice guy really, but spending a few minutes with the character BEFORE he turned invisible might have been beneficial. But then again, who the hell am I to tell James Whale what to put in his films!
There have of course been countless sequels (which I will try and track down as a matter of urgency) but from all accounts it don't get better than this – and I can see why.