Of all the classic Universal Monster movies, The Invisible Man seems to be the most unknown, living in the impeccable shadow of its brothers Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. This may be because The Invisible Man by definition, isn’t a monster, but a insane scientist made invisible by his own experiments. There is nothing supernatural about him, making this almost as much science fiction as it is horror. But whatever genre you place it in, it remains a spooky and exciting story that deserves just as much appreciation as it’s more famous counterparts.
The film opens with a mysterious stranger, his head swathed in bandages and his eyes covered by large, circular goggles as he checks into a room at The Lion’s Head inn, in the quintessential English village of Iping. The man demands to be left alone, but causes a mess and falls behind on the rent, forcing the owner to ask him to leave. The stranger doesn’t take this too well. Angered that no one will leave him to his work, he assaults the owner by throwing him down a set of stairs, before returning to ‘his’ room. The locals then contact their local bobby (who hilariously doesn’t seem too concerned with the whole ordeal) and they go to confront the stranger. It all heads south when the stranger removes his bandages and clothes, revealing himself to be The Invisible Man (Claude Rains). He laughs maniacally, tormenting and chasing off the villagers in a fantastically written scene that is surprisingly comical. It is revealed later that our Invisible Man is scientist Jack Griffin, who discovers the secret of invisibility when testing a mysterious drug called Monocane. What he doesn’t know however, is that the drug is extremely dangerous, causing insanity to anyone who uses it. After failing to find a cure for himself, it soon becomes too late for Dr Griffin as he quickly descends into madness, wanting to take over the world with his powers and “invisible armies”. He forcibly recruits his fellow colleague Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), but before Griffin can start his reign of terror, he needs to deal with the manhunt established by the police, leading to all out war.
The real reason to see this film, is for Claude Rains. Though you don’t see his face until the end, his voice and movements completely steal the show, making him all the more impressive. He somehow pulls off being sympathetic and insanely ruthless at the same time, with his rambling speeches being the highlight of his performance. He sure has great screen presence for an invisible person that’s for sure. By 1933 standards, the special effects are simply amazing. From floating items of clothing to self riding bicycles, it definitely dazzled audiences from 80 years ago, and it should do the same to you too. Remember this is long before computers, so the whole production relied solely on optical effects. Expect to see invisible footprints appear in snow and even a train derailed (a model of course), as the chaos of Griffins rage increases and seems to know no bounds. As well as being a spooky little tale, this is by far the funniest monster movie from Universal. This comedy comes with Griffins gleeful tormenting nature: stealing hats atop locals heads, spilling ink over the police chief and even singing and dancing while wearing only trousers (that appear to be floating to onlookers), one could mistake it for an Abbot and Costello sketch. This mix of moods will keep viewers on their toes, making you laugh one scene and hold your breath the next.
The Invisible Man is perhaps the most underrated horror classic of all time. It may not be particularly frightening in terms of scares, but it makes up for the lack of jumps with buckets of creepy atmosphere. Watch in the dark on a cold night, you’re in for a fun ride.
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