Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Invisible Man
by Steve Habrat
While he may not be as popular as Dracula, Frankenstein, or the Mummy, the Invisible Man is still a pretty scary guy. I mean, you can’t see him and he could attack you at anytime! THAT, boys and ghouls, is pretty scary if you ask me. Rooted more in science fiction than straight horror, The Invisible Man is actually one of the best films in the Universal Monster collection. While the sequels didn’t stick as closely to the science fiction/horror mash-up as the original film did, they still managed to remain above average and impressive with their special effects. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of the original The Invisible Man, click here. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews for the sequels to The Invisible Man. Read on if you dare…
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Played by Vincent Price) has just been sentenced to death for the murder of his brother, a crime that he did not commit. While on death row, Radcliffe is visited by Dr. Frank Griffith (Played by John Sutton), the original Invisible Man’s brother, who injects Radcliffe with the infamous invisibility formula. Radcliffe proceeds to escape from prison and sets out to prove his innocence but along the way, he begins to slip into insanity, a horrific side effect of the invisibility formula.
Never as mischievous as the original 1933 The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns doesn’t shy away from causing plenty of mayhem. Not nearly as heavy on the horror and leaning more towards a mixture of science fiction and murder mystery, The Invisible Man Returns is still given an aura of menace with the presence of Vincent Price, a legend that is mostly heard and only briefly seen. With his gentlemanly coos aimed at his fiancé, Helen Manson (Played by Nan Grey), and his sinister guffaws, Price’s Radcliffe is one unpredictable madman who will prove his innocence at any cost, even if that means killing a few people in the process. As the whodunit slowly unravels for the big reveal, we can’t help but wonder if Radcliffe is really any better than the individuals that he is trying to track down. Price has some great chemistry with Grey, but she isn’t really given much to do other than look worried about Radcliffe’s safety. Cecil Kellaway, another familiar Universal face, also shows up as Inspector Sampson, who pieces together Radcliffe’s disappearance.
Much like the original film, The Invisible Man Returns has some jaw dropping special effects, especially incredible for the time in which the film was made. The effects ended up nabbing an Oscar nomination but it sadly didn’t take the award home. Yet director Joe May doesn’t lean on the impressive special effects even though he very well could and no one would blame him. The film, which is based once again on the story by H.G. Wells, doesn’t find the original invisible man, Jack Griffith (Played brilliantly by Claude Rains), rising from the dead to continue his rampage. The film wisely elaborates and continues the story in a clever and respectable fashion. The Invisible Man Returns also runs a full eighty-one minutes, which allows the storyline to fully develop. Overall, it could have been scarier but there are still plenty of extraordinary shocks and thrills throughout The Invisible Man Returns to keep the story engrossing. Plus, it has Vincent Price and how can you argue with that?! Grade: B+
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Feisty model Kitty Caroll (Played by Virginia Bruce) is tired of being pushed around at her job by her insufferable boss. On a whim, she answers a newspaper add posted by the eccentric Professor Gibbs (Played by John Barrymore), an ad that asks for human guinea pigs for his invisibility machine. Professor Gibbs is on the verge of loosing funding from the wealthy playboy Dick Russell (Played by John Howard) but when the invisibility machine works successfully, he launches a campaign to convince Dick that the machine is fully operational. However, the real challenge comes from trying to contain the mischievous Kitty and fighting off local thugs who want to steal the machine.
What little traces of horror you could find in The Invisible Man Returns disappears completely in The Invisible Woman, which was released the same year as the Vincent Price thriller. A cheeky screwball comedy that is more of a wild party, The Invisible Woman is quite a bit of fun if you are in the market for a whole bunch of laughs, but if it is horror you are after, it is best you look elsewhere. It is a bit odd that this film gets lumped in with the Universal Movie Monsters but the film is still a pretty solid watch on its own terms. It is very difficult not to like Bruce as the playful Kitty, who enjoys getting some hilarious revenge on her snippy boss Growley (Played by Charles Lane). The second half of the film morphs into more of a romantic comedy, with Howard’s playboy Dick falling for the leggy Kitty. The budding romance is sweetly written and delivered by the actors, making it an easy pill to swallow. There is also plenty of silliness thrown in from Barrymore’s Professor Gibbs, who acts as a strict father figure for both Dick and Kitty. There is also plenty of physical comedy from Dick’s butler, George (Played by Charles Ruggles), who is constantly mortified or taking a nasty tumble.
The Invisible Woman’s overall quality is done in by the unnecessary addition of the gangster side plot, which finds sinister thug Blackie (Played by Oskar Homolka), trying to steal the invisibility machine. The only good thing that can be said about this side plot is that it gives Ruggles a break from the physical comedy and places it on the shoulders of a slew of extras. Many of the delivered jokes fall flat, mostly because Homolka just isn’t that funny as the jumpy gangster. Even if it technically isn’t a horror film, The Invisible Woman still applies the invisibility aspect smartly and there are plenty of sly remarks made over the fact that Kitty is nude the entire time. There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding this aspect but by today’s standards, it is rather tame. Overall, The Invisible Woman is a sweet little romantic romp that fits nicely in the romantic comedy genre but trips over a pointless gangster subplot that should have been left out completely. Grade: B
Invisible Agent (1942)
The Invisible Man’s grandson, Frank Raymond (Played by Jon Hall), has been trying to live a quiet and normal life in Manhattan. It turns out that Frank still possesses a small amount of the invisibility formula that drove his grandfather insane. Frank soon finds himself approach by secret agents from the Axis powers, who are determined to get their hands on the formula. Frank refuses and makes a narrow escape with the formula in hand. America is soon dragged into World War II and Frank decides to make a deal with the Army—use the invisibility formula to spy on Nazi Germany. The army agrees and Frank is sent behind enemy lines where he does battle with a slew of S.S. buffoons and falls in love with Maria Sorenson (Played by Ilona Massey), a British secret agent.
Stripping away the romantic comedy and acting as part of a war time propaganda movement to boost American morale, Invisible Agent is much more a thriller with some chuckle worthy aspects. Just as it was in The Invisible Woman, the invisibility is often times played for laughs rather than scares. The comedy really takes flight during a scene in which Frank terrorizes a pudgy S.S. officer who lusts after Maria. When Frank isn’t invisible, he is a fairly forgettable character and he even remains a bit dry when he has injected the formula into his bloodstream (shockingly). Massey is certainly the life of the party but her character often times seems too eager to fall in love rather than do anything constructive. Cedric Hardwicke shows up as Conrad Stauffer, an S.S. officer doing anything he can do get his hands on the invisibility formula. Peter Lorre is handed the job of playing Baron Ikito, a Japanese officer with a thing for amputation (just wait for THAT scene). There is no question that Lorre is the most colorful one in Invisible Agent but his character is so obviously American that it is almost hard to take.
Invisible Agent does have plenty of action to thrill us throughout its eighty-one minute run time. The film has lots of impressive aerial battles that find Frank trying to sneak out of Germany with Hitler’s plot to attack New York City. There are plenty of fiery explosions and narrow escapes to have you on the edge of your seat. The downside is that Frank is such a bland hero that it is hard to really care if he makes it out alive. Invisible Agent also boasts some of the most impressive special effects of the series yet, some of them mind-boggling for the time. Overall, as an action thriller, Invisible Agent executes the mission with ease but you will find yourself starting to long for the science fiction chills of the Claude Rains original. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
Robert Griffith (Played by Jon Hall) escapes from prison and makes his way to London to find Jasper and Irene Herrick (Played by Lester Matthews and Gale Sonergaard), a wealthy couple that Robert believes cheated him out of a small fortune years earlier. When the Herricks turn him away, Robert seeks out Dr. Peter Drury (Played by John Carradine), who has created a formula that can turn a man invisible. After demanding that Dr. Drury test the formula on him, the newly invisible Robert sets out to get revenge on the Herricks.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge finds the Invisible Man series moving away from the comedy that The Invisible Woman and Invisible Agent were so fond of and returning to the horror that kicked the franchise off. Not nearly as absorbing as The Invisible Man or The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Man’s Revenge does wrap up the series in a fairly respectable manner even if the story is starting to fade right before our eyes. The real downside to the film is the fact that there is no sympathetic monster at the heart of the terror. The Universal horror films were notorious for including monsters that we actually felt bad for. The Invisible Man’s Revenge serves up a psychotic villain right from the start and refuses to make him a multifarious character. Claude Rains earned our sympathy through the fact that he was desperately trying to outrun madness but in the end he slipped into it. In The Invisible Man Returns, Vincent Price was a man framed for a crime he didn’t commit and his quest for the truth was causing his sanity to deteriorate.
Then we have Jon Hall, who picks up where Rains and Price left off. Hall, who also appeared in Invisible Agent, does a passable job with the role of Robert but he lacks the unruly insanity of Rains or the creeping terror of Price. Still, Hall manages to outshine everyone else in the film, as the rest of the characters seem to disappear from memory when the credits roll. Universal regular Carradine steps in as the gentle doctor who comes face to face with pure evil. Carradine is forced to take a stale role, one that completely takes away from his always-welcome presence. The effects here are just as solid as they were in the other films but near the end, it seems like some of the effects were getting sloppy. Overall, The Invisible Man’s Revenge is running on empty but director Ford Beebe still manages to send the character off on a dark and ominous note. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Mummy
by Steve Habrat
As dark and ominous as they come, the exotic Boris Karloff film is certainly a spine-tingling adventure. While the original Karloff film is a stand alone film, Universal refused to let the Mummy franchise shuffle back into the tomb and in 1940, they rebooted the series with more action, more suspense, more terror, and more mummy. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of the Boris Karloff classic, click here. Without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of The Mummy reboots. Read on if you dare…
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
After unemployed archeologist Steve Banning (Played by Dick Foran) and his assistant, Babe Jenson (Played by Wallace Ford), stumble upon the whereabouts of the hidden tomb of Egyptian Princess Ananka, the duo sets out to find funding for their new expedition. The duo finds funding from jolly American magician Slovani (Played by Cecil Kellaway), who tags along on their quest with his beautiful daughter Marta (Played by Peggy Moran). The group believes that this new discovery will make them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams but they accidentally awaken an ancient curse that stirs Kharis (Played by Tom Tyler), a mummy that guards the tomb of Princess Ananka. As Kharis slowly rips his way through the members of Banning’s expedition, the sinister high priest Professor Andoheb (Played by George Zucco) is revealed to be controlling the mummy and he has his eyes on a bigger prize—Marta.
While more of a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff original The Mummy, The Mummy’s Hand actually manages to be a bit more entertaining than the Karloff classic. Heavy on the serial style action and lighter on the creepy-crawly horror, the film certainly flirts with a B-movie aura but that only adds to the fun to be had. Where the original film only allowed us to see the mummy for a total of five minutes at most, director Christy Cabanne doesn’t shy away from showing us this undead fiend. He never takes on a human form in this Mummy installment and I must say that I enjoyed the film even more because of it. While Karloff was certainly creepy in the role, Tyler’s mummy is a hellish sight to behold, especially when we get a revolting close-up that reveals black holes for eyes and a twisted gimp arm. The mummy ends up being an indestructible puppet for a less interesting puppet master but he still manages to make your skin crawl when he shuffles in for the attack.
The Mummy’s Hand certainly has its fair share of comic relief to break up this roller coaster ride. Ford’s Babe Jenson is a mouthy sidekick that delivers one sly remark after another. Foran’s Banning is the typical tall, dark, and handsome hero who is constantly throwing himself in between the attacking mummy and Marta, who is usually tied up and screaming. There is also the buffoonish magician Slovani, who seems like he is only in front of the camera to perform some mildly impressive magic tricks but you won’t hear me complaining about him. At just barely over an hour, the film’s evil plot suffers a bit but the characters are all so animated that we barely even notice the moldy story. The film also hilariously borrows footage from the original Mummy movie and shamelessly steals the score from Son of Frankenstein, a cheap approach but never very distracting. Overall, The Mummy’s Hand may not send you fleeing in terror from it but as a rollicking serial-esque romp with a few tense spots, I don’t think you can really go wrong with it. Grade: B+
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
Thirty years after Steve Banning (Played by Dick Foran) sent the mummy Kharis to a fiery grave, an Egyptian high priest named Mehemet Bey (Played by Turhan Bey) travels to America with Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) to eliminate the surviving members of the Banning expedition and any descendents they may have. As the body count rises, the local citizens believe that they have a flesh and blood killer on their hands, but all hell breaks loose when they discover that the killer may be supernatural.
About as rickety as they come, The Mummy’s Tomb barely clocks in at an hour. Ten minutes of that hour are dedicated to giving us a quick refresher over the events of The Mummy’s Hand. This refresher comes in the form of lifting key scenes from The Mummy’s Hand and interlacing the scenes into a story told by the much older Banning. The other fifty minutes of The Mummy’s Tomb speeds by with plenty of nonstop suspense that is surprisingly effective even if it was made on the cheap. The overall appearance of the mummy, this time portrayed by Universal’s favorite son, Lon Chaney, Jr, is especially ghastly. Here, the mummy is missing an eye and has a charred mug that makes him even more repulsive than he already is. Chaney isn’t really given room to do anything creative with the roll and he basically resorts to mimicking the movements of Tom Tyler. Honestly, you wouldn’t even know it was Chaney in the make-up unless you were told.
The Mummy’s Tomb has a difficult time settling on one hero, bouncing in between the aging Banning and his valiant son John (Played by John Hubbard), who is forced to once again destroy the shuffling ghoul with fire. Wallace Ford pops in for a cameo as Babe, a cameo that doesn’t ask him to do anything except run down a dark alley and make a half-assed attempt to get away from the mummy. Surprisingly, Bey gives a fairly measured performance as the mummy’s puppet master. He is basically after the same thing that Andoheb was after but he is a bit creepier about it. Over before you even realize it, The Mummy’s Tomb is creaky B-movie horror that has an impressive monster, a unique setting, and plenty of atmospheric shadows to make this a quick fix that satisfies a monster movie craving. Grade: B-
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
Taking place many years after the events of The Mummy’s Tomb, the year is now 1970 and yet another new High Priest, Yousef Bey (Played by John Carradine), has traveled from Egypt to Mapleton, Massachusetts, to find the body of the mummy Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) and his dead lover, Ananka. Yet before Yousef can make it to Mapleton, Kharis is accidentally awoken from his slumber and begins attacking innocent civilians. When Yousef arrives, he discovers that Ananka’s soul has been reincarnated in the body of a beautiful young Egyptian woman named Amina Mansori (Played by Ramsay Ames). Meanwhile, the local detectives race to destroy the mummy before he can kill again.
Doing virtually nothing to set itself apart from The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost shuffles by on basically the same plot as its predecessor. I will admit that, in a way, it is sort of funny the way the script continues to rehash the mummy’s origin and recycle the same plotline. Yet you will find yourself unable to dislike The Mummy’s Ghost because it finds Chaney giving the moldy monster a small amount of personality and the film packs a pretty bleak climax. Here, Kharis is sent into uncontrollable rages as his lover is yanked just out of his deathly reach and the way that director Reginald Le Borg allows Kharis to stalk the shadows of suburbia are very effective even if it is a bit obvious that Chaney is limping around a set. The film also gets a boost from the presence of Carradine, who seems more comfortable in an Egyptian fez than Dracula’s cape.
As the film goes on, the rest of the cast slowly fades into the background. Robert Lowery plays the same hero that we have seen in the previous Mummy films. Here he is Amina’s brainy boyfriend, Tom Hervey, who may not be able to quite save the day. A clever and surprising touch for a film that is so formulaic. Ames is the eye candy as she prances around and faints at the mere mention of Egypt or the sight of Kharis. Rounding out the main players is Frank Reicher as Professor Norman, who examined some of the mummy murders when Kharis stocked Mapleton the first time. Here he makes the careless mistake of waking him up with the brew of nine tana leaves. You’d think he’d know better! The film’s climax ends with the typical chase as the hero stumbles after the mummy, who slowly shuffles through the woods with Amina in his arms. You’d think that Tom would be able to catch him but that Kharis must have one hell of a lead. Overall, The Mummy’s Ghost is a shameless rehash that contains a few interesting plot advancements and a chilling final sequence but really nothing more. You’ll be convinced that you are re-watching The Mummy’s Tomb. Grade: C+
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
Twenty-five years after Kharis disappeared into a watery grave, an irrigation project in Cajun Country has unearthed the body of the mummy Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). The body falls into the hands of Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Played by Peter Coe), a secret High Priest who awakens the mummy with his partner, Ragheb (Played by Martin Kosleck). Kharis begins wandering the swamps looking for the remains of his lover, Ananka (Played by Virginia Christine), who has also risen from the muddy grave and is under the supervision of the protective Dr. James Halsey (Played by Dennis Moore).
Released the same year as The Mummy’s Ghost, The Mummy’s Curse is the last installment of Universal’s slowly decaying Mummy franchise. Avoiding the rehash trap that The Mummy’s Ghost fell
into, The Mummy’s Curse is slightly rejuvenated through a fresh setting and a creepy sequence in which Ananka’s body rises out of the muddy swamp. The setting, which also happens to be the film’s biggest plot hole, has inexplicably moved from a swamp in Mapleton, Massachusetts to superstitious Cajun Country. Once again, Chaney is hidden behind the rotten bandages and the blistery burns but this time, they feel cheaply done and Chaney himself seems to have checked out of the role of Kharis. Christine is gorgeous as the undead swamp queen who knows quite a bit about ancient Egypt. Sadly, no one else is memorable or makes a ripple in this muddy puddle.
The highlight moment of The Mummy’s Curse is the scene in which Ananka slithers out of her muddy resting place and begins wandering the swamp like a ghostly specter. It is easily the only creepy moment in The Mummy’s Curse and the only scene that suggests that director Leslie Goodwins was attempting to make anything artistically worthwhile. At just an hour long, this could be the driest of the Mummy movies, the one that seems to be moving just as slow as Kharis. It lacks an arching evil plot and the only spooks outside of Ananka’s emergence come when the workers draining the swamps trade jittery stories about ghosts. Overall, The Mummy’s Curse could have ended much worse but there are small aspects to admire. Sadly, this supernatural adventure gets stuck in the swampy mud and just barely gets loose. Grade: C-
The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse are all available on DVD.