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.
by Steve Habrat
Nothing says Halloween like Frankenstein, the iconic horror story penned by Mary Shelley. The legendary tale has it all: walking corpses, gothic castles, mad scientists, hunchbacks, and misty graveyards. If that doesn’t scream Halloween then I don’t know what does. Shortly after the success of Dracula, Universal unleashed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, two horror classics that are still celebrated today and beloved by every single horror fan on the planet. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s reviews of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, click here for Frankenstein or click here for Bride of Frankenstein. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of the Frankenstein sequels.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Picking up several years after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein’s son, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Played by Basil Rathbone), returns to his father’s castle with his wife, Elsa (Played by Josephine Hutchinson), and his young son, Peter (Played by Donnie Dunagan). Eager to repair his father’s reputation, Wolf quickly discovers that local villagers are not so eager to forgive for the abomination that his father created. Wolf soon finds himself approached by the demented Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi), who wants Wolf to bring the Monster (Played by Boris Karloff) back from the dead. Wolf reluctantly agrees with the hopes of restoring his father’s legacy but with the reanimation of the Monster, death and destruction once again tear through the countryside.
If Universal would have ended its Frankenstein series with Son of Frankenstein, then it could have ranked as one of the greatest trilogies to ever come out of Hollywood. Wrapping things up quite horrifically, director Rowland V. Lee tells one of the heartiest tales Frankenstein’s Monster ever received and it is all the better for it. Immensely satisfying and surprisingly eerie, Karloff once again shines as everyone’s favorite grunting brute corpse as he shuffles about the twisted landscape. It would become the last time Karloff would ever don that famous make-up and boy does he go out with a bang. While he lacks much of the understanding and humanity that he did in Bride of Frankenstein (my personal favorite Universal Monster movie), he still gives the Monster heaping amounts of personality. Karloff does end up playing second fiddle to Lugosi, who gives one hell of a performance as Ygor, a raspy grave robber who somehow survived a hanging and now has a deformed neck.
As far as the supporting players go, Rathbone is adequate as a man who refuses to own up to what he has created. Rathbone consistently plays off of Lionel Atwill’s one-armed Inspector Krogh, who is being forced into reprimanding Wolf even though he believes that he isn’t the criminal the rambling villagers think he is. The film applies a nightmarish German Expressionist vision to the terror, making everything seem slightly surreal as Karloff and Lugosi lurch about the rocky landscape. The film really takes hold when Wolf’s son Peter begins explaining that a giant has paid him a visit, a confession that will give you the creeps. Overall, Son of Frankenstein stands as the last great Universal Frankenstein film, one that still manages to terrify to this very day. An unsung winner from Universal’s glory days. Grade: A-
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Taking place shortly after the events of Son of Frankenstein, the horrific devastation that took place at Frankenstein’s castle still looms over the nearby village. Many villagers believe that Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi) is still alive and is desperately trying to find the body of Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). It turns out that Ygor has indeed found the body of the Monster caught and preserved in the sulfur that he was pushed into by Wolf von Frankenstein. The villagers soon storm the ruins of the castle and run Ygor and the Monster, who has been weakened due to the sulfur exposure, out of town. Ygor decides to travel to the nearby village of Vasaria to find Ludwig Frankenstein (Played by Cedric Hardwicke), the second son of Henry Frankenstein, with the hopes that he can restore the Monster to his full strength. Ludwig begins studying the Monster with the hopes of destroying it once and for all, but a visit from his father’s apparition pleads with him to perfect the creation.
At a brief sixty-seven minutes, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems like lukewarm scraps that should have been thrown out rather than reheated. Despite a tepid script and a nonsensical storyline that is slightly convoluted, The Ghost of Frankenstein still has a few surprises that keep things just barely shuffling along. Chaney does a surprisingly decent job as the Monster, who once again doesn’t show the degree of humanity that Karloff did in Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. Chaney is much better as this monster than he was as Dracula but he will always be the best at the Wolf-Man, a role he should have stuck to but I guess someone had to step in and fill Karloff’s shoes. Meanwhile, Lugosi once again steals the show as the unhinged freak Ygor, who wants to use the Monster to cause as much destruction as he possibly can. Despite a lot of silliness, Lugosi plays for keeps. Thankfully, he comes out unscathed. Then there is Hardwicke, who seems rather disinterested as Ludwig, a man who has been blackmailed into reviving the Monster. He certainly doesn’t live up to the other two Frankenstein boys.
A step down in the production department, The Ghost of Frankenstein feels frustratingly stale and downright meaningless. It is obviously a quick cash grab on the Frankenstein name and it is hard to forgive Universal for that, especially after that trio of treasures that they delivered before this. The film has very few creepy moments to speak of but the atmosphere of the original three films is long gone. Still, Chaney works hard to keep things on the ghoulish track and the ever-colorful Lugosi aids him along. I will admit that I did enjoy the morbid twist at the end of film, a twist that involves a quick brain swap with fiery results. Overall, it is far from my favorite Universal horror film but I believe you can do much, much worse. It just hurts to see the high quality Frankenstein series deteriorate into such an unimaginative mess. Grade: C
The House of Frankenstein (1944)
After the vengeful Dr. Gustav Niemann (Played by Boris Karloff) escapes from prison with the help of his hunchback assistant Daniel (Played by J. Carrol Naish), he sets out to find the three men responsible for his imprisonment. After murdering a traveling showman and taking over his roaming horror show, Dr. Niemann unleashes Dracula (Played by John Carradine), the Wolf-Man (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Glenn Strange) to get revenge on those who have wronged him. As their rampage tears through multiple villages, Dr. Niemann and Daniel begin to fear that they may also fall victim to the horrors that they have unleashed.
Released a year before the weary House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein marked the first time that all of Universal’s headlining monsters were together in one smash horror show. A bit smoother than House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is carried by the mere presence of Karloff, who here is portraying the mad doctor rather than the big green Monster. While Karloff seems to be enjoying the fact that he isn’t caked with make-up, the real star here is Naish’s hunchback Daniel, a tragic soul who lusts after a beautiful gypsy Ilonka (Played by Elena Verdugo). Daniel longs for a better body, which he believes would allow him to win over Ilonka’s affection. It is even more tragic to see Daniel pitted against Larry Tolbot/the Wolf-Man, who seems to be the apple of Ilonka’s eye. The House of Frankenstein also finds Glenn Strange stepping in as the Frankenstein Monster, once again played as a grunting brute with very little emotion. Carradine also makes an appearance as Dracula, who flies off with the film’s most thrilling sequence.
Much like House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is really straining to keep itself together for its seventy-one minute run. The film really works due to the surprisingly strong conflict between the Daniel and Larry; a feud that we know will not have a positive outcome. Still, the plot finding Dr. Niemann using these creatures to exact revenge is a much sharper idea than all of them wanting to be cured of their curses. While it doesn’t mark the last appearance of all these ghouls in one film, it really should have acted as their last appearance on the big screen. Overall, The House of Frankenstein is a mildly enjoyable undead soirée that should have closed the coffin lid on these decomposing beasts from Hell. Grade: C+
Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and The House of Frankenstein are all available on DVD.