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.
The Food of the Gods (1976)
by Steve Habrat
Let’s just be honest here and admit that there are only a handful of notable horror films that deal with animals lashing out at humans. My personal favorites have to be 1954’s Them! and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Them! because the giant ants are so gloriously cheesy yet effective and The Birds because it is a prime example of Hitchcock building unbearable suspense. If you are looking for an animal-attack B-movie that should be the definition of schlocky, look no further than Bert I. Gordon’s 1976 film The Food of the Gods, which is loosely based off H.G. Well’s novel The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth. With absolutely horrendous special effects and some cringe worthy acting, The Food of the Gods is a gratuitously violent midnight movie with some great moments of unintended hilarity. Featuring gigantic attacking rodents, wasps, worms, and, most memorably, chickens, The Food of the Gods is the type of movie that requires you have downed at least a six pack of beer before deciding to subject yourself to it.
After a mysterious milky slime bumbles up from the ground on a secluded island in British Columbia, an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Skinner (Played by John McLiam and Ida Lupino), stumble upon it and see it as a gift from God. They decide to feed it to their chickens, causing them to grow to incredible sizes. A short while later, pro football player Morgan (Played by Marjoe Gortner) and two of his friends, Davis (Played by Chuck Courtney) and Brian (Played by Jon Cypher) take a hunting trip to the island where Davis is attacked and killed by giant wasps. Morgan and Brian leave the island but are lured back to seek out what really killed Davis. While exploring the island, they run in to a money hungry businessman, Jack Bensington (Played by Ralph Meeker), his assistant, Lorna (Played by Pamela Franklin), and a young couple, Rita (Played by Belinda Balaski) and Thomas (Played by Tom Stovall), who happen to be with child. After missing the ferry to get off the island, the small group finds themselves relentlessly attacked by giant rodents eager to rip them to bloody chunks. The group meets up with the God-fearing Mrs. Skinner and decides to barricade themselves in her home in an attempt to survive until the ferry returns.
Director Gordon was no stranger to giant critters attacking humans, as he made several films throughout the 50s and 60s that tackled the subject and gained himself the nickname “Mr. B.I.G”, which referred to his initials and the size of the antagonists in his films. The Food of the Gods seems like it a forgotten film from the atomic age just with more severed limbs and blood splashes. The film somehow ended up with a PG rating even though there is tons of gore to satisfy the entire family. The Food of the Gods is devoid of any real subtext or message outside of a warning to treat the environment with some respect because you never know when it may lash out at you (riveting stuff). The film also features some of the most hysterical actions from the cast that you will ever see. At one point, Lorna suggests that her and Morgan make love before the giant rats find a way into the boarded up home and eat them. I don’t know about you but stopping for a quick lay would be the LAST thing on my mind if I was trying to stay alive but I guess everyone is different!
If you aren’t giggling over the dated special effects, the overacting will have you in stitches. Gortner, who happened to be an ex-evangelist and spiritual healer (no joke) before he leapt to the big screen, is probably the best one in the entire film. He plays his role stone-faced and never once stops to laugh at all the absurdity he faces, even when he is asked to do battle with a giant chicken, which is the film’s highlight moment. The other notable player is Lupino as Mrs. Skinner, who hams it up begging God to save her from being devoured by giant rats. She gets a nasty bit that features her arm getting chewed off by giant mechanical worms. Everyone else is largely forgettable or just too ridiculous for words. Meeker is the typical jerk who lives too long but dies nice and gruesomely. Franklin is stuck with the worst dialogue in The Food of the Gods, her crowning moment coming when she suggests sex over trying to stay alive. Balaski is reduced to the cowering blob and Stovall spends too much time complaining about everything Morgan does to try to stay alive.
The Food of the Gods builds up to a violent last stand that features the destruction of a nearby dam that floods half the island, sending the giant rats to a watery grave (I’m being serious). Many of the special effects that we see are actually mini sets with rats scurrying over toy cars and plastic trees, all of which are extremely obvious. The one aspect of the film that actually impressed me were the scenes in which rats would be blown away by blasts from Morgan’s shotgun. These scenes feature live rats being thrown through the air as fake candle wax blood pours from their wounds. The climax of the film resembles the final stand in The Birds but without any apocalyptic chills running up and down your spine. Gordon opts to have the creamy ooze get in water which is drunk by cows on a nearby farm. The final scene is a child chugging a carton of tainted milk, hinting that there may be a sequel featuring a giant child (now THAT is scary). Overall, The Food of the Gods is a film that you could tolerate on a drunken double feature evening but just make sure that it is at the bottom of the bill so you have a nice buzz by the time you throw it on.
The Food of the Gods is available on DVD.
by Corinne Rizzo
To put the breaks on third person narrative, if you asked me what my top five favorite books were, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is somewhere near the top three. Nowhere near five, but probably not one. The story line spoke to me one day in my senior year of high school (which at the time was required reading), and I finished the book almost overnight leaving me as the leader of discussion in class and in turn, the teacher’s pet. More than that though, Frankenstein and his Monster showed me that I wanted to write and that I could write and that I should write. Not that I ever had an interest in fiction, but imagine if one could find a story just as weird in reality and be able to share it in a style that got people really thinking about god and life and death—things, I believe average minds don’t consider on a daily basis. Like Frankenstein himself, I was on the brink of my greatest discovery and literature and I haven’t parted since.
As Dr. Frankenstein abandons house and home to bring life to this creature that he has scavenged graveyards and laboratories for, he becomes so overwhelmed with the idea of bringing a life into this world that he totally overlooks the natural processes of things. He has a fiancée and she’s dedicated and beautiful—why don’t they just go through the motions of creating life the way we all know how? This is a thought the viewer might only consider when sitting down to write a review because throughout the film as we watch those short moments before the Monster comes to life, it is easy to see that the man is passionate and should be left to his work. Plus, I wouldn’t mess with a madman like the good doctor. He’s got his sights set and isn’t interested in what gets in the way.
Science is the answer for Frankenstein and it is not biology, but electro-biology. He serves to show that life can be brought upon the dead by a single ray that surrounds us daily. But other oversights begin to come into play as he gets his Monster up and running; he realizes that he has taken no interest in where the organs and limbs originated, or who they belonged to. In fact, he has implanted the brain of a criminal into his Monster and with total faith in science, believes that it will have no ill effect on his creation.
When the Monster kills off a loyal professor of his and innocent people living in the hillside, it is then that Dr. Frankenstein has come to the conclusion too late that faith and science are not tools that work in harmony. Like oil and water, when science failed him, Frankenstein was left to faith to decide that his Monster would not be criminally minded as he was warned.
Before I go on any longer sounding like a prewriting exercise for a thesis paper, and I could literally ramble on all day about the film, you should see it. It is the epitome of classic and a gateway to the literature behind it. In fact, while you’re at it, you should read The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. The entire line of Universal Monster Movies is a lesson in the classics and will leave the viewer needing to know more. Leave us a comment if we can answer any questions, or seek them out yourself on the giant encyclopedia that is the internet. Watch clips, see the art that has been inspired by these films. It is a microcosm that one should at least test out before writing off.
When deciding which film to watch first in the entire collection, ask yourself if you want to save the best for last. Then decide whether you should watch Frankenstein first or last because if you watch it dead center of all the other films in the series, you’ll be thrown for a loop and have to go back and watch the other ones again.
Top Five Reasons to See Frankenstein:
Actually—there is no top five. You should just go see it.
The Invisible Man (1933)
by Corinne Rizzo
On the second day, there was The Invisible Man, and it was good.
A film inspired by and named after the H. G. Wells novel, The Invisible Man is an interesting addition to this week’s selection of Universal Movie Monsters. This film, overlooked and underrated by some enthusiasts is a fearless and masterful peek into the evolution of the movie monsters.
Released years before The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man is a film based on a scientist who had chosen himself as his own test subject, ultimately turning himself invisible and it is at that point that the viewer is introduced to this scientist as The Invisible Man. There is no waiting for his character to develop and his unraveling comes quick.
The film opens as a walking bandage, outfitted in a suit, hat and glasses, stumbles through the snow, uphill to a tavern where he hopes to seek refuge from the cold and the privacy to bring himself back to a visible state. The hat and glasses are what cause this character to look suspicious at first, especially to the patrons of the bar, then at second glance, the bandages, gloves, and wig all come together to help the viewer understand that as we meet The Invisible Man, the damage has already been done. The viewer has no choice but to take interest in his advanced state as it has been given freely. The viewer is granted permission to sit back and watch what an invisible man will do.
Stating that every month for a year The Invisible Man has injected himself with a serum designed precisely for that purpose, the audience becomes aware that this is no ordinary scientist, though he might have started that way. The Invisible Man’s character quickly jumps from one of embarrassment and desperation of becoming normal again to a crazed mad man, as if this serum is destroying his better judgment by the minute. One minute, our man is beating himself up about not being able to reverse his discovery and the next, he is raving about how menacing it is to be invisible and how he could never be caught.
And with that notion our Invisible Man becomes quite maniacal, but also so straight forward with his madness that it comes across as slightly humorous. Directly communicating to his lab partner upon returning back to his home town that he will kill him at a ten o’clock on the dot the next day, elaborating to include that he will be strangled and left for dead and that no one would ever be able to find his killer doesn’t sound funny, but one might be surprised by how a straight talking invisible cowboy of a man, could be so cynical and darkly humorous.
The film is filled with these no nonsense anecdotes and as The Invisible Man begins to feel more and more empowered by his discovery, he begins to act more irrationally.
The authorities in this film, as well as the mob of drunks looking to destroy The Invisible Man and his horrible ways have a hard time finding him, which also lends to a certain humor. Firstly, the police in the film are slow moving St. Bernard types who are easily bamboozled by The Invisible Man and that there always seems to be a gaggle of drunkards following them all just adds to a very Three Stooges like setting.
Taking advantage of a snowy day and the fact that The Invisible Man must be naked in order to evade his captors, the entire town which awkwardly hosted him in the beginning of the film eventually outnumbers The Invisible Man and brings him down, signaled only by a seizure of foot prints in the snow and a sudden human sized dent in the snow adjacent to the stalled prints.
What is interesting about the end of the film is that the viewer learns that the serum’s effectiveness dies as The Invisible Man becomes nearer and nearer to his own death. It is at that point that one might find themselves with the sudden realization that a whole hour and ten minutes has passed and in no way had they wondered what The Invisible Man actually looked like.
Like a gift from Universal Monster Movie heaven, the audience is granted permission to see the scientist as a visible and physical being, something a viewer might not have even considered given that the film is so darned entertaining in its own cynical and darkly humorous way.
This film, though released nearly a decade before The Wolf Man, is in many ways superior in building suspense and maintaining a certain tone of indecency that is truly horrific.
Top Five Reasons to see The Invisible Man:
1) A pair of pants goes trotting down a country road singing “Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May”.
2) You might just go the whole film without wondering what our man looks like.
3) The love affair in the film just doesn’t matter.
4) The bar maid is way more out of her mind than The Invisible Man is.
5) It’s just a way cool concept that trumps things like werewolves.