31 Horror Films (2014) #13 The Invisible Man 1933 Dir. James Whale

The Invisible Man 1933 Dir. James Whale

I began my horror education, as many before me, with the Universal Monster films. These films, running in three “cycles”, began with Tod Browning’s film adaptation of “Dracula” in 1931, and ended with The Creature Walks Among Us, the third in the Creature From the Black Lagoon trilogy in 1956. Terrifying for the time period in which they were created, many of these films found new life in the burgeoning medium of television in the 1950s and 60s. The Universal Monster series should be on any horror fans viewing list, because with these movies you’re not just watching the history of horror develop, you’re watching the history of Hollywood.

However, not all Universal Horror films are created equal. I find it difficult to recommend Tod Browning’s Dracula to new viewers, despite Legosi’s career making performance along with that of Universal stalwart Dwight Frye. The first in the series is just…dull. The staging is stilted and the acting is stagy and wooden. Although, if you want a short list for good films in the series, I can recommend anything directed by James Whale, including 1933’s The Invisible Man

Adapted from the 1897 H.G. Wells novel, The Invisible Man follows scientist Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) as he fights his own madness as well angry townspeople after discovering the secret to turning himself invisible.

The Invisible Man is one in a long line of mad scientist horror films along with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, and The Island of Lost Souls in which man meddles in matters better left untouched. Claude Rains does a brilliant job playing the cackling manic Griffin, transitioning seamlessly from the maniacal to the tender when speaking his fiancé (Gloria Stuart). As with his other horror films with Universal, Whale finds the black humor in the macabre with ridiculous scenes involving nets manned by google-eyed townspeople in attempts to make sure that they are alone. Whale favorite Una O’Connor is also in attendance offering her mad screaming and spit-take mugging.

This film might seem quaint by today’s standards, but the special effects in this film were cutting edge for their time. Use of trick photography, wire work and double processing performers in black velvet body suits to achieve the invisibility effects astonishingly well. This film is also prescient for its depiction of the future of battle. Griffin delvers a speech in which he rants about the use of invisibility in espionage. Six years after the release of this film, The Nazis would seize Czechoslovakia and invade Poland, making the film’s statements about war and paranoia an acute and terrifying.