“The Invisible Man”: The Best “Universal Horror” Movie isn’t a Horror Movie.

I saw most of the classic movie The Invisible Man on TV last night.  I was surprised by how good it was, almost entirely due to the performance of Claude Rains.  I’ve mentioned before that he was a great actor, and this movie really shows it.  It’s a tough role, since a lot of it is just voice over work for his invisible scenes, and during his actual screen time he’s covered by this weird bandage-and-sunglasses outfit.

The plot is that a scientist discovers a chemical mixture that makes him invisible, and then gradually goes mad with a desire for power as a result of it.  The scene where he is outlining his plan for world domination to his terrified friend is especially chilling.

 

Now, as I think I have mentioned on here before, I don’t like horror stories that explain everything bizarre that happens in them with rational, scientific explanations.  That kills the mystery, and mystery is important in horror.  I also don’t like horror stories where the horror is nothing really weird or alien, but just a lot of wanton criminal brutality. Both of these thing are true of The Invisible Man however, and yet I’d have to say that from what I saw, it’s the best of the  “Universal monsters” series.  How can this be?

Well, in my opinion, because it’s not really a horror story.  I don’t know why it was billed as such. It’s really more of a psychological thriller that tries to show what happens to the man’s mind once he gets power combined with a sense of having been persecuted in his past.  It’s a morality tale on the old “power corrupts” model, as far as I can see.  The invisibility thing is just a plot device to explore this.  Maybe it’s more clear in the book, which I have not read.

It’s still not a great movie–some of the supporting cast seemed to think they were in a comedy, and while the special effects must have been stunning at the time, they look fairly lame now. But it is rather interesting all the same, and much more compelling than, for example, any of the old “Mummy” movies.

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