January 29, 2011
Monster of the Month: The Invisible Man
Ever since his film debut in 1933, The Invisible Man has been an important though under appreciated member of the Universal monster pantheon. While his fellow monsters have gone on to have blockbuster careers, the Invisible Man has eked out a living on the small screen with two TV series in addition to his Universal sequels.
The Invisible Man’s journey to the big screen begins nearly four decades before in 1897 with the publication of H.G. Well’s science fiction novella. Griffin, an albino physicist obsessed with the properties of light, finds a way to reduce the refractive properties of human tissue. The process renders him invisible and Griffin is intoxicated by his newfound power. But invisibility proves to have more pitfalls that he imagined, and Griffin finds himself hunted by his fellow men as he slowly loses touch with reality.
The lure of invisibility for Griffin is matched only by our horror at his actions. Under the cloak of invisibility he breaks into houses, steals money, destroys property, assaults and even kills a man. He’s an insane independent agent who mocks society’s all seeing eye and we are all on his hit list.
But the desire for invisibility is something we share with Griffin. As small children we fantasize about the power of flying or being invisible. There is something intoxicating about the possibility of acting without consequences. What would we do if we knew we couldn’t be seen? The possibilities range from whispering into someone’s ear and petty theft to rape and murder.
The power of invisibility and the madness that comes with it are themes that play out in The Invisible Man’s film adaptations. The Universal film is a pretty straightforward version of Wells’ story with Claude Rains playing the unnamed scientist who succumbs to megalomania while trying to find a cure for his condition. In the Universal follow up, The Invisible Man Returns (1940), Vincent Price takes the title role as a murdering coal miner who goes invisible to escape hanging, but becomes even more murderously insane.
The horrifying erotic possibilities of the Invisible Man aren’t explored until 2000’s Hollow Man (or my title: The Invisible Rapist), starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue. In this reboot of the Invisible Man tale, Kevin Bacon plays a military scientist who develops an invisibility serum and thinks he’s God. Not a promising combination.
The madness and megalomania are all there as well as the mind of a twisted voyeur. Without the limits of visibility he’s like a kid in a candy store and moves from just looking to doing something about it. This includes fondling the breast of a sleeping female co- worker and raping his hot exhibitionist neighbor Rhona Mirta. This element becomes an inescapable part of the Invisible Man tale as seen in the straight to video Erotic Misadventures of the Invisible Man (2003).
The Invisible Man continues to intrigue modern audiences as a figure that plays out our most forbidden fantasy. Though the cost is high, the temptation still has us asking ourselves “What would I do if I were invisible?”