Out of My Mind: The Least Visible Man in the World

He doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does, you can see it going down his throat and into his stomach.  That’s right, today we’re talking about the Invisible Man.

I was never entirely comfortable including the Invisible Man as one of the classic monsters.  For many years this was because he is an ordinary human that just happens to be invisible.  Nowadays, it makes me uncomfortable because a man having the power of invisibility has a lot of unfortunate implications in today’s society.

The Invisible Man originated from the H.G. Wells book of the same name.  The story begins with a mysterious scientist named Griffin renting a room in a inn, somewhere in the English countryside.  It’s revealed that sometime before the story began, Griffin had discovered a method of turning himself invisible.  Unfortunately, he does not know how to become visible again.

A good part of the story involves Griffin trying to find a way to become visible again.  He never succeeds, and eventually decides to use his invisibility to being a reign of terror in England.  After several murders and attempted murders, a mob is able to capture and kill Griffin, and he finally becomes visible again as he dies.

The 1933 film The Invisible Man from Universal Studios is a pretty faithful adaptation of the original book.  There are really only two major differences between the two stories.  The first is that the film actually describes some of the chemicals that Griffin is working with, even going so far as to mention that one chemical (Monocane) has been known to cause insanity in test animals.  Incidentally, monocane (or monocaine) is a real world chemical, but in the real world it’s used as an anesthetic.  The other difference is in how Griffin is killed.  The film takes place in winter, so when the police are hunting Griffin down for the murders he’s committed, they see if footprints in the snow and shoot him dead.

While I like this film, I always thought it was an odd change to make it the invisibility drugs that made Griffin insane.  The original story implies that Griffin wasn’t all that sane to begin with, and that being invisible only amplified his madness.  You could argue that the drugs are just an excuse for the eventual insanity of the invisible people, but the scientists in the films never come to this conclusion.

The next film in the series was The Invisible Man Returns.  How does an ordinary man return from the grave, you ask?  Well…he doesn’t.  In this film, it’s revealed that the original Invisible Man had a brother who is also a scientist and has his brother’s notes.  This Griffin has too much common sense to inject himself with the chemicals that drove his brother mad.  Instead, he injects a man named Radcliffe that was framed for murder.

The rest of the film is closer to a crime drama than a horror movie.  The new Invisible Man spends the majority of the film hunting down the true killer so that he can clear his name.  He manages to track down the killer, but gets shot in the process.  Fortunately, a blood transfusion both saves his life and makes him visible again.  I’m not a doctor, but I imagine it would be pretty difficult to perform a blood transfusion when you can’t see the patient’s veins.

It’s at this point that I think most people noticed a problem with having a horror movie featuring an Invisible Man.  While the idea of an invisible person walking around can be horrifying, it’s very easy for to go from the “fun” horror of monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein to the “creepy adult” horror of monsters like serial killers and sexual predators.  I think the producers of the films noticed this problem too, because the third film in the series was a comedy, The Invisible Woman.  No, this film has nothing to do with the Fantastic Four character.

In the film, a woman named Kitty Carrol volunteers for an experiment involving a machine that turns her invisible.  She decides to use her newfound invisibility to get revenge on her former employer.  However, because this film is a comedy instead of a horror film, the “revenge” takes the form of pranks and slapstick.  I’d like to think that’s what I would do with invisibility, but I can’t really think of anyone that I’d be mad enough at to do that to.

During the film, a gang of criminals finds out about the device and decide to steal it for themselves.  Fans of The Three Stooges will recognize Shemp as one of the gang members.  Kitty has already become visible again by this point, but learns that exposure to alcohol with make her invisible again.  She uses her invisibility to stop the gang from discovering how to use the device and defeats them.  An epilogue reveals that Kitty married and had children.  It’s revealed that her invisibility is hereditary when her baby boy becomes invisible after being rubbed with an alcohol-based lotion.

The next film came out in 1942, called Invisible Agent.  This movie was very much a World War II propaganda film.  The scientist with the invisibility formula in this film is another member of the Griffin family line, this time being the grandson of the original Invisible Man.  The film pretty much plays out like a standard World War II era spy film, with the unique hook of Griffin using the invisibility formula for his covert activities.  This film was successful enough to warrant a sequel, but unfortunately the next film did not feature an invisible man running around giving wedgies to Hitler or throwing cream pies at Mussolini.

No, the next film was The Invisible Man’s Revenge.  This film returned to the horror-movie roots that began the series, and features the original Griffin.  Maybe.  It’s actually kind of hard to tell at this point.  Anyway, the film starts with Griffin locked up in a mental institution.  He manages to escape, and immediately seeks out revenge on the family of the man that left him to die in the African jungle.  According to the movie, Griffin was part of an expedition in Africa that found a vast treasure in diamonds, and his partners didn’t want to share the wealth.

What’s interesting is that Griffin is not a scientist in this film, and doesn’t actually discover the invisibility formula.  No, the scientist in this film is named Drury, and he agrees to use Griffin as a test subject for the invisibility formula after Griffin’s half-baked revenge plan fails spectacularly.  The invisible Griffin manages to blackmail his former friends into giving him their estate.

Like with The Invisible Man Returns, it’s revealed that a blood transfusion will make Griffin visible again.  However, this film shows that the transfusions are only temporary.  The movie ends on a dark note, when Griffin is killed by the scientist’s dog shortly before he can finish draining another victim to maintain his visibility.  His intended victim, a journalist, reveals that Griffin only went insane after he had been committed.  This is one of the few films where the Invisible Man is stated to be insane before he became invisible.

The last film in the Invisible Man series was, you guessed it, Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man.  It’s kind of depressing that the last film for each of the classic Universal Studios monster featured a top comedy duo, but that’s how it worked out.  This film is a comedy, and pretty much has the same plot as The Invisible Man Returns.  A boxer named Nelson enlists the aid of two detectives (Abbott and Costello, naturally) to clear his name, and has Griffin make him invisible so that he can avoid the police.  Like with the previous films, Griffin is shot during the climax and is saved with a blood transfusion that also restores his visibility.

As for the “Monster Mash” stories, it’s hard to define what role the Invisible Man has.  He seems to be included pretty much just for completion’s sake, and mostly just serves to be the butt of the joke a lot of the time.  This is especially bad considering that the Invisible Man is a scientist.  A pretty brilliant scientist at that, considering that he has managed to do something that even our modern scientists are still struggling with.

To me, it would have made more sense to replace some of the generic mad scientist characters from House of Frankenstein or House of Dracula with the Invisible Man.  Then the filmmakers could have had the monsters turn to him seeking cures or world domination or whatever due to him also being an outcast from society, or due to him also being as dark and twisted as they are.  However, no one ever mentions the Invisible Man’s scientific background in the “Monster Mash” stories.  Not even the stories that include Doctor Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll, who you would think would be interested in studying the Invisible Man’s notes.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss another scientist whose chemical experiments led to a bad end:  Doctor Jekyll and his alter ego Mister Hyde.

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