Leigh Whannell’s remake of The Invisible Man hits theaters on February 28. It should be interesting. Whannell was one of the writers and actors in Saw. Production company Blumhouse is behind Happy Death Day and The Purge series. This is the first attempt at doing anything interesting with the character of the Invisible Man on screen in a long time. However, he’s had an interesting journey. Here’s a brief history of the Invisible Man.
The Original Novel
H.G. Wells published The Invisible Man in 1897. It tells the story of Griffin, a mysterious man who shows up at a remote inn with his face covered in bandages. He is a reclusive introvert who keeps to his room. He turns out to be a mad scientist who has turned himself invisible and is trying to find a way to change himself back. When his secret is revealed, chaos ensues, and Griffin goes on a murderous spree.
The 1933 Film
If you’re a Rocky Horror fan, you already know Claude Rains was The Invisible Man. The movie, part of Universal’s classic series of monster movies, came out two years after Dracula and Frankenstein. In the movie, Jack Griffin hopes his scientific work will make him rich and thus a more suitable husband for his fiancee. As in the book, he seeks to complete his work in solitude. Several factors including failed results and side effects from the chemicals cause Griffin to go insane. Again, he goes on a killing spree, plotting world domination. The film is more sympathetic to Griffin than the novel is. I also remember the movie having a certain humor, sarcasm, and playfulness to it. Especially in the early scenes. Rains revels in the mischief of being invisible.
Several years later, Universal made a series of sequels loosely related to the original film.
—The Invisible Man Returns (1940): I’m not sure why Universal waited seven years to make a sequel to such a popular film. Despite the misleading title, this movie focuses on an entirely new cast of characters. Vincent Price plays Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe, a man accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Griffin’s brother injects him with an invisibility drug and Radcliffe disappears from his cell. Radcliffe must find the real killer before he goes insane from the drug.
—The Invisible Woman (1940): A former department store model becomes the first test subject for an invisibility device. This film marks a change in tone in the series from horror/sci-fi to comedy.
—The Invisible Agent (1942): The grandson of the original Invisible Man serves as a spy for the USA during WWII.
—The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944): Another descendant of Griffin’s uses invisibility to get revenge on a couple who left him to die.
—Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951): Abbott and Costello play two private detectives investigating the murder of a boxing promoter. The prime suspect gets his hands on the invisibility serum from a former colleague of Griffin’s.
Movies About Invisibility
Two major Hollywood films tackled the theme of invisibility but aren’t directly related to the H.G. Wells character.
—Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992): John Carpenter stepped outside of his horror wheelhouse to direct this Chevy Chase sci-fi comedy. A businessman is turned invisible through a freak accident at a major laboratory. A government agent discovers his condition and tries to track him down. The movie was a commercial and critical failure. However, I remember enjoying it when it first came out.
—The Hollow Man (2000): Kevin Bacon stars as a scientist who turns himself invisible in this horror film. Despite negative reviews, the movie proved popular at the box office and received an Academy Award nomination for Special Effects.
The Dark Universe
Starting with 2017’s The Mummy, Universal Studios had planned a whole new series of connected films using their collection of famous monsters. Unfortunately, due to The Mummy‘s box office failure, those plans were scrapped. Johnny Depp would have played The Invisible Man, Russell Crowe would have played Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (a role hinted at in The Mummy), and Angelina Jolie would have been the Bride of Frankenstein, in separate films.
Universal has now done away with the idea of a connected cinematic universe, but is still developing new movies for its monsters. Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is the first. It’s a darker take than the 1940 film and a more personal one. Instead of love, it’s about obsession. I’m personally disappointed that the Invisible Man of the title has none of the humor to him of the 1940 version, but is pure evil and menace. A silent killer.
Director Elizabeth Banks has pitched a version of The Invisible Woman with the logline “Thelma and Louise meets American Psycho.” Banks would star in the project. No connection to Whannell’s Invisible Man is planned.
Other projects include Paul Feig’s Dark Army, which would incorporate classic Universal monsters and introduce some new ones, with director Dexter Fletcher and writer Robert Kirkman’s Renfield. It would present a new take on Dracula, and a rumored version of Frankenstein to be directed by James Wan.
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