“We’ll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, murders of great men, murders of little men – well, just to show we make no distinction. I might even wreck a train or two… just these fingers around a signalman’s throat, that’s all.”
‘The Invisible Man’, directed by James Whale in 1933, is an American horror movie and part of an unofficial sequence of films produced by Universal Studios. Claude Rains plays Dr. Jack Griffin, a scientist who has discovered how to make himself invisible using a drug that has the side-effect of turning him insane. At the start of the movie, we find him in seclusion trying to find a cure, but when he is disturbed by the local village policeman, he discovers the criminal advantages of his situation and wreaks a violent revenge on society and people from his previous life. It’s a visceral film, more so than either ‘Dracula’ or ‘The Mummy’. Griffin’s crimes are disturbing in their violence, but also in the way Griffin (absent from the screen and only evident through Rains’ disembodied voice) narrates them as they are happening. The reason for this is presumably the lack of visibility in the character meaning that the only way to give him personality and to get his madness across is through his wise-cracking, black humour. Compare this with the character of Renfield in ‘Dracula’ who spends much of the film wildly starring into the camera. The most notable things about this film are the different effects utilised to make Griffin invisible: from wires and dummies to trick photography and matte processing. The downside of this is the way it warps the narrative, whole scenes and action being present solely to show off the special effects. That being said, they are still mostly impressive today and the film generally dates well. The real marvel is Claude Rains who manages to portray Griffin that both illicits sympathy in the audience, but also gleefully unpacks his sadistic psychoses, without his face being seen. Through his uncanny vocal range (from growly dark tones to childlike twittering) and through his predatory body language, Rains makes Griffin a complete, if dangerously unhinged character, but still by the end of the film when he finally makes an appearance, you are somehow on his side.
Would I recommend it? I’d head for ‘The Mummy’ first, but this movie is a tight, vicious little thriller with pretty good special effects and, considering he is under a mask or off-screen for almost the whole film, a charismatic and witty performance by Rains. Watch in a double bill with ‘The Mummy’ for the balance of the two different approaches to horror.