(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
After venturing through the comedy of The Invisible Woman and the wartime propaganda of Invisible Agent, Universal’s take on H.G. Wells’ novel returns to the well with 1944’s The Invisible Man’s Revenge. This picture is more like the first two in the series, with direction by Ford Beebe and a screenplay from The Spider Woman scribe Bertram Millhauser.
As one might expect, this movie returns the titular character to the notion of reprisal. It contends with matters of murder and mental illness, with more mad scientists running around in the London fog. There’s also no connective tissue to The Invisible Man or the Vincent Price-led The Invisible Man Returns, which is interesting because The Invisible Man’s Revenge sure hits the ground running.
Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) has escaped from some sort of mental facility after being imprisoned for murder. He finds the Sir Jasper Herrick (Lester Matthews) and his wife Irene (Gale Sondergaard) and hounds them about leaving him behind on some sort of jungle mission. He believes they owe him some coinage and Irene probably drugs his drink after realizing his lunacy.
After Robert is flung out of the Herrick household, he is picked up by a cobbler (Leon Errol) and eventually ends up on the threshold of the scientist Dr. Drury (John Carradine). The scientist has turned his hound invisible and is eager to try his research on Robert, who is more than happy to oblige because it will allow him to get his revenge on those dastardly Herricks once and for all.
The plot of The Invisible Man’s Revenge isn’t the easiest to put together, especially given the fact that so little is known about Robert Griffin. It doesn’t appear that he’s related to the Dr. Frank Griffin of The Invisible Man Returns and the audience is expected to learn an awful lot about him from a newspaper clipping and an awkward family meeting.
By the time he meets Dr. Drury and turns into the titular character, however, Robert’s nature is made clear. He is a nut. He fritters between trying to get back at the Herrick family and trying to help the cobbler win a game of darts at the local tavern. This type of thing volleys the movie from comedy to horror and back again without much purpose, but some of the sequences are fun.
The most horrific scenes include Robert’s torture of Jasper. There are some neat special effects involving water and the temporary reflectivity of the invisible fellow. It’s a ghastly visual and one can’t blame Jasper for freaking the hell out and reaching for a chair. The effects have always put the Invisible Man shows a cut above and it’s nice to report that The Invisible Man’s Revenge doesn’t disappoint.
But other problems are inescapable, unfortunately. It’s hard to get a grasp on the characters because there isn’t a lot of information. The movie pitches the audience in the deep end and expects the plot to roll along from there, with a whole lot of paddling trying to drive the action this way and that. Nobody knows if the Herricks deserve their fate. Nobody knows if Griffin has a point. And so on.
There’s also some sort of romantic angle involving the Herricks’ daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers). She’s in love with Mark Foster (Alan Curtis), which is a problem for Robert. Jasper promises the hand of Julie to the undetectable dude should he ever become noticeable again, which sets up an odd blood transfusion bit that ends in a fire because most of these sorts of crazy schemes end in flames.
Most of The Invisible Man’s Revenge is concerned with Griffin’s path to retribution, so that’s a good thing. The problem is that this rather baroque settling of scores isn’t overly interesting. There is or isn’t some sort of double-cross in the jungle years ago. There is or isn’t some sort of wrongdoing. It’s too equivocal to matter and the events play out in rather flavourless fashion.
So while it’s nice to see a return to the horror form for this entry in the series, it’s hard to argue that The Invisible Man’s Revenge is all that interesting. The special effects are certainly something, but the rest of the picture errs on the ordinary side. Despite the promise of the premise, Beebe’s run at inconspicuousness is too mediocre to matter.