Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and his “31 More Days of British Horror” in May, Jules is travelling across the pond this July with… you guessed it… 31 Days of American Horror!
Director: James Whale
Starring: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, Henry Travers, William Harrigan
In bringing H.G. Wells’ classic 1897 novel, James Whale decided on a faithful adaptation to the original text with one exception – his Invisible Man would be a psychopath.
Welles wasn’t impressed, but it was a masterstroke. Griffin’s insanity, wonderfully voiced by Claude Rains, is what cranks up the tension from the off. The concept of an invisible man itself isn’t a particularly frightening one, but when that man is a maniac, it becomes terrifying.
During a thick snowstorm, a mysterious, bandaged figure stumbles into the Lions Head Inn demanding a room, where he begins working on scientific experiments, much to the consternation of the landlady.
The man is Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) and he is hidden in bandages because he has turned himself invisible while researching a drug called Monocane and is now desperately trying to reverse the process. Unfortunately there is a side effect to the drug too, Griffin has been driven insane.
His fiancé Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart) and her father (also Griffin’s employer) Dr Cranley (Henry Travers) attempt to track him down once they realise the danger he has exposed himself to, while Griffin coerces Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) to be his assistant. Initially his intention is just turn himself back to normal, but Griffin is soon making grander plans, plans that will see him literally ruling the world through a reign of terror…
There’s no wasting time with The Invisible Man. It very smartly brings us in after Griffin has already turned, to a story that’s up and running already, meaning there’s barely a moment to catch your breath from start to finish.
It also means that we don’t actually see Claude Rains until the final scene, which combined with some truly remarkable voice acting, really reinforces the bizarre and intangible idea of an invisible man.
His descent into madness is already upon him too, though he just seems (justifiably) terse and irritable at first, but when he says he’s been “pushed to the brink of madness” as a result of so many failed experiments, we realise that he’s way, way beyond the brink.
Initially, the mayhem he causes is more mischievous, almost like a schoolboys pranks, albeit to the soundtrack of his maniacal laugh, but after he murders the head of police who refused to believe in his existence, Griffin becomes a true monster, killing a hundred people by derailing a train and murdering twenty more from the search party out to find him. It’s intense stuff and with each new atrocity, Griffin seems to spiral further into madness.
His victimisation of Dr Kemp is perhaps the most disturbing though. Constantly threatening him to force his co-operation, he eventually promises to kill him at a precise time as punishment for betraying him. He could have just done it any time, but it’s the malevolence in touting him with a precise time, knowing that there’s nothing he can do to stop him that really chills. Griffin isn’t just a maniac and a mass murderer, he’s one that enjoys causing fear and pain.
Of course he’s a victim of his own science going wrong, but because we come in so late, we never get to know the man he was, so there’s no major empathy for him. There’s a hint in how he treats fiancé Flora, almost like her presence soothes his madness as he goes out his way to ensure her safety, but his humanity is reserved purely for her. A victim he may be, but Griffin is now a villain of the highest order.
James Whale is on electrifying form here, creating a gripping and often disturbing story that is a perfect balance of science fiction and horror. Sure he had some incredible source material to work from, but he really makes it his own and adds yet another stone-cold classic to his already-impressive repertoire. Magnificent.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy