We all have something to fear. Whether it’s the thought of losing someone close, the ghosts that made us afraid of the dark or a person stalking you from outside of your home, fear runs deep. But, what if you are afraid of something that can’t be seen and yet feel a presence, as if it were standing right next to you? The Invisible Man is a perfect example of that scenario, first created by famed author H.G. Wells in a story that was published in a 1897 edition of Pearson’s Weekly, before getting released as a novel a year later. His story would go on to have a huge influence in the world of science fiction and horror.
So, with the release of last month’s loose Invisible Man adaptation starring Elizabeth Moss, how does Leigh Whannell’s vision compare to the original? As originally part of the failed Universal Dark Universe, how does it work as a standalone film? And what about the other film that audiences often compare this new iteration with: Hollow Man? Let’s take a look at these earlier entries.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Being a madman is one thing, but if people are unable to see you, then the odds have really turned to your favor. The world had been introduced to the world of Dracula and Frankenstein, both released in 1931 and now it was time for another entry in the world of the mysterious: a man who cannot be seen. Drawing inspiration from Wells’ novel, The Invisible Man is nearly identical to its book source material, albeit with some slight changes here and there.
The Invisible Man tells the story of a chemist named Jack Griffin, who discovers a drug named monocane that has the ability to turn someone completely transparent. With him being invisible, no one will know where he is or what he’s up to. The drug was used in several experiments but, when tested on himself, the good chemist fell under the spell of its bleaching effects. And once he becomes invisible, a problem is revealed- he can’t undo what’s already been done! Not only that, the result of his invisibility causes him to go completely insane!
Griffin comes up with a plan to “dominate the world through a reign of terror,” as he describes to coworker Dr. Kemp. He plan to commit some murders here and there and wreak havoc on all the townsfolk. If he can’t be seen, then how can he be stopped?! The film itself is thoroughly entertaining and features such a unique costume that showcases the Invisible Man before he disrobes and disappears into the night.
The film itself features a lot of chaos and the Invisible Man does exactly what he promises, but as his mind begins to slip, he makes a mistake which leads to his downfall. A critical and commercial success, The Invisible Man enthralled audiences and saw a sleuth of sequels and remakes over the years, but even those films never captured the heart of H.G. Wells’ story. In fact, Wells enjoyed the film but had some reservations about the good chemist being portrayed as a raving lunatic. Nevertheless, The Invisible Man made its impact and, while the numerous other films featured the iconic character who cannot be seen, another film was released with updated special effects that enticed audiences, even if it wasn’t the success that the filmmakers were hoping for.
Hollow Man (2000)
Drawing inspiration from the Wells novel, it should be noted that Hallow Man bears no resemblance to the book titled Hollow Man. This film is rather like The Invisible Man, but tells of a much darker tale. Kevin Bacon plays a molecular biologist named Sebastian Caine who, in his supreme arrogance, tests a military serum on himself which turns himself invisible. He wants to push the testing further and ends up costing himself a great deal. With the addition of special effects and Paul Verhoeven (of Robocop and Total Recall fame) sitting in the Director’s seat, he puts those effects to good use. There’s an impressive sequence that shows Sebastian’s body succumbing to the serum, in which we see his body deteriorate into muscle, then skeleton until it eventually becomes unseen to the naked eye.
What happens afterwards is a series of pranks that the good biologist does to his staff, but things take a turn for the worse when the movie turns into a typical slasher. Like I said before, the special effects are more than impressive, albeit somewhat aged by today’s standards, but were nevertheless impressive twenty years ago. One missing key ingredient, however, is the lesson learned at the end of the film. With The Invisible Man, the good chemist realized what his power made him and regretted all that he did, whereas Hollow Man turns this arrogant character into an irrational killer hell-bent on inflicting the most damage possible.
I’m not saying that this is a bad decision per the filmmakers, but Hollow Man feels like another mad slasher movie with some impressive effects and surprising moments, but feels empty towards the end. It’s one reason why I think The Invisible Man is a far superior film: it was wise and had a sense of morality. Still, Hollow Man is a fun movie for what it is and, without question, more enjoyable than its lackluster sequel.
The Invisible Man (2020)
I’m not the biggest fan of when filmmakers want to remake a classic. Most of the time it never pans out wel,l but there are exceptions and one of those is The Invisible Man. a cleverly written film by one of the Saw franchise creators Leigh Whannell. While the special effects of seeing the Invisible Man are very impressive, this film stands out due to its story and references to the 1933 classic.
This Invisible Man focuses on the relationship between Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) and her abusive ex-boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Yes, the invisibility scenes do come into play later, but the film is different because it focuses on another character entirely where the Invisible Man is a secondary character. The plot itself is well told and allows us to understand and care about the film’s characters, a rarity for a lot of horror movies these days. What ensues is stalking, menacing and assault against Cecilia who is unable to see her attacker. Instead of the Invisible Man becoming a madman killer, he’s given an identity of man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
I appreciated the use of suspense over jump scares that Whannell has done in the past. It reminded me of the 1933 classic film because, when we see the Invisible Man for the first time, it’s truly a wonder to gaze upon. In this film, it’s used in a more terrifying way than in a manner that conveys wonder. Personally, I’d say that the 1933 film is my favorite, but I was impressed with the attention to detail in Whannell’s version. From the numerous references that are cleverly placed in the story along with the moments of nail-biting suspense, this movie proved to be a worthy remake of classic source material. It pays homage to the original while working in its own terms to be truly unique, creating a horror film that nobody should pass over.
Whether you fancy the old or the new, The Invisible Man is a story that intrigues a lot of people. Even though it dates back to the late 1800s, the cautionary themes remain just as impactful today as it was more than a century ago. We’ve seen the man who can’t be seen in numerous films, television shows, video games and books as well. Heck, even Harry Potter experienced something similar in the form of his Invisibility Cloak, although he didn’t go mad after using it.
If you ever wondered to yourself if such a thing is even possible, then here’s a quick note. A Russian writer by the name of Yakov I. Perelman noted in 1913 after reading Well’s novel that, based on the chemicals that Griffin used to make himself invisible, he would more than likely go blind instead. The human eye absorbs light but doesn’t completely let it pass all the way through. So, in actuality, Griffin would be have gone blind and possibly still mad, but ironically we would be able to see him; He just wouldn’t be able to see anything else.
With these three aforementioned films, the Invisible Man continues to play a key role in the world of entertainment. Sometime he’s the good guy, other times not so much, but no one can deny the idea of being invisible sounds pretty cool. While the movies are great, it’s the special effects that continue to impress, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time that we’ll someone go invisible.
We have to give credit to the man who gave us this possible in the first place: H.G. Wells. Sure, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds may be more popular to some, and their respective influences on science-fiction cannot be understated. But The Invisible Man is one story that remains truly unique and, no matter how old it gets, people are still fascinated by its premise alone.