The Summer of Spook #1
James Whale’s The Invisible Man, released in 1933, is a classic of horror cinema. Released during Universal Studio’s reign in the horror genre, James Whale adapts H.G. Wells’s novel to the big screen with gusto and flair. The film features incredible effects, a wonderful performance from Claude Rains, and a campy tone and atmosphere that adds to the film’s charm. In 2020, Leigh Whannell, a modern icon of horror cinema, updated the classic sci-fi/horror tale and created something arguably just as classic. I watched The Invisible Man (1933) a few weeks ago but decided to wait on my review until I could talk about these movies together. Each director takes the material and crafts something unique to their visions and unique to the period in which they were created.
Let us start with The Invisible Man (1933). In this version of the tale, a scientist, Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), discovers a way to become invisible, and this method takes a toll on his sanity. He becomes murderously insane, committing atrocious acts of mass murder, and terrorizes a quiet countryside. James Whale, along with Claude Rains’ performance as the titular Invisible Man, uses dark and macabre material to tell a campier and lighter horror film. Leigh Whannell leaves that campy tone at the door and weaves a tale much darker and sinister. One of the primary differences in both Invisible Man movies is how the titular Invisible Man is portrayed. Claude Rains cackles his way through the film, his character is tragic and a victim of his tampering with science; Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), is much more sinister. He is not a victim of science but rather a victimizer and abuser who uses his ability to gaslight and target his wife, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss).
The protagonists of each movie are incredibly different. In James Whale’s The Invisible Man, Jack Griffin is the protagonist. Even though he commits horrific acts, the movie is about his journey into madness. Leigh Whanell’s The Invisible Man has Cecilia Kass as the protagonist. They are both victims of the science that creates The Invisible Man but for many different reasons. Leigh Whannell uses the science of the story to create a very relevant tale about abusers and how people overlook or refuse to believe victims of abusers. Adrian Griffin does everything in his power to control Cecilia’s life. He knows no one will believe her and finds joy in torturing and abusing his power. One thing I find interesting is how both movies use empty space to try and make you guess where the Invisible Man may be. Leigh Whannell uses this to make you guess where the threat may be coming from. I found myself searching the frame for clues of where The Invisible Man could be. This approach is fantastic and helps build the horror and atmosphere. I love how the camera panes to empty spaces making you unsure if you are “looking” at the Invisible Man. Both directors start their narratives in the middle of the action. James Whale starts the film after Jack has already become Invisible, and Leigh Whannell opens his movie with Cecilia in the process of leaving. Whale uses this to create mystery, and Whannell uses it to aid his claustrophobic nightmare. One thing I was happy Leigh Whannell didn’t do was try and make the audience question Cecilia’s story or the reality of the film. I feel like many filmmakers would try to make a twisty narrative that tries to make the audience confused on whether or not there is an Invisible Man but Whannell takes the genre and story seriously, and that is beneficial to the film. The film never feels like it is trying to trick you; instead, it feels genuine in how it plays with the narrative elements of the Invisible Man story. Both movies also feature, what I would call, iconic moments. The 1933 film has the excellent reveal of The Invisible Man as he removes his bandages and his clothes revealing the nothingness that hides beneath. The iconic moment from Leigh Whannell’s remake features a restaurant and a knife–this movie isn’t old enough for me to spoil it. The restaurant scene is truly terrifying and made me let out an audible gasp of shock–I would assume that the 1933 reveal left audiences feeling the same way. These are the kind of moments that are etched in the minds of the audience forever.
People groan when they hear of a classic film getting a remake, and we see this a lot in the horror community, but The Invisible Man proves that remakes are not always terrible. James Whale’s 1933 film is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes that familiar story and spins it in a new way that makes it relevant but still terrifying. I love that I can watch these two movies and get something unique and special from each viewing. The performances, the direction, the style, the atmosphere, and the tone are all unique. You get familiar concepts and themes but played in a unique way that is not only relevant to the film but to the time in which the film was released. The Invisible Man (1933) is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes The Invisible Man (2020) to those same heights creating a modern classic of horror cinema.
The Invisible Man (1933): Rating 5/5
The Invisible Man (2020): Rating 4.5/5