Why The Invisible Man Is Common’s Biggest Horror Icon

Before being known for slashers, ghosts and all manner of psychological torment, horror movies were perhaps most defined by Universal’s classic monsters. Many of these creatures had literary origins, including the iconic Invisible Man. Though he’s grouped in with the monsters, this invisible person known as Griffin isn’t really one of them. His movie is, however, perhaps the best of the bunch.

Utterly human and a complete riot, The Invisible Man showcases just how someone would act if given invisibility. The movie is also a precursor to the development of horror movies in decades to come with its decidedly scientific “monster.” In time for Halloween, here’s a look at what makes James Whale’s 1933 classic such a treat to this day.

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The Invisible Man Is as Humorous as It Is Horrifying

The plot of The Invisible Man involves a scientist named Jack Griffin, who’s been involved in a terrible laboratory accident. This leaves his body completely invisible, forcing him to cover his head with bandages, a wig and a hat. Seeking lodging in the small town of Iping, Griffin hopes to recreate the experiment and rid himself of his affliction, but the “monocane” that caused his invisibility begins to slowly eat away at his mind, as well. Now, he seeks to rule the world through his invisibility, first terrorizing the townspeople of Iping that had initially bothered him during his experiments there.

The Invisible Man was likely only “scary” at the time of its release, but it’s no less of a classic today. Claude Rains’ portrayal of the Invisible Man is an outright hoot, with the character being less of a horrifying killer and more of an uproarious madman. Despite his talk of world domination, his aims and actions are ultimately quite petty. For most of the movie, he just goes around casually messing with the people of Iping, knocking off police officers’ hats and splashing ink onto people. By engaging in this utterly petulant behavior, the Invisible Man is actually far more human than any of the Universal Monsters.

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The Invisible Man Foreshadowed the Future of Horror Movies

As mentioned, Griffin’s usage of his invisible powers is kind of immature and silly, which is exactly why it’s so great. Not only is he an absolute riot, but his actions are exactly what a less-than-moral individual would do with such abilities. Even if they eventually wished for some grander scheme, they’d start out doing the pettiest, most unbecoming of acts. Thus, the Invisible Man is the average Joe or at least closer to him than Bela Lugosi’s inhuman Dracula or the equally undead Mummy. Likewise, he’s not exactly the tragic figure that Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man or arguably even the Creature from the Black Lagoon are. Thus, he shows the potential for malice not in monsters but in humanity’s own being.

Also, unlike the king of the vampires and the lycanthropic Larry Talbot, the Invisible Man is a man of science, given his gift/affliction by an experiment gone awry. Thus, he’s far closer to characters such as The Fly and the many monsters of 1950s films. These movies, similar to their comic book counterparts, traded in the supernatural for atomic-age horror, basking in the potential deconstruction caused by man’s quest for knowledge.

Thus, The Invisible Man is essentially a film of two eras, coming out decades before those movies would take center stage. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating look at how a brilliant man can be driven to his most base instincts by his own benign learning. It’s easily one of the best of Universal’s classic horror properties.

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