(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week we go looking for little-seen movies featuring invisibility!)
This week’s big new release is a fresh take on a classic – a Universal Monsters classic to be precise – but while Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man finds its own identity by playing around with the formula, plenty of other films have followed similar paths to entirely different destinations. What started with James Whales’ 1933 classic grew to include direct sequels and plenty of films that found inspiration in the H.G. Wells adaptation.
The plot point of people turning invisible has been through numerous iterations, from Kurt Russell’s college shenanigans for Disney in Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972) to Paul Verhoeven’s decidedly R-rated horrors in Hollow Man (2000) to even raunchier fare like The Erotic Adventures of the Invisible Man (2003). But you know all of those, so how about we take a look at some entertaining examples you’ve most likely missed over the years?
The Invisible Man vs The Human Fly (1957)
Unsolved murders are becoming more common around Tokyo, and the latest killing aboard an airplane mid-flight just might be related. (It is related.) The bodies are being found stabbed to death with not one witness near the crime scene. The only recurring clue? A slight buzzing sound heard before and after each murder. If you guessed that a madman was transforming into a fly to sneak past security, well, you’re right! Now, what or who could possibly catch such a devious criminal?
This Japanese crime picture is an ambitious blend of genre ideas, and all of it is played deadly straight. A businessman seeking revenge, an invisibility ray that also causes cancer, saucy dancers at a club of ill repute, multiple murders, a cop willing to sacrifice himself, exploding miniature trains, invisible hijinks with a banana, attempted theft, an act of terrorism with triple-digit body count…and a human fly a full year before Vincent Price encountered and crushed a far more famous one. This movie has it all!
Part of the film’s fun is that it’s essentially a straight-forward police procedural even as this bonkers business is unfolding all around. The cops work to narrow down suspects and look for connections between the targets, and even the fly theory goes through some detective work as they look at poisonous flies from around the world. Should that matter when the victims have all been stabbed? I don’t know, I’m not an entomologist, but I have to respect how thorough the police are in their investigation.
The Invisible Man vs The Human Fly is not currently available.
Invisible Invaders (1959)
A scientist known for his calls for world peace is visited by an old friend one night, but rather than being a warm reunion, it’s actually a nightmare – his friend was killed in an accident and buried recently! The dead man is no zombie, though, as instead his body is being inhabited by an invisible alien sent from the moon to give humanity a warning. Surrender, or perish at the invisible hands of the invisible invaders!
Yeah yeah, this slice of 1950s sci-fi/horror isn’t all that great, but I’m here to argue that it’s fast-moving and creative fun anyway. The premise is filled with originality as it blends the alien invasion setup with a zombie army a decade before zombies would break through into pop culture with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). The undead here aren’t looking to eat brains, but they’re still a threat to be reckoned with as their bodies are those of loved ones, and even if you destroy one, the invisible alien simply moves on to another corpse. What hope does humanity have against invisible invaders?
Yeah yeah, they have plenty of hope because humanity has science, ingenuity, and the film’s script on their side. Still, there’s an entertaining creepiness to the zombified humans, and the ludicrous nature of it all turns the film into a horror/comedy of sorts. The biggest WTF isn’t even a plot point but instead a filmmaker choice – the damn thing is essentially narrated by the strong-voiced John Dehner (1983’s The Right Stuff) who keeps viewers up to speed even to the point of talking over dialogue of on-screen characters. It’s ridiculous and patriotic, and I love it.
Invisible Invaders is currently on Blu-ray/DVD and available to stream.
Mr. India (1987)
Arun is a nice guy with barely a rupee to his name, but he makes up for that financial paucity with an enormous heart. He’s opened his large house to ten orphans, and while supporting them is a struggle, it’s one he does with a smile on his face and a dance in his step. When his estranged but brilliant father dies, Arun finds himself owner of an invisibility device, and he sees much happiness and prosperity in his future. Unfortunately for him, a super villain with an island lair and acid pits wants the device, too.
I’ve only recently become a convert into the varied world of Indian cinema, but while my general taste sees me loving mostly action epics, I’ve also grown fond of a few outside genre efforts. This late ’80s superhero-ish film fits the bill as it combines action/sci-fi shenanigans, Dr. Evil-level villainy, and a whole lot of heart. Seriously, the first hour is Arun singing and dancing with his scrappy orphans, but he’s forced into hero mode when the lady he likes is kidnapped. Cue the celebratory song and dance numbers!
As sweet and heartfelt as it all is, though, the movie doesn’t shy away from the nasty stuff. Fight scenes see kids punched and thrown around, a little girl is blown up, people are dissolved in acid, and a madman threatens India with nuclear missiles. Evil is afoot, and the film’s message is basically that only unconditional kindness – by Arun, but also by those affected by him – can save the world. Cheesy? Sure, but sometimes cheese is just what the doctor ordered.
Mr. India is not currently available.
Griff the Invisible (2010)
Griff works a bland job in a drab office with coworkers who alternately tease or ignore him, but life is different in his free time. He’s a self-described superhero of sorts who dons a suit and fights crime at night. His quirkiness is enough to catch the attention of a young woman with her own powerful belief, and together they encourage each other to believe in themselves. For better and worse.
This Australian movie is ultimately more of an oddball romance than a genre effort focused on invisibility, but there’s a sweetness to its embrace of imagination and positivity that makes it a subtle winner. True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten (remember him?) takes the lead alongside a terrific Maeve Dermody as Melody. She’s equally as awkward and thinks she’s somehow capable of passing through matter, and their challenge becomes finding the right modulation between them of the real and the slightly off.
As far as the invisibility goes, the film feels torn from the same book that gave us 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed, so use that as a guide before seeking out this one. There’s a mental illness at play to be sure, but who’s to say who’s crazy in this effed up world of ours? We should be happy when two gentle nutters find each other, and the film’s ending essentially works as a litmus test of your own belief not just in invisibility or matter disruption, but in love. Aww.
Griff the Invisible is currently on Blu-ray/DVD and available to stream.
The Invisible Boy (2014)
Michele isn’t the most popular boy at school, but he might just be the one who’s picked on the most. When his attempt at impressing his crush with an ancient costume results instead in more embarrassment, he makes an angry wish that reveals a secret power – he can turn himself invisible.
This Italian effort reminds me a bit of 2013’s Danish film Antboy in that it’s a YA take on superhero-like territory, but it’s slightly less silly in its approach and features stronger effects. The bullying feels real, and Michele’s torment is palpable, and it remains grounded once the invisibility enters the frame. There’s fun to be had, but the drama builds tension of a sort, and the ensuing adventure is as exciting as you’d hope for a film aimed towards young ones. Michele takes a brief detour into the girls’ locker room while invisible, but this isn’t Zapped (1982), so it’s still safe for youthful eyes as everyone’s in underwear and towels.
The film is taking a page from American superhero films (and yes, from the aforementioned Antboy) in its approach to world-building and setting up a sequel. We get an immediate threat as kids go missing, and while Michele saves the day, his efforts reveal secrets about both himself and the dangerous organization behind it all. It’s enough to interest you in a follow-up, which thankfully came in 2018 with The Invisible Boy: Second Generation. It’s still about Michele, so I’m not sure what that title’s about, but I’ll still be giving it a spin.
The Invisible Boy is not currently available.
The Unseen (2016)
Bob abandoned his wife and daughter years ago without giving a reason, and the time since has seen him eking out a life in a small logging town. When his wife calls with concerns about their daughter, Bob heads home to help only to find a world of trouble waiting for him. He gets caught up in drug smuggling, his daughter goes missing, and oh yeah, the disease that’s been slowly turning him invisible is getting worse.
While the other films on this list see people using and controlling their invisibility powers to various effect, this Canadian indie serves up a man who can’t control a damn thing. It works as a literal plot point with some truly killer effects as well: his slow-growth invisibility reveals flesh, bone, blood pumping through veins, his beating heart, and more. But Bob’s slow fade is just as much a metaphor for a man becoming more and more unnecessary and noticed. No one cares, no one relies on him, and his own self worth is rotting away as a result.
It’s a fairly powerful drama, but the film’s main drive is as a genre-influenced crime effort, and on that count it entertains and thrills. Bad guys and misfortune are just as present as Bob’s family drama, and the film works well to capture low-level criminals and their environment. It is an indie, so the action never really ramps up, but there’s intensity in Bob’s journey both to save his daughter and to redeem himself. Both succeed in holding your attention.
The Unseen is currently on DVD and available to stream.
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