Horror movies vanished from the screen in 1936 due to two factors. One was the ban on horror by British censors, closing a major market for the films. The other, a regime change at Universal, in which the Laemmle family sold the studio. The new owners attempted to reinvent the company’s image, but instead almost ran it into the ground. It wasn’t until 1939, when an enterprising theater owner exhibited a revival of the classics FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and KING KONG, that Universal decided to plunge forth with SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. The third sequel was a success, and the floodgates opened for the second horror cycle. Universal brought their monsters back from the dead, and cast a young contract player named Vincent Price in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, putting Price on a career arc that would build to a long career as a horror star.
Geoffrey Radcliffe is scheduled to hang for the murder of his brother. Family friend Dr. Griffin is allowed to visit Geoffrey in his cell at Langley Prison, while the condemned man’s fiancé Helen and his cousin Richard wait at home for a reprieve. Griffin leaves the cell, but when the guards go to check on Geoffrey, nothing remains of him but a pile of clothes! Inspector Samson is called in to investigate, and he recalls hearing the name Griffin somewhere before….
Samson goes to Griffin’s lab and tells the doctor he knows his brother was Jack Griffin (pulling out a file with a picture of original INVISIBLE MAN Claude RAains). Geoffrey was given an injection of duocane, the late Jack’s invisbility formula, and is now free to search for the real killer. But the drug has a dire side-effect: it slowly drives the user insane. Can Geoffrey, aided by Helen, find the culprit before he loses his grip on his sanity?
Joe May was a pioneer German producer/director who, like many of his countrymen, fled Europe during the Nazi regime. His career in America wasn’t long or particularly successful, and he became a Hollywood restauranteur. Screenwriter and fellow ex-pat Curt Siodmak did much better in Tinseltown (see my post on THE WOLF MAN for more on him). The cast was stuffed with fine character actors, including Sir Cedric Hardwicke as cousin Richard (and with Hardwicke in the role, any doubt on who the real murderer was??). Nan Grey (Helen) earned her horror wings in 1936’s DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. Cecil Kellaway (Inspector Samson) was the charming Irishman with the twinkle in his eye in far too many films to mention here. John Sutton (Griffin) played in fright films RETURN OF THE FLY and THE BAT with Price later in his career. And Alan Napier’s (drunken foreman Willie Spears in this) credits stretch from CAT PEOPLE and ISLE OF THE DEAD, to THE MOLE PEOLE and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, but will forever be remembered as Alfred the butler on TV’s 60s smash BATMAN.
THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS is a welcome return to the H.G.Wells-inspired theme. The movies don’t have a recurring character, it’s a different Griffin in every entry, which is probably why they weren’t as popular as Universal’s other monster series. It’s not particularly scary but enjoyable, and a chance to see Vincent Price in his first starring horror role. Errr… well, we don’t actually SEE him til the end of the flick. So it’s a chance to HEAR Vincent anyway. Uhhh, you know what I mean!