Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, these four movies seem to be the four always thought of when someone says Universal's "Classic Monsters". I'd seen all four along with probably the fifth most thought of in these terms, The Mummy.
Only last week, Universal released the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection on Blu-ray and yesterday my copy finally arrived. Inside were three movies I had never seen -- The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Creature from the Black Lagoon -- and just because it was first chronologically, I began with The Invisible Man and wow, it's deliciously wicked.
Certainly the film has aged, the effects are far more "obvious" than today's, but if you're realistic about these kinds of things, the effects today are no less obvious than those of 1933. A man can't turn invisible today no more than he could 79 years ago. You'd be no more convinced a man actually disappeared in a film now than you would back then.
The key, as Rudy Behlmer says in the included documentary "Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed", is films, such as Invisible Man, pushed visual effects of the time to their limit "without ever losing the human element." The "human element" is what's missing from so many of today's films where we're asked to takeaway more than is actually there when a digital creation is seen on screen. Unfortunately, as is most often the case, films forget to work beyond their effects and only rarely do we get the emotional connection we get in the older classics, though Rise of the Planet of the Apes would serve as one of today's definite exceptions.
In The Invisible Man the effects are wonderful, but it's the performance of Claude Rains, whose face is only seen for a fraction of the film's 72 minute running time, that sells the effect more than anything. Whether it's his wild cackling that I have to assume inspired or at least informed some of Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight, or his reading of such lines as the following, his character is truly terrifying:
We'll begin with a reign of terror. A few murders here and there. Murders of great men, murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. We might even wreck a train or two. Just these fingers 'round a signalman's throat. That's all.
Directed by James Whale (Frankenstein) and featuring performances by Gloria Stuart (probably best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in Titanic), the cackling comedy of Una O'Connor whom you'll either find hilarious or ear-piercingly annoying and even an early bit part by John Carradine, whom you'll see in the video below at the 6:17 mark. But before you scroll that far ahead, be sure and watch the opening as Rains delivers his plan as laid out in the quote above.
As for the look of the film on Blu-ray, I loved it and will certainly return to it again, likely before I return to any of the regular classics and I can't wait to see what Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon have to offer.