Previously available on MGM DVD, paired with JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET as part of their Midnite Movies line, and on MGM/UA VHS, perennial zero-budget favorite INVISIBLE INVADERS receives a welcome Blu-ray upgrade via Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics collection.
Dire pronouncements about atomic testing by the world powers in the aftermath of Hiroshima are heard over footage of A-bomb mushroom clouds, the beginning of much stock footage to come. At a nuclear research laboratory Dr. Karol Noymann (John Carradine, THE COSMIC MAN, LAS VAMPIRAS), “driven beyond the line of endurance,” blows himself up, making front-page news with the first of many dummy newspaper headlines to come, and peacenik scientist Philip Tonge (MACABRE) pleads to no avail with the Pentagon’s Lt. Stone (Paul Langton, THE COSMIC MAN, THE SNOW CREATURE) to help him stop all atomic testing worldwide. At Dr. Noymann’s burial, a pair of unseen alien feet shuffle through the dirt toward the grave, and later that night, the now extragalactic alien–inhabited corpse of Dr. Noymann shows up at Penner’s door and delivers an ultimatum: either Earth surrenders to the aliens within 24 hours, or they begin a mass invasion, using the reanimated bodies of dead earthlings as foot soldiers in their army of conquest.
Lifting a page from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, the aliens—who conquered and have been living on the moon for 20,000 years, and have the ability to make themselves and their spaceships invisible and then visible again with a small device—are concerned that with humans entering the Space Age, they will extend their warlike tendencies outward into the galaxy. After Penner goes public with the aliens’ demands and becomes a laughingstock, he and daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, THE PATTY DUKE SHOW) and her whiny former flame Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton, THE SLIME PEOPLE, THE VULTURE) meet with the invisible foot-shuffling aliens in the graveyard and are given a second final warning. The aliens possess the corpse of a military plane crash victim, who breaks into the booth at a hockey game, strangling the engineer and announcer (jazz DJ and actor Chuck Niles, TEENAGE ZOMBIES, CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD) and commandeering the mic to broadcast their absolutely last final warning to the world, then shortly afterward pull the same schtick at a baseball stadium with a car crash victim who broadcasts the aliens’ this-time-for-sure positively final warning. A montage of destruction and newspaper headlines ensues, with lotsa stock footage of fires, floods, and buildings and dams exploding, while around the world the resurrected radioactive corpses of well-dressed businessmen roam zombie-like, attacking the living.
Assigned by the Pentagon to escort Lamont and the Penners to an A-bomb-proof underground bunker for safety, trigger-happy Major Bruce Jay (John Agar, HAND OF DEATH, TARANTULA) shoots a belligerent farmer (Hal Torey, THE COSMIC MAN, THE SPIDER), who is immediately alien-inhabited (looking eerily like Harrison Ford Zombie). Lt. Stone informs the group that negotiations and military efforts against the aliens have failed, Major Jay and Dr. Penner race against time to find a weapon to use against them, and Phyllis and Dr. Jay have a moment over a cigarette where he confesses to being haunted by the faceless victims of the bombing runs he flew during WWII (a surprisingly sincere moment in an otherwise cardboard movie). Dr. Penner needs an alien to test his theory of their visibility, so Harrison Ford Zombie is lured into a vat of quick-drying acrylic clear coat, encapsulating the alien within, and imprisoned inside a pressure chamber. More racing against time, more stock footage, tensions flare, and Major Jay and John engage in fisticuffs (showcasing some very obvious stunt doubles), accidentally revealing the key to defeating the alien invaders.
Let’s be frank—INVISIBLE INVADERS, executive produced by the prolific but credit-eschewing Edward Small (JACK THE GIANT KILLER, THE CHRISTINE JORGENSEN STORY), is not a Good Movie. If you’re expecting serious, thoughtful speculative fiction, you’re watching the wrong film. The normally workmanlike Edward L. Cahn’s direction is even less inspired than usual, with an over-reliance on stock footage and dummy newspaper headlines, and plenty of wooden acting, stilted narration, and static, lazily blocked dialogue scenes on display, the sum total emitting more than a whiff of Ed Wood and Jerry Warren. The science is all on a comic book level, and the aliens’ flying saucer, which looks like an artist’s rendering, not even a cheesy model, is only seen on the ground and only in the last few minutes of the movie. The “zombies” are cool but not particularly dangerous; they mostly just stroll around aimlessly and actually don’t get much screen time. Agar looks silly in his droopy radiation suit, and the slow-shuffling invisible aliens that apparently never pick their feet up off the ground inspire more amusement than terror.
No, INVISIBLE INVADERS is not a good movie. But if you feel like turning off your brain for a while and watching it through the lens of a teenage Monster Kid, there’s a lot of fun to be had. I still remember on first viewing, as a Famous Monsters-crazed 13-year-old, being captivated with all the pulpy SF/horror imagery and gee-whiz gimmickry: Carradine’s spooky visitation scene, the primitive wirework invisibility gags, the alien encapsulation and breakout sequence, Paul Blaisdell’s translucent IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE monster suited aliens exiting the zombies and dissolving into a pile of soap bubbles, the cheap but gaudy flying saucer, the sonic blaster, plenty of knobs and dials and the tele-viewer in the bunker, and, not least, the lumbering salaryman zombies. The movie takes the kitchen sink approach, throwing everything at the wall in hopes something will stick. INVISIBLE INVADERS is good bad fun in the vein of a 1940s serial, and makes a great companion piece to the possibly even weirder and more amusing COSMIC MAN.
While various commentators have alleged an influence on George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD by INVISIBLE INVADERS in terms of its similar story line of a small, isolated group under siege by pasty-faced zombie corpses resurrected by extraterrestrial forces, Romero has publicly acknowledged more than once that the direct influence on he and John Russo’s creation of the screenplay for NOTLD was a viewing of LAST MAN ON EARTH. While it’s possible that Romero had seen INVISIBLE INVADERS at some point, I haven’t been able to unearth any explicit evidence that there was any direct influence, and apparently neither did Mr. Weaver as he doesn’t even address the issue. It’s probably just coincidence: INVADERS’ zombies are garishly made up and walk stiffly with arms extended Frankenstein-like, while the appearance and behavior of Romero’s zombies are closer to those of the living dead in LMOE. And the secluded farmhouse of NOTLD could as likely be cribbed from Morgan’s fortress-like home in LMOE as the hardened bunker of INVADERS.
Kino Lorber presents INVISIBLE INVADERS in a newly remastered AVC 1080p HD transfer, the black and white image looking very clean overall, with only minor speckling and blemishing evident. Contrast and especially brightness are significantly improved over the MGM DVD, the 1.33:1 open matte framing of which has been corrected to 1.66:1. Sharpness and detail are also modestly improved, particularly in close-ups, though the original elements don’t appear quite as impressively crisp as those used for some other similar Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases, such as THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD and THE BLACK SLEEP. Audio is clear, with no significant flaws. A small “trailer gallery” consisting of INVISIBLE INVADERS (2:00, 1.33:1 open matte) and THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (2:21) is included.
Tom Weaver is on hand for his usual incredibly dense and comprehensive audio commentary, beginning by saying he’s never done a solo commentary for a movie he likes as little as INVISIBLE INVADERS, and peppering the movie with some not-so-gentle abuse throughout. However, he dutifully provides a wealth of background on the production and budget of the movie, the prolific Mr. Small—who released movies, often uncredited, under a variety of monikers, including Vogue, Imperial, and Premium, and is described as self-effacing and generous (qualities not typically associated with Hollywood producers)—line producer Robert E. Kent, writer Sam Newman, John Carradine, Robert Hutton, and other cast and crew members. Weaver argues convincingly that the concept of alien-resuscitated walking dead dates to at least the 1940s; points out numerous continuity errors, lapses in story logic, and “creative” reuse of the limited sets; notes the curious prevalence of gruesome imagery, bloody violence, and pre-Peckinpah use of squibs in Small’s movies (but omits the head-shrinking scene in FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE!); and reveals John Agar’s nickname for director Cahn. Weaver also reads a short essay by Monstrous Movie Music’s David Schecter on Paul Dunlap and uncredited Jack Cookerly’s electronically augmented score (reworked by Dunlap for cult classic ANGRY RED PLANET the following year) and relinquishes the mic for a few minutes to Dr. Robert J. Kiss of the Monster Kids Classic Horror Film Board, who discusses the theatrical and television exhibition of INVISIBLE INVADERS in minute detail, including its highly rated premiere on WABC- TV.
A solid if not spectacular HD upgrade from DVD, with the witty and informative Weaver commentary as icing on the cake, plus you can finally ditch your Midnight Movies double feature disc if you also have Kino Lorber’s excellent JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET Blu-ray. (Paul Tabili)
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