INVISIBLE INVADERS/1959/EDWARD L. CAHN

INVISIBLE INVADERS
1959/Director: Edward L. Cahn/Writer: Samuel Newman
Cast: John Agar, Jean Byron, Philip Tonge, Robert Hutton, John Carradine, Hal Torey
This is a film I think I saw when I was ten years old or so and have not seen it again until only recently. But it is film that has stuck in my mind all this time for it images of reanimated corpses that have many people have come to feel must have been some influence on later films like The Last Man on Earth and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. I would not go so far as to say Invisible Invaders is a zombie film in the sense that we today are familiar with zombie films but I would say it serves as a sort of bridge between old time zombie films more modern living dead features. We are definitely dealing with re-animated corpses here. The film also seems to have borrowed its concept of alien beings using re-animated corpses to attack and defeat the Earth from none other than Ed Wood’s Plan Nine from Outer Space. The really early zombie films had zombies that were typically under some sort of ‘voodoo’ type spell and were controlled by some witch doctor or white man who has been in the jungle long enough to learn the rituals necessary to bring a dead man back to life and have said dead man do his bidding. Modern zombies, since Romero and his Italian imitators, are either the flesh eating living dead or humans infected with some virus that drives them into a homicidal frenzy. Invisible Invaders rests somewhere in the middle of these great epochs of the shuffling dead. The dead are not ravenous flesh eaters but they are still driven to kill living human beings (though not only with their bare hands as we shall see). They are not controlled by a witch doctor but they are manipulated nonetheless by some type of intelligence outside their own instincts. And unlike the army of living dead in Ed Wood’s entertaing Plan 9 (an army of basically Vampira and Tor Johnson) Invisible Invaders features hordes of chalk faced corpses lumbering over hillsides (most of them wearing Wall Street suits) that created the images that haunted me as a little lad. Of course now I am much older and I watch a film like Invisible Invaders not to terrified but to be entertained with outrageously bad acting and dialog as well as gigantic plot holes, confusing stock footage and pretentious, unnecessary narration. Invisible Invaders is indeed a cheese classic by director Edward L. Cahn (It! The Terror from Beyond Space, The She Creature and and living dead classic Zombies of Mora Tau) but it is also a fairly well made film for the most part and thoroughly enjoyable.

The story, like many of the period, centers around the evils of atomic power and research. Almost anything evil during the films of this period could be traced back to atomic research gone awry. And how much awry can an experiment go than to have a hand held test tube suddenly erupt into an atomic explosion. Such is the case for the driven atomic scientist Dr. Karol Noymann (played by the king of all driven and mad scientists John Carradine). The poor guy is simply holding a test tube and it ‘goes off’ and luckily only kills him. It was a very small atomicr disaster I guess. Like an M-80 sized nuclear explosion. The ‘disastrous’ explosion and death of his old friend and colleague pushed another driven scientist, Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge) to give up his career of atomic research and retire back to the quaint little mansion his previous years of devious research have blessed him with to kick back in and mull over his new found pacifistic position in life. He had spent the earlier part of the day with his daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron) and her wimpy boyfriend Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton of The Slime People) and they did not hear hedges being moved by some invisible entity or see paths being made in the dirt by the same entity that cannot lift it feet up when it walks. Later while Dr. Penner is home alone pondering the fate of the world he receives a late night visit from none other than his old pal Karol Noymann (a name so riveting that writer Samuel Newman had to use it again in another classic he helped pen, The Giant Claw). Karol is looking pretty fair for a guy who just got blown to shreds in an atomic mishap. Not only that but he has grave news for Dr. Penenr and all of mankind; he and they have 24 hours to surrender the Earth to his race of superior being who now live in invisible colonies on the moon (that is why we have never seen them with our big telescopes). His race have been living on the moon for 20,000 years and they have decided it time they invade and conquer the earth. They could have done this during the stone age or bronze age but they figured they would wait until we had developed atomic bombs, jet fighters and machine guns to make it more interesting.
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The means by which the aliens will conquer and subdue mankind consists of them basically entering the bodies of dead people and using their lifeless husks as a means to move around cause damage. There are loads of problems with this scenario and I will explore some of them before the post concludes. The aliens are reasonable creatures and offer the humans the 24 hour grace period to submit to their demands. Dr. Penner pleads with Dr. Lamont to go to Washington to convince the politicians and military of the seriousness of the threat. Lamont is concerned with what effect something like this may have on his future career but Penner insists and John figures it is worth a try and soon is off to convince the leaders in the capital that invisible creatures from the moon are on the earth now in invisible space ships and will soon begin inhabiting corpses and will soon conquer all the planet. Surprising as it sounds no one in Washington believes him. Not only do they not believe him but for some reason Lamont’s visit becomes world wide news. Lamont heads back to Phyllis and Dr. Penner with tail between his legs and egg in his face and Penner pleads with the aliens for a little more time. This they grant him and they also offer a couple demonstrations of their awesome powers. First they bring back a military pilot who dies by flying his plane into a huge white X painted on the side of mountain. We do not even need to see this happen since the ongoing narrations tells us almost everything that is happening on the screen. The pilot does not really look too bad for having just been in a fiery plane crash and he lumbers slowly off to a hockey game and not only gets in without a ticket but gets to walk in secure areas and enter the announcer’s box and chocks the announcers to death and gives the Earth fair warning. But another demonstration is needed. So a corpse from an auto accident is re-animated and it shuffles of to yet another sports event and gets in with no ticket and gets in the sports announcer’s box, strangles the announcers and givers the earth some more fair warning. After two sporting events have been interrupted the citizens of earth begin to take the alien invasion seriously but it is a little too late. The invasion ahs began as we can tell form the narrator telling us it ahs began and from the all the stock footage of various disasters. It is beyond time to get serious and so the government gets John Agar involved. Mr. Ex-Shirley Temple plays pilot Major Jay. His mission is to get our three protagonists to a secret cave where they will figure out a way to stop the invaders. Along the way the Major shoots a panicked farmer (with a big shot gun pointed at them all) in the forehead with his .45 and it really freaks the others out. Especially poor Phyllis. But after Major Jay explains he was a little freaked by it too. After all the people he firebombed in Korea during the war was different he explains, he never saw their faces. Phyllis must understand because she offers him a cup of coffee and soon she is forgetting all about her wussy scientist boyfriend Dr. Lamont. When it comes down to it most women really want a guy that can plug a farmer in the forehead with a .45 at point blank range.

Of course I am not really sure why the team has to hide out in a bunker hidden away in a cave in the side of a mountain in the middle of no where to carry on their experiments but that is what they have to do. Many old sci-fi/horror films of this nature take place inside caves. Robot Monster, The Brain from Planet Arous, It Conquered the World, to name just a few. The cave in Invisible Invaders is a bit different in that the government insures that the cave is packed with everything they will ever need. It it is not in the cave it has not been invented! The gang set about trying to come up with a solution to how to destroy the slow moving corpses inhabited by the aliens whose weapons, for some reason, will not work in the Earth’s atmosphere. In fact you have to wonder why the combined militaries of the world are having a hard time with these aliens. They cannot sue their high tech weapons on us in our atmosphere. That is not doubt a lucky break for mankind. Plus they cannot remain invisible and must occupy the bodies of dead people. Another lucky break since fighting an invisible entity could be troublesome as hell. The aliens must basically shuffle around and use either their bare hands or man made weapons like handguns. I do not see why flamethrowers and napalm could not kill these guys off (and it does seem the aliens prefer the carcasses of men to women). But the creatures, of course, must be killed off by some esoteric method. But can the small group of researchers find a solution before they kill each other off? The tension is high and Phyllis getting all hot and bothered over flyboy right in front of Lamont does not help. In fact it leads to some old school fisticuffs. And guess what? Whimpy Lamont basically kicks Major Jay’s butt! Well while all this is going on the crew fionally conclude the only method by which to kill the aliens is to spray them with acrylic paint! Yes. This closes the skin pores of the corpse and basically suffocates the alien inside. I still thing napalm and flamethrowers would have worked but acrylic paint it is. This will involve acquiring a test subject of course. How to capture a superior being with the ability to travel through space and conquer worlds? Why not dig a hole in the ground and cover with branches and trick the thing into walking into it? By golly, it works too. The film concludes with some decent walking dead scenes and Earth being saved and Phyllis giving all her attention to a wounded Major Jay (wounded by a pistol packing corpse).

I may poke some fun at the film but it has some moments that make it exceptional cheese fare. The walking dead look genuinely creepy for the time and had the film had a little more of a budget it may have turned out to be one of the great horror classics of all time. There are the obvious problems stemming from the low budget and rushed production, most notable being the unnecessary narration. In most of this sci-fi/horror films the narration adds very little to what is already happening on the screen. You may have scenes with a character opening a door and then have the narrator explain “Jack opens the door”. It certainly made Ed Wood Jr. films fun but in many cases it leaves one feeling stupefied. Another problem with these types of films is the abuse of stock footage. When the plane in Invisible Invaders crashes to the ground it smacks right into a giant X painted on the side of mountain and it is obviously some sort of military training film. And yet it is also these odd little quirks that actually make the film even more enjoyable. If you cheezy old John Agar and John Carradine sci-fi films and have not seen this one yet I suggest you pick it up soon and give a late night viewing. You will not be disappointed.

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