Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 24, 2018)
After seven years, 1933’s The Invisible Man finally spawned a sequel via 1940’s The Invisible Man Returns. Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) unjustly winds up on death row for the murder of his brother, a crime he didn’t commit.
After his friend Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) visits, Geoffrey mysteriously disappears from prison. How does he escape?
Griffin’s brother Jack invented a formula that makes humans invisible, and Frank shares this with Geoffrey. Unfortunately, continued exposure to this concoction eventually causes insanity in its user, so Geoffrey must race against the clock to find the real killers before he loses his mind.
Doesn’t the movie’s title seem inaccurate since the first movie’s lead character doesn’t return? Maybe Universal intended “The Invisible Man” to be a generic term that just meant “any see-through dude”, but it does seem odd to imply the original film’s main role will come back here. Of course, since Jack died at the end of Man, that would’ve been tough, but when did horror movies ever regard death with finality?
Nitpicking about the title aside, Returns offers a perfectly competent sequel – no more, no less, though I admit it disappoints somewhat because it starts well. The film sets up its conceit in a crisp, intriguing manner, one that doesn’t allow us to meet Geoffrey until more than 16 minutes into its running time.
That came as a surprise. I expected an introductory component where we got to know “visible Geoffrey” before he went poof, but instead, the film keeps him translucent for nearly its entire span. This works nicely during that opening, as it creates a sense of mystery.
After that, matters become more erratic. Inevitably, the movie’s clunky romance causes it to drag at times, and the plotline gets muddled enough that the film works only in fits and starts.
Still, Returns delivers some strong moments, such as when Geoffrey torments Willie Spears (Alan Napier), a member of the conspiracy to frame him. Napier – best-known as Alfred on the 1960s Batman TV series – plays a sense of genuine terror, and this sequence fares well.
Though not as good as Claude Rains in the original, Price holds his own as our title character. Unsurprisingly, he offers his strongest work when Geoffrey gets more and more unhinged, and he makes potentially cringeworthy scenes impactful.
In the end, Returns delivers a wholly serviceable sequel. Wile it never excels, it does enough to stay interesting across its 81 minutes.