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Sundays With… John Carpenter’s “Memoirs of an Invisible Man”!

memoirs of an invisible man

As we close the book on this first month of the New Year, I will also be closing the door on my journey into Invisible Man films and stories. For my final hurrah I went back and looked at a more modern take on the classic character (it didn’t hurt that it was also directed by one of my favorite directors of all time!) This is my Sunday with… “Memoirs of an Invisible Man”!


Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Release Date: February 28, 1992

Run Time: 99 minutes

Starring: Chevy Chase

Director: John Carpenter

Rotten Tomatoes: 21%

Robs Score: 6/10

“It’s lonely, isn’t it, when you’re a freak.” –  David Jenkins

Nick Halloway is a stock analyst. In actuality he is quite lazy, he doesn’t have many friends or family and seems to just blend into the crowd. Leaving work early to go to The Academy Club, Nick’s favorite bar, he meets friend George who is taking his wife and their friend, a documentary producer named Alice, out for diner. Alice and Nick form an immediate bond and attraction and disappear into the ladies room together. The events of the previous night do not end well for Nick as the next morning he has to attend a stockholders meeting at Magnascopic labs. Extremely hung over, Nick leaves the meeting room and attempts to take a little nap in the bathroom. As he does this a worker spills coffee on a console and the whole building has to be evacuated. Nick, asleep in the bathroom, does not evacuate and is instead exposed to the melt down that happens in the building. When he wakes up, Nick, as well as half of the building, is invisible. Enter David Jenkins, a CIA operative who upon discovering the invisible man immediately sees the use in him. Jenkins and his team try to corral Nick several times, each time with him escaping. Nick is on the run, but with no friends or places to go how will he completely escape, and with the CIA now fully invested into him how long will it take before they find out about Alice and use that against him?

Memoirs of an Invisible Man is a clever, updated (for the time at least) take on the invisible man mythos. The film was loosely based on the 1987 novel by H.F. Saint which looked at the real world thinking of just how lonely it would be to actually be invisible. This is a question that was never really broached in the original Universal films. The notion of loneliness was briefly mentioned, however, it was quickly swept away with the notion of unlimited power, and the eventual madness that it caused said invisible man. Memoirs deviated from this approach and instead focused on the more human elements of the actual process. That, in my humble opinion, was a very smart move on the film maker’s part.

The notion of the real world implications of an invisible man are explored in this film and that adds to the success of the film. The original mentions that the invisible man has to be clothed after he ate because the food can be seen. In this film we actually get to see the food being ingested and how it was being digested. There is another scene when Halloway is smoking a cigarette and the viewer gets to see the smoke enter the lungs. It was the attention to details in those scenarios that made the film stand out when opposed to other invisible man stories, or even most of the original sequels. The film also dealt with how hard the transition from a normal visible life to an invisible lifestyle would be. The difficulties with putting clothes on, or even attempting to bring food to your mouth was shown here. These are things that the movie going audience probably wouldn’t think about, however it added a realistic layer of humanity to the outrageous story before us. Much to the credit of the original Invisible Man, Griffin discusses all of this, but Memoirs took it a step further and actually showcased it. These scenes lent themselves perfectly to the difference in feel and tone that this film was going for and actually invested the audience a little more by grounding the film in some sort of reality.

Aside from the stand outs of the visuals and everyday problems of the film, Memoirs of an Invisible Man provided beautiful nods to the films that came before it, while at the same time creating its own unique vision. This film blended its own creative take on the character with nice throwbacks for fans of the original. Halloway goes as far as to don the Claude Rains robe, head bands and goggles in one scene, and even made mention to how useful an “invisible agent” would have been during World War II. However, this film didn’t rely on rehashing the old as it took creative steps to forge its own path. For example, Halloway isn’t turned invisible by a serum, but instead by a lab accident. I also really enjoyed how he was never became visible again. This film demonstrated a great mix of nostalgia and inventive story telling that helped entertain both older and newer fans alike.

As mentioned in the header, this film was directed by the master of horror – John Carpenter, and therein lies one of my biggest problems with it. This did not feel like a Carpenter film at all, but none of that blame falls on him (he is almost infallible in my eyes.) This is one of our earliest examples of the dreaded “studio interference” (Suicide Squad fans know what I’m talking about.) In reality, Memoirs of an Invisible Man was a project that Chevy Chase was very invested in because it would help lead him to more serious roles. The film was originally written for Ivan Reitman to direct, but when he discovered the film wouldn’t be a flat out comedy, he dropped out of the film. Enter the master, John Carpenter, who was handcuffed very early on by the studio, taking away almost all input or artistic freedom he had. Carpenter, already jaded by the big studio experiences, claimed the studio “is in the business of making audience-friendly, non-challenging movies.” This to me was one of, if not the biggest down fall of the film. The studio has this wealth of horror and sci-fi knowledge at their disposal and essentially utilizes him simply for his name, which they did not even put on the movie title as with his other films! At the end of the day, if his name wasn’t in the end credits, you would have ever known John Carpenter worked on the film, and as a die hard fan that is the most disheartening fact of the whole film.

My next issue with Memoirs of an Invisible Man was also something that was a driving force behind the film even happening, and that was Chevy Chase. As mentioned before, Chase was attempting to use this film to spring board himself into more serious roles, and unfortunately it didn’t work here and the film absolutely suffered for it. For me, it was too hard to view Chase as a true love interest of a beautiful woman without his humor or goofiness. This wasn’t in the same vein as Vacation or Caddyshack, which I think audiences were expecting. In those films, Chase was goofy and overall had a good heart, here he just wasn’t that. We got the sense that his character was lazy and could have been a dick. His humor was then injected throughout the film, but it didn’t really fit the “romantic” archetype he was supposed to portray. Aside from that, the film tries to deal with some serious human emotions, namely loneliness. I felt that the writing was effective enough, however a different actor may have garnered a better response in the end. The combination of the tone this film was going for just did not jive with Chase’s style and that aspect really hurt the overall product.

The cast was led by Chevy Chase. The beautiful Daryl Hannah plays Alice, Halloway’s love interest. Hannah is good in this role despite the fact that her character seems rushed – she immediately falls for Halloway and even though they spent one night together, she seems to be head over heels in love with him. Sam Neill plays Jenkins; the government agent who is out to find Halloway and use his powers to benefit the darker needs of the U.S. Neill, for me, was the most effective in terms of performance. Every scene he was in he stole and gave the viewer an overall feel of intimidation as well as a feeling of untrustworthiness. Neil was a throwback character to Carpenter’s “secretly undermining government” formula that has become a main stay in his films (They Live, Escape from NY, and Escape from LA.) The very talented and funny Michael McKean is also in this film, however his performance feels wasted. That, to me, is an example of the tone of the film not benefiting from the actors cast. If this was a more straightforward and comedic take, this cast would have soared.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man is a mixed bag. The film has the overall sense of what could have been, but if you focus on the film given, it is an enjoyable film. John Carpenter’s use of effects are worth seeing on their own. As far as story goes, this film opens up an interesting dialogue through themes found in previous Invisible Man films that are expanded upon here. Memoirs of an Invisible Man serves as a solid throwback as well as adding an interesting and somewhat original stamp on the Invisible Man mythos.

(Rob Texter – @GrundyXIII)

About the author

Rob Texter

Rob is a self-appointed horror and monster movie nerd. He's got a pretty sizable 'Big Trouble' collection and a real, manly man-crush on Kurt Russell. Favorite monster move? Wrong question - "As ole Rob Texter says at a time like this, my favorite horror/science fiction director? John Carpenter, not even a question." His marriage proposal to Megan Fox is still pending

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