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Don’t Open That Door! #40: 'Invisible Invaders' (1959)

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Thursday, May 2, 2013
Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: humanity reels from a threat it can’t see in Invisible Invaders
cover art

Invisible Invaders

Director: Edward D. Cahn
Cast: John Agar, Jean Byron, Robert Hutton, John Carradine

(US theatrical: 15 May 1959)

Alternative titles: Plan 10 From Outer Space; Attack of the Badly-Suited Zombies
 
POSITIVES:


Good performances from solid B-list cast, though John Carradine is underutilized.


Cool “invisible cross-country skiing” effects.


Clever use of newsreel footage suggests worldwide catastrophe.


Nifty anti-nukes subtext.


Inventive way of capturing and studying aliens.
  
NEGATIVES:


Somewhat familiar plot.


“Invisible invader” is movie-producer code for “Invader that we don’t have to spend much money on”.


Only 66 minutes long! Come on, guys—write another scene or two!


SYNOPSIS: The latest in a seemingly endless series of alien invaders has decided to move in on Earth, now that the stupid humans are on the brink of space travel (and well over the line in terms of atomic weapons). At first, nobody believes somewhat frazzled-looking Dr. Adam Penner when he warns humanity of the threat—of course not!—so the aliens decide to take matters into their own unseen hands. Since they are invisible, this means they must kill unsuspecting earthlings and clothe their reanimated corpses in badly fitting suits to deliver their deadly message of gut-wrenching terror. Showing an uncanny knack for reaching the average joe—plus a pretty good understanding of gut-wrenching terror—they deliver their threats at an ice hockey game, where they get the reaction they’re looking for. Other major sporting events are similarly disrupted, and before long we have a panic on our hands, which is of course precisely what the insidious aliens were after. Plus maybe a shot at the playoffs.




When the action spreads across the world—Europe and Asia are inundated with frantic mobs of their own, absent the hockey anxieties—the government gets smart and decides it’s worth returning Dr. Penner’s phone calls after all. Secure in his nuke-proof mountain bunker, he gets busy on a secret weapon to stem the invading hordes. This is no easy trick, given that the invading hordes are invading courtesy of human bodies that are already dead. Yup, it’s that old zombie quandary again: how do you kill somebody who’s not alive anymore? Well, that’s why you need the big brains like Penner around, not to mention his sensible daughter Phyllis, the bright but wimpy Dr. Lamont, and tough-guy soldier Major Jay.


Holed up in the bunker, our heroes watch as a seemingly endless wave of zombies pass by the monitors, all of whom have that same lousy tailor. (Some of the ties are just appalling.) After a while, someone notices the invaders aren’t using any weapons of their own—just (mis)appropriated human gadgets. “Then their only weapon, actually, is the fact that they’re invisible!” exclaims Dr. Penner excitedly. Well, yeah, but that’s still an advantage, though compared to Martian tripods or robotic death rays, it’s not such a big deal. In the nick of time, the dashing scientists hatch a desperate plan involving a large hole filled with liquid acrylic. It will also help if the aliens are really dumb. Subsequently—and quite unexpectedly—a weakness is revealed in the invaders. And then, something else is revealed…



Moral of the story: Seeing is believing!


What gets wracked up: A scientist; an airplane and pilot; a radio announcer; a hockey game; a car and driver; a truck; a couple dams; some skyscrapers (that looked suspiciously derelict anyhow); lots of other buildings; Holland and Finland; a bridge; large chunks of Europe and the Far East; warehouses; army depots; trains; entire city blocks; numerous factories; trees; houses; a buncha zombies; an alien spaceship. And you thought this was a family movie?


Best line of dialogue: “Cable fox niner six to mayday homer. Over?” (Translation: “Honey, I’m gonna be a little late for dinner tonight. Can you keep a plate warm for me in the oven? It’s still the 1950s, so we don’t have microwaves yet.” 


Somehow their careers survived: John Agar (Maj. Jay) should be familiar to fans of these movies, given his prior appearances in Revenge of the Creature (1955), The Mole People (1956), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), and Attack of the Puppet People (1958). Jean Byron (Phyllis) featured in 1953’s The Magnetic Monster, while Robert Hutton (Dr. Lamont) scored roles in war movies and westerns like Destination Tokyo (1943) and Slaughter Trail (1951) before moving on to mature works like The Slime People (1963) and They Came from Beyond Space (1967). John Carradine, who appears in a couple scenes as Dr. Carl Noymann, had a long and stellar career in tons of movies, specializing in mad scientists; see my entry for The Unearthly (1957—Don’t Open That Door! #22) for details. Director Edward D. Cahn was a steady monster-movie maker whose credits include Zombies of Moratau and Invasion of the Saucer Men (both 1957) and It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958), but his career began with 1935’s gangster flick Confidential.




BOTTOM LINE: Essentially an upgraded Plan 9 From Outer Space, right down to the stentorian narration, the cast makes this one worthwhile.

NEXT WEEK: Terror Is a Man (1959)


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