Friday, March 13, 2015

Invisible Invaders (1959)

... aka: Assalto dallo spazio (Assault from Space)

Directed by:
Edward L. Cahn

Prolific low-budget director Edward L. Cahn seems to get no love at all these days, but he's made some pretty good low-budget genre films like the fun alien invasion comedy INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957) and the highly influential IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), which went on to be a major influence behind ALIEN (1979). Aside from extraterrestrials, he was also fond of zombies, as evidenced by films like Creature with the Atom Brain (1954), ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957), Curse of the Faceless Man (1958) and THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959), which all centered around the undead. Invaders combines both the aliens and the revived corpses and it too ended up being somewhat influential by featuring the shambling dead nearly a full decade before George A. Romero rewrote the rules of such films with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). This film is however not the first of its kind and, unlike what I've seen several other reviewers state, it did not influence Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space at all. Wood's film - which also involved aliens resurrecting the dead - was shot in 1956 and had its first public screenings in 1957. Invisible was shot in late 1958 and only had its general wide release a few months before Plan 9 in 1959.

Nuclear scientist Dr. Karol Noymann (John Carradine) has been "driven beyond the line of endurance" due to long work days and dies in an accidental lab explosion. Because of the incident, his colleague and friend since childhood, Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge), has given up working on "the race for atom supremacy" and become the loudest advocate for peace on the planet. That all changes when Dr. Penner is visited by the corpse of his dearly departed friend late one night. Dr. Noymann's body - not looking too worse for wear considering he died in a massive nuclear explosion! - has been inhabited by invisible aliens. The space visitors have found a way to change the molecular structure of their bodies to become invisible and have been living undetected on the moon for thousands of years. Now that the Earth is making huge scientific strides and will perfect space travel sometime soon, the moon men decide to put us in our place by staging a takeover.

Dr. Penner sends his skeptical protégé Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton) to warn Washington, but they scoff at their claims and both men are made laughing stocks in the papers. With the U.S. and the rest of the world unprepared, the aliens then resurrect the dead from cemeteries around the globe who then begin laying waste to entire cities by causing various catastrophes. Tall buildings and industrial complexes collapse to the ground, planes and cars crash, dams are destroyed and cities are reduced to rubble and engulfed in flames thanks to the miracle of newsreel / stock footage and recycled clips from other films that actually had a budget. Dr. Penner is put back on the "Atom Commission" and is escorted to a hidden military bunker by steel-jawed Air Force Major Bruce Jay (John Agar) somewhere in the desert where the two men, John and Penner's pretty daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron) try to come up with a way to stop the invaders. They're able to capture one of the beings using an acrylic substance that encases the body and hope to get the information they need from it to find a way to defeat the invaders.

The premise used here is utterly ridiculous and senseless, starting with the fact the aliens are invisible, not bodiless, so how on Earth are they able to get inside and control corpses? Why they even bother inhabiting the dead in the first place and why they warn humans of their impending invasion are two other plot points that make no real sense. If the aliens had just quietly done their thing as invisible beings they'd have easily been able to accomplish their goal instead of giving scientists information that is later used against them. If one can ignore the Swiss cheese story line and the droning, pointless narration, this is mildly entertaining for what it is, has some fun moments and the actors are OK. To a modern audience, however, this is mostly interesting as a precursor to what would come later on.

I probably had the most fun comparing this to Romero's later films. Though the zombies here are corpses being used simply as host bodies, the film shares numerous other similarities with Romero's Night, including 1. an attempt to portray an apocalyptic worldwide epidemic of the living dead, 2. zombies which are actually made up to look like corpses (pale skin, black eyes, wrinkly skin, bloody) and walk in a slow / stiff manner, and 3. characters holed up in one location and sitting around trying to get information from TV broadcasts. In addition, the film also seems to have influenced Romero's third 'Dead' film DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Both Day and Invisible feature a small team of bickering scientists and army men confined to claustrophobic military bunkers where tensions rise as they attempt to find a way to destroy the dead.

This was the first credit for special effects man Roger George, who'd go on to do fx for many other horror and science fiction films into the late 80s. The assistant director was Herbert S. Greene, who went on to make THE COSMIC MAN (1959), which involved an invisible alien too and featured Carradine and several other cast members also seen here (Paul Langton and Hal Torey). Invaders was first released to theaters on a double-bill with Cahn's Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake by United Artists. In 2003, MGM released it on DVD as part of their “Midnite Movies” collection and paired it up with JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1961), a Danish-American evil-alien-brain-on-Uranus movie that also starred Agar.

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