25 July 2014

Invisible Ghost (1941)
64 min.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.
With Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire, Clarence Muse, Terry Walker, Betty Compson, Ernie Adams, George Pembroke.
Jose Cruz

Dr. Charles Kessler (Lugosi) has not been the same since the day his wife disappeared. Having left him for another man, she was never seen again.

Charles doesn't let that get in the way of having his anniversary dinner though. His daughter Virginia (Young) and butler Evans (Muse) try to cheer him up as best they can.

However, all is certainly not well. Some unknown fiend has been killing innocent people in town, strangling each victim but leaving no fingerprints to identify the culprit. Could it be the wrathful spirit of Mrs. Kessler, back from the grave to slay those close to the doctor?

That can't be. Because Mrs. Kessler (Compson) is in fact alive! Mentally traumatized by a car accident she was involved in that killed her new boyfriend, she has been kept hidden away by Kessler's groundskeeper until the time is right to bring the Lady Kessler back home to her husband.

But wait… it seems Mrs. Kessler and Charles regularly see each other almost every night, only Charles believes he's seeing a mad vision of his beloved's spirit. Driven a little crazy by the sight, Charles becomes hypnotized by a lust to kill! Strangulation being the preferred method, of course.

Did we mention that Virginia's beau Ralph (McGuire) becomes implicated as the killer and is executed in prison, only to have his near-identical brother Paul (McGuire again) show up to help solve the strange goings-on? And so does a dogged detective? And then everyone thinks the butler is the murderer? And then…

As one can tell, the enemy of this particular picture is the writing.

Penned by Helen and Al Martin, the screenplay simply packs in way too many sub-plots and storylines for the viewer to fully process. In a film that runs just about an hour, any attempt at atmosphere or characterization is practically bulldozed by the copious amount of bizarre plot developments.

It also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. What compelled the groundskeeper to keep Mrs. Kessler in a subterranean basement instead of bringing her to a hospital? Why does Charles feel the need to kill when he sees his wife on the grounds?

Why does everyone decide to stay in the house when it becomes painfully clear that the murderer is offing anyone who so much as wipes their feet on the doormat? Sadly these questions of logic, which might be ignored in a superior film, only stack the odds against Invisible Ghost when coupled with its narrative deficiencies.

Lugosi exudes his typical air of menace in the scenes of him lurking within the house, but it's safe to say that the movie would be an utter chore to watch without him.

The rest of the cast is fine enough for a 40's-era low budget spookshow. McGuire, in particular, has a little bit of an edge as he gets to play both a wrongly persecuted criminal and a heroic twin brother in a nice soap opera-esque turn.

Even with the script problems, director Lewis still manages to stir up at least a modicum of suspense. Particularly effective is the scene where Kessler enters his daughter's room, garrote at the ready, when a brilliant flash of lightning stirs him out of his insane trance. Also notable is a killing seen through shadow play by the light of a refrigerator. For all these little moments, taking on the entire film almost isn't worth the wait.

Invisible Ghost is not the worst you'll ever see, but you can certainly do better. Bela excelled higher in other pictures which had similar budgets.

For more spirited romps than this lifeless exercise, turn to The Devil Bat (1940) or White Zombie (1932) for some true chills.

© copyright 1998-present | The Terror Trap; www.terrortrap.com | all rights reserved