Invisible Ghost (1941) Review: Emotional Mystery
“Out of the darkness comes the ear-piercing cry of a terrified girl…”
Synopsis: The town’s leading citizen becomes a homicidal maniac after his wife deserts him.
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Considering the short run time and the nonsensical nature of what little plot there was, Invisible Ghost is surprisingly watchable. Even without much to work with, the supporting cast does better than plenty of similar films from the time period. And Bela Lugosi, given the opportunity to do more than skulk about creepily, rises to the occasion and portrays a kind and deeply disturbed man with aplomb.
Charles Kessler, Bela Lugosi’s character, plays an upstanding man of the town who is troubled by his wife’s disappearance. She ran off several years before with another man in some sort of scandal, and since then he has refused to leave the house in case she comes back… despite the fact that the house has been the setting of many murders of late. His daughter Virginia (Polly Ann Young) stands by him, as do the servants, though I’m not sure how on earth they manage to keep any help in a place where everyone is getting bumped off on the regular. But when Virginia’s fiance (John McGuire) is implicated in the latest murder, his subsequent trial, conviction, and execution set events in motion that eventually reveal the true killer.
It’s a shame that in a film this short, the mystery is revealed to the audience so early; it would have been a stronger piece if we were left in the dark, like the characters. Still, what the audience learns helps heighten the tension throughout the piece. Along with the general “old creepy house” vibe that Invisible Ghost has going on, the characters also do surprisingly well with the heavy emotional angle – Lugosi in particular. It’s hard not to feel for everyone involved in the mystery of the house.
While the plot is rushed and makes little sense, the filmmakers did a reasonable job of keeping tension high throughout the movie. The acting was also good, and it was a nice change of pace for a flick like this to focus on emotion rather than campy horror. Also worthy of note is the film’s surprisingly kind treatment of the butler Evans (Clarence Muse), who is not only spared the usual treatment of black servants in movies from this time period, but is also an integral part of the family.
Though definitely uneven at times and lacking in strength of story, Invisible Ghost is pretty short, and a nice change of pace from standard ghost stories of the time. Bela Lugosi fans in particular will enjoy his performance, but I challenge anyone not to feel crushed at his expression in the final scenes of the movie.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B-
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