by Mel Valentin
With a title like "Invisible Invaders," a tagline that promised, “An unearthly enemy defying modern science in a war to the death,” a release date at the tail end of the 1950s, and B-movie veteran Edward L. Cahn ("It! The Terror From Beyond Space," "Curse of the Faceless Man," "Invasion of the Saucer Men," "Zombies of Mara Tau," "The She-Creature," "Creature with the Atom Brain") at the helm, fans nostalgic for the “Creatures Features” television program that aired in the 1970s and early 1980s are in for a “treat,” if by treat we mean B-movie camp from the opening credits, a generic star field supported by generic sci-fi music, through the last sermonizing scene a mere 67 minutes later.After the death of Dr. Karol Noymann (John Carradine), a nuclear scientist, in a scientific experiment that goes wrong, his friend, former colleague, and anti-nuclear activist, Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge), returns home for Noymann’s funeral. Penner’s daughter, Phyllis (Jean Byron), is also along for company, as is another scientist and Phyllis’ ex-lover, Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton). That night, Penner receives a surprise visit from an ambulatory, talking Noymann. This Noymann, however, isn’t Penner’s old friend, but an “invisible invader,” an alien from another galaxy here to warn Penner of an imminent invasion from a base on the moon. Noymann’s cadaver wants Penner to warn government leaders in the hope that they’ll surrender before the actual invasion begins. They don’t, of course, and up rise the newly animated walking dead to cause all kinds of mayhem.
"Space zombies? Well sorta, but no brain munching, alas."
Alien invasion in progress (mostly offscreen), Dr. Penner gets tapped to lead a not-so-secret effort to discover the aliens’ biological or technological weaknesses. Lt. Gen. Stone (Paul Langton) sends Penner to a super-secret underground bunker with his daughter, Dr. Lamont, and Maj. Bruce Jay (John Agar). Without additional support financially or otherwise, Penner and his team are expected to find a way to stop the alien invasion. The aliens send their army of the walking dead to find the bunker and stop Penner. The bunker, however, isn’t conducive to Dr. Lamont’s mental or emotional health, but the opposite proves true for Phyllis and Jay, who begin the first tentative steps toward romance despite Phyllis’ initial qualms about Jay’s trigger finger (Jay dispatches a desperate farmer who tries to carjack their jeep). As a weak-willed scientist, Lamont is out of contention, of course.
It's surprising more critics or sci-fi fans haven't heard of Edward L. Cahn. He probably deserves a place alongside Ed Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space) as one of the least talented directors of the era. With more than 100 films to his name in just about every genre, and all but one or two forgettable, Cahn exemplifies the Hollywood hack. He had just enough “talent,” experience, and connections to work steadily for more than 30 years, but made one mediocrity after another. To be fair, Cahn's the more competent director in comparison to Ed Wood, but that's not really saying much. Cahn worked with slightly bigger budgets and worked frequently enough to "hone" his craft as a low-budget, low-effort director. Wood never got to work as much as Cahn. Wood was the embodiment of the marginal dreamer, convinced of his own talent, frustrated by miniscule budgets and fickle producers, doomed to a lifetime of frustration and disappointment.
But let's get back to Invisible Invaders and the singular reason for giving it a chance: the walking dead. They're singularly unimpressive, but they're also the best dressed zombies on film. The invisible invaders prefer male to female corpses (at least from what we're shown) and prefer their corpses in suits and ties. There's not much logic in why the invisible invaders would slip into human corpses like an ill-fitting suit and using them as their army. Human bodies, dead or not, are still relatively fragile and frail. A few hand grenades and/or rocket propelled grenades would stop the shambling walking dead in their tracks or slow them down enough to make them harmless. The invisible invaders may be technologically advanced (they travel in spaceships, after all), but their weapons don't work in our atmosphere, making them some of the worst prepared alien invaders in science fiction.
The invaders aren't the brightest aliens in the galaxy either, contacting Dr. Penner first with their warning, leaving no evidence behind as proof, and expecting him to convince his government and others to give in to the aliens' demands (i.e., surrender to their "dictatorship of the universe" or face their wrath). It's a dumb move with predictably dire consequences. Penner's initially treated as a laughingstock until the aliens attack, reanimating the dead and going on a slow-motion rampage to convince earthers of their intentions, none of them good. Proven right, Dr. Penner's then sent to an underground bunker, but with just one other scientist, his daughter and acting secretary (no gender stereotyping here, none at all), and exactly one military officer for protection. Talk about a shortage of resources, financial and otherwise.
Even at a relatively brief 67 minutes, Invisible Invaders feels padded (because it is). Cahn and his producers padded Invisible Invaders' running time by inserting stock footage where appropriate (and where inappropriate too), mostly of natural and man-made disasters caught by film or television crews. If that's not enough, Cahn and his producers use voice-over narration, all of it redundant, to unhelpfully describe onscreen events. Under the assumption that moviegoers back in 1959 wouldn't notice, or, more likely, wouldn't care, Cahn also reuses the same stock shots repeatedly and, to add insult to cinematic injury, he repeatedly cuts back to the same shots of the walking dead making their way down a mountain.Between the walking dead animated by invisible extraterrestrials ushering in a minor, mostly offscreen apocalypse and scientists holed up in an underground butler desperately trying to find a way to stop the aliens, it's hard not to imagine one George A. Romero less than years later relying on "Invisible Invaders" as his inspiration for "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968 (e.g., the walking dead, a non-supernatural explanation for their existence) and almost twenty years later, "Day of the Dead" (e.g., the underground bunker populated by a mix of scientists and army officers, capturing and experimenting on the walking dead). Romero, though, didn't share Cahn's faith or optimism in science (or human nature) to solve all of our problems.
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originally posted: 01/12/07 14:58:45