Fright Fest: Invisible Invaders (1959)
From another planet comes the Invisible Invaders!
How can you stop what you don’t see?
The dead will destroy all the living!
The living dead threaten all life on earth!
I know, Invisible Invaders? you say. Aliens, you must be joking. Certainly, Tommy, anything Romero-esque would be post 1968 and here you have a review for Fright Fest: Zombies with a film released back in 1959. What gives? Well, I’ll tell you. Yes, the rules still apply, though truth be told this one does kinda skirt the line a bit. The reason I wanted to include Invisible Invaders is due to the ambiance of the film and how obscure it has become in recent years despite its obviously forgotten importance to the history of zombie lore. As per the “rules” and as per the formula of Romero films, the zombies or ghouls or walking dead are not living persons controlled through magic or voodoo, though I do enjoy that variation, it doesn’t quite fit within the spectrum of Romeroism. The rule is simple enough, a person dies, they get up and attack the living, that living person dies and they get up and attack the living, etc. etc.
And before we delve any deeper over a tit-for-tat over the history of the term zombie, yes I am fully aware of its Haitian pan-African roots. Trust me, I’m not trying to take that away, but that’s be frank here, if you asked anyone on the street what a zombie was what do you think they’d say? My money is on the walking dead, not the traditional mind controlled zombie. Sorry, that’s just the state of things, Romero changed the association of the word. And if it ask me, all for the better. Voodoo is a much more impressive word to use for mind-controlled zombies. Voodoo invokes the mystique. The exotic. The unknown. These of course, as the Dude says, are just my opinions, man.
Back to the Invisible Invaders!
Here’s a brief synopsis provided by TCM:
“Invisible aliens use newly raised corpses to conquer the Earth.”
That’s it, that’s the whole she-bang. In a nutshell, at least. Invisible Invaders works as both a science fiction and a horror movie. And filmed on a very low budget. Not so low I’d wager from Plan 9 From Outer Space, but similar. And yes, Invisible Invaders does skirt the line for a movie we’d call Romero-esque, but it still fits, if just barely, as the aliens are not mind controlling the living but as invading the bodies of the dead. The film opens with the voice of a narrator (unaccredited) who acts the part of a sort of TV announcer, giving us a play by play throughout the movie, moving along the plot and letting us know what the players are up to and why and the fate of everything that constantly hangs in the balance. While sort of cheesy, it is rather classic in terms of what we’d called 50s sci-fi, think War of the Worlds.
Running at just over an hour, Invisible Invaders keeps a steady pace. We’re told at the start that atomic scientist Dr. Karol Noymann is killed in an accidental explosion. His friend and fellow atomic scientist Dr. Adam Penner resigns from the U.S. Atomic Commission, convinced that continued atomic testing will escalate the dangerous worldwide arms race. He wants to work on endeavors that will result in world peace, not annihilation. Following the funeral, we’re given the first glimpse of the Invisible Invaders via really corny dirt tracks in the grave trick, and soon after Noymann’s body visits the home of Dr. Penner with a grave warning (get it, grave warning?). Noymann isn’t really Noymann at all, his oddly preserved dead body is host to an alien race that lives on the moon and is somehow also from another universe but controls our universe with a dictator like invisible fist…(just go with it).
Penner is given one chance to convince the people of earth to surrender or face a total invasion. However, the alien-zombie-dude gives Penner nothing to back the claim, only threats. Honestly, is there any surprise that the governments and the peoples of earth laugh and ridicule him? Its like the aliens gave him a hopeless task just to fuck with him. Anyhow, Penner pleads with the Invisible Invaders for one more chance. They both agree and deny his request. Instead they take it upon themselves to deliver the message. And where do they start? At a fucking hockey game… one of the Invisible Invaders takes control of the body of a dead pilot and proceeds to choke out two game announcers and gives the warning. To my surprise, the people, about 20 in total, watching the game run, scared or drunk remains to be seen (seen, get it?). The aliens rinse and repeat for about 3 or so times until the world finally catches on that something might be going on. But as things go on planet Earth, we humans take too long deliberating and before the United Nations can even begin discussions, the invaders begin invading.
Invisible Invaders take control of our dead, and as the announcer informs us ever so dramatically, begin destroying the living. The film progresses rapidly here into clips of firemen putting out fires, of buildings and bridges toppling over, explosions all spliced I assume from some other footage. The real meat and treat here are the walking dead. You don’t need to see the entire movie to agree, but just look at those stumbling corpses and tell me you are not reminded of Night of the Living Dead. Every time they showed one of them I kept thinking back to Romero, but not just his uber celebrated Night of the Living Dead, there are some scenes that are very reminiscent of Day of the Dead too.
Due to budget restraints, we’re kept to a very tight cast. And as per 1950s sci-fi, the fate of humanity rest on the shoulder of Dr. Penner, his daughter Phyllis, the cowardly Dr. Lamont, and John Wayne-Captain Rhodes hybrid, Colonel Jay. Taken to a secret bunker, Colonel Jay is quick to inform the scientists that he’s in command of this outfit (sound familiar?) and gets the whiners to work. Though limited in budget, the small cast of characters work really well together. Sometimes confusing on who is playing which role. Lamont is a coward, but he’s only a coward when there’s no rationale plan in action or if the plan sounds unwinnable or if he’s put at risk. Colonel Jay sometimes feels like a power hungry general, but quickly takes on a heroic John Wayne persona. Its confusing and yet it adds to the isolated insane feeling of being in that secret bunker trying to solve the answer to a very desperate question.
Invisible Invaders is an odd film. There are plenty of silly moments that are pretty standard for 1950s science fiction. But there are moments that invoke that dread really good zombie movies bring out within us. And best of all, as per the “rules” of Romeroism, there’s a message to be heard here. As witnessed in that bunker, yes kinda hammy at times, but nonetheless provocative, in order to survive we must find a way to work together. Invisible Invaders is very much a anti-atomic-nuclear weapons movie. Its very anti Cold War as well. And its also a movie that is strangely, terrifyingly relatable today. Invisible Invaders preaches harmony and peace and collaboration among all peoples and nations. If we turned on the news right now, would we see the same?
My rating: 4 out of 5
Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers aspires to create his own fantastic worlds with memorable characters and haunted places. His stories range from Shakespearean gore, feuding families, classic monsters, historic paranormal thrillers, and haunted soldiers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas’s debut novel, Reinheit, was eventually published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, filled with werewolves, Frankenstein-inspired monsters, cults, alter-dimensional insects, witches, and the undead are published with Limitless Publishing. Be sure to visit www.ThomasSFlowers.com a home for the mentally insane!