Examining Hollywood Remakes: The Hollow Man

The Hollow Man is a modern reimaging of the oft-copied Invisible Man story, first brought to the screen by Universal Studios in 1933. The story is based on H. G. Wells‘ famous science fiction novel “The Invisible Man”, published in 1897, which told the tale of a scientist who develops an invisibility serum and uses himself as a test subject, becoming both invisible and dangerously insane.

 

The 1933 classic The Invisible Man, which was part of Universal Studios cluster of successful horror film franchises, was directed by James Whale, who also directed Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. The 1933 version has an impressive 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It led to several sequels and many rip-offs. Aside from being a great film, it’s also notable for having begun the celebrated career of Claude Rains, an amazing actor whose impressive credits included classics like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the Wolf Man and Lawrence of Arabia, to name just a few. His fiancée is played by a very young Gloria Stuart, best known to modern viewers as old Rose in Titanic.

The plot of the original: Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Raines), his face covered in bandages, rents a room at a secluded Inn in a small English village in Sussex. Griffin demands that he be left alone but becomes the object of local curiosity. We see him working on some sort of chemical formula but is frustrated by his failure and by the constant snooping of the locals. He is further infuriated when the Inn owner comes to ask for the rent.  Angered, he throws the owner down the stairs. Confronted by a policeman and some local villagers, he removes his bandages and clothes, revealing that he is invisible. Laughing maniacally, he scares them away before fleeing into the countryside.

We learn that Griffin is a chemist who discovered the secret of invisibility and experimented on himself. He is trying to find a cure but is slowly going insane. Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), Griffin’s fiancee and the daughter of Griffin’s employer Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), is upset over Griffin’s unexplained absence. Cranley and his other assistant, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), search Griffin’s empty laboratory, finding only a single note saying he’s going away and a list of chemicals which includes monocane. Cranley knows this is extremely dangerous because an injection of it drove a dog mad in Germany. Griffin was unaware of this, having learned about monocane from English books printed before the incident.

Griffin turns up at Kemp’s home and scares Kemp into becoming his partner in a plot to gain power through invisible terrorism. Griffin thinks “a few murders here and there” will scare people enough that they’ll give him whatever he wants. A police inquiry is underway, conducted by an official who believes it is all a hoax. Griffin kills the officer so he can retrieve the notes he left at the Inn. An increasingly terrified Kemp calls Cranley. Flora persuades her father to let her come along. In her presence, Griffin becomes more placid and seems willing to listen to reason until the police arrive and he realizes Kemp has betrayed him. After promising Kemp that he will murder him at 10 o’clock the next night, Griffin escapes and goes on a killing spree. He causes the derailment of a train, resulting in a hundred deaths, and throws two volunteer searchers off a cliff. The chief detective in charge of the case uses Kemp as bait, feeling Griffin will try to make good on his threat, and devises various traps at Kemp’s home, but it all fails and Kemp is killed regardless.

Griffin seeks shelter from a snowstorm in a barn but the farmer hears snoring and notifies the police. The police surround the barn and set fire to it. When Griffin comes out, the police see his footprints in the snow and open fire, mortally wounding him. Griffin is taken to the hospital. On his deathbed, he admits to Flora that he had tampered with something that was meant to be left alone. After he dies, his body becomes visible again.

Since Raines is unseen throughout the movie (Raines doesn’t physically appear on screen until the very end) his performance is done completely through his voice, and Raines has a terrific speaking voice. He manages to convey Griffin’s increasing insanity and megalomania through his verbal delivery alone. Although he is voicing a crazed maniac, he never goes too far that it becomes comical. It’s a great voice-over performance. The film itself manages to retain a sober tone, despite some moments of playfully deranged behavior by Griffin.

The Hollow Man, however, is another matter. It fails to be the serious horror/thriller it aspires to be due to unimaginative scenes and clichéd horror tropes.  Despite having an excellent leading man in Kevin Bacon—a wonderful actor who has appeared in Footloose, Flatliners, A few Good Men, Apollo 13, Mystic River, Frost/Nixon, X-Men: First Class, and many other good movies—the poorly thought out characters and scenarios don’t allow talented people like Bacon and Elisabeth Shue to really show their acting chops. It’s a mass of wasted potential that degenerates into a typical slasher film. Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film that it deserves a place in the Underachievement Hall of Fame because it falls short of delivering on a great premise. He said, “The movie is just a slasher film with a science gimmick”. The Hollow Man has a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an even lower 24% on Metacritic. It was directed by Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, whose career has had some notable triumphs (Robocop, Basic Instincts) and some unfortunate stinkers (Showgirls, Starship Troopers).

The plot of the 2000 Remake: Scientist Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) creates an invisibility serum. He and his science team, which includes his former-girlfriend Dr. Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) and Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), turn a gorilla invisible and restore it back to visibility. Caine is angry that Linda has become involved with Matt. Rather than reporting his success to the military who sponsored it, Caine lies to the oversight committee, which includes his mentor Dr. Kramer (William Devane), and convinces his team to go right to human testing, using himself as the Guinee Pig. It works and Caine becomes invisible. He starts sneaking around the lab in order to scare and play pranks on his team. They become worried that he is acting too weird and erratic.

When Caine he is unable to revert to visibility he is quarantined in the lab and the other doctors make a latex mask for him to wear around the lab. Driven stir crazy by the isolation, he sneaks out and heads to his apartment. While he’s there, he decides to rape his attractive neighbor. Linda warns him that if he leaves again, she and Matt will tell the committee about the experiment. Unwilling to accept an ultimatum, Caine builds a device that runs a video loop of his heat signature, making it seem he is still in his quarters. He sneaks out again to on spy Linda and Matt, becoming enraged when he sees them having sex.

When the other Docs realize that Caine has been going AWOL, Linda and Matt go to Dr. Kramer’s house and confess their experiment succeeded. After they leave, Caine–who followed Linda and Matt—kills Kramer. The next day, Caine waits until all of the team are in the lab and then disables the phones and the elevator codes, trapping them and begins his killing spree.

After most of the others are dead, Linda gathers parts to assemble a flamethrower, while Caine is arranging to blow up the whole lab. Just as he enters the elevator to leave, Linda appears and fires the flamethrower at him. Like a good movie slasher, Caine shrugs off the flames. Just as he’s about to kill Linda, Matt appears and hits Sebastian with the crowbar. Shrugging this off, too, Caine is going to use the crowbar on Matt and Linda but Matt deflects the blow, throwing Sebastian into a nearby circuit box, electrocuting him. Shrugging this off as well, Caine chases Linda and Matt as they climb up the elevator shaft to escape the coming explosion. Caine fights with Linda, and forcibly kisses her one last time, before she grabs the elevator cable and knocks the car loose, sending Sebastian falling into the explosion in the shaft below. Linda and Matt escape.

While the SFX of the Hollow Man are obviously superior to the 1933 version, the old one was still an impressive feat for its day. Putting it into the context of its time and budget, it delivers some clever and groundbreaking visual effects. When Griffin had no clothes on, the effect was achieved through the use of wires, but when he had his clothes on or was taking them off, the effect was achieved by shooting Rains in a completely black velvet body suit and mask against a black velvet background and then superimposing it on another shot of the same location the scene took place in, using a matte process. 

The leads are both excellent actors but the nod has to go to Raines here. Despite the fact that he’s never seen on screen (except as a corpse at the end) Raines gives a masterfully intimidating and memorable performance, while Bacon—as talented as he is—is sabotaged by material that drags him down into B-picture schlock. Elisabeth Shue, who was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Leaving Las Vegas, comes across as generic and bland because of the way the character is written.

So which is better? The original Invisible Man is! The Hollow Man squanders its potential by having its super-powered villain do little more with his power than raping his neighbor and attacking his friends. His ‘tunnel vision’ makes him a very underachieving bad guy. In the 1933 version, Griffin’s raging megalomania makes him think he can single-handedly take on the whole world. At one point he states, “Even the moon is frightened of me! Frightened to death!” He proceeds to destroy a train for fun, killing one hundred people. Griffin enjoys terrifying people with his power, while Craine likes spying on naked women. Talk about underachieving.

The Hollow Man also falls victim to the weak slasher film cliché where the murderer seems to be indestructible, despite the fact that it’s never stated in the film that the invisibility serum makes him any stronger or more resilient than a normal man. Craine is set on fire, bashed with a crowbar and electrocuted, but still continues to stalk his victims with undiminished energy. In the original, when Griffin is shot, he dies.

So that’s it for this week’s look at a cinematic remake. We’ll be back next week to dissect another one. Until then, feel free to look up our previous articles Examining Hollywood Remakes.