Invisible Invaders (1959) ***
Occasionally, a relatively obscure movie will take me by surprise by presenting hints of unheralded patterns of possible influence involving other, better known films. In the case of Invisible Invaders, there are two movies to which it seems to be tied in this manner, separated by nearly as wide a chasm of quality and reputation as you will ever find. On the one hand, quite a number of scenes bear a strong resemblance to George Romeroís Night of the Living Dead. On the other, it really looks like this was the movie Ed Wood thought he was making when he gave us Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Director Edward Cahn has learned a lot about pacing in the three years since his efforts to put the moviegoers of the world to sleep with The She-Creature. In Invisible Invaders, he errs rather strongly in the opposite direction, moving the major plot developments along at a clip that is almost too fast to follow. No sooner are we introduced to nuclear physicist Dr. Karol Noymann (John Carradine, from House of Dracula and The Invisible Manís Revenge) than we are presented with a newspaper headline announcing his death in a tragic accident at his lab. This accident proves to be the final straw for Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge, from House of Wax and Macabre), a colleague and longtime friend of Noymannís. Penner had long been inclining toward the belief that his participation in the research and development side of the nuclear arms race was morally indefensible, and his friendís death has finally convinced him that he wants nothing more to do with nuclear fission. Penner hands in his resignation at the lab the very next day.
A funny thing happens to Penner after his friendís funeral. That night, after his daughter, Phyllis (Jean Byron, of The Magnetic Monster and Jungle Moon Men), leaves to drive her friend and Pennerís protege, Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton, from The Man Without a Body and The Colossus of New York), back to his hotel, Pennerís contemplation is interrupted by a knock at the door. To the scientistís astonishment, it is Karol Noymann that he finds standing on the doorstep when he answers the knock! And man-oh-man, does Karol ever have news for Penner! In point of fact, though the body on the doorstep is Karolís, the intelligence inside it belongs to an alien from Earthís moon. Penner is quick to make the same objection you just didó the moonís utter lifelessness was obvious even as early as 1959ó but Noymann has an answer to that, too. His people are invisible to human eyes, and so, for that matter, are all the products of their civilization! Indeed, the moon is just bristling with huge cities that we canít see. These aliens most certainly appreciate the strategic benefits of invisibility, and have used the dual advantages of transparency and an ability to enter and control the dead bodies of other organisms to subjugate more planets than we humans even realized were out there. And now, as if this werenít already obvious, the Earthís turn has finally come. The alien inside Noymann wants Penner to announce to his former employers in the government that the invasion is already in motion, and that if all of humanity does not surrender to the moon men within 24 hours, the aliens will unleash a holocaust the likes of which the world has not seen since Earth vs. the Flying Saucers at the very least.
Penner is thus in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, heíd really rather his species not perish. On the other, he knows full well that nobody on Earth is going to believe such a ridiculous story, especially from the mouth of an anti-nuclear, pacifist crackpot. And sure enough, the first two people he tells about his little talk with the corpse of Karol Noymannó Phyllis and Dr. Lamontó take him none too seriously at first. Phyllis comes to believe her fatherís tale once sheís had a chance to observe him for a while, and to notice that he is not behaving irrationally in any other way. John Lamont isnít quite convinced, but he rather implausibly agrees to make Pennerís announcement for him in order to placate Phyllis. The world greets the news with all the derision it can muster, and Lamont is made a laughing stock. Penner, in desperation, goes with Phyllis and Lamont to the cemetery where Noymann was interred, in the hope of making contact with the aliens again. The creatures agree to speak with him, and they also agree to extend the deadline for a few more days, and to arrange for a demonstration of their existence and their seriousness about conquering the world.
I myself never would have thought of this as a means of getting the worldís attention, but I suppose it makes a twisted kind of sense. Taking control of whatever fresh stiffs happen to be lying around at hand, the aliens put in a series of appearances at sporting events around the globe, where they infiltrate the announcersí boxes, seize the commentatorsí microphones, and tell the assembled fans that the world will soon belong to the moon men. A few days later, armies of the walking dead begin roaming the Earth, committing all manner of terrorist attacks on targets ranging from military bases to big, showy suspension bridges. The armies of the world are of no value against the invaders, because the hijacked corpses cannot be killed, and it soon becomes clear that the aliens will achieve their objective in perhaps three days.
And thus it is that Penner finds himself working for the military again. His old boss, General Stone (Paul Langton, from The Incredible Shrinking Man and It!: The Terror from Beyond Space), calls him up and hires him and Lamont to contribute to the international search for an effective weapon against the aliens. A soldier named Major Bruce Jay (John Agar, from Revenge of the Creature and Attack of the Puppet People) arrives at the Penner house to take Penner, Phyllis, and Lamont to a secret laboratory in an underground bunker. Then the frantic search for the aliensí weakness commences, while an army of zombies prowls the surrounding countryside looking for a way into the scientistsí hideout.
I really wish I knew whether there's anything to the thematic similarity between Invisible Invaders and Plan 9 from Outer Space. In both cases, we have a movie from the waning years of the 50ís in which tyrants from space invade the Earth by using our own dead as their army, and in both cases, the aliensí zombie soldiers are impervious to attack by conventional weapons. Of course, the difference between Ed Cahn and Ed Wood is such that this zombie army is worthy of the name, unlike Plan 9ís ridiculously feeble, three-ghoul invasion force. In fact, the zombies of Invisible Invaders are often genuinely creepy, especially the air-crash victim who hijacks the announcerís booth at the hockey game. These creatures are so effective that they are actually able to counteract the goofiness brought to the film by the highly unlikely romance that develops between Major Jay and Phyllis Penner, the simplistic pacifist message-mongering that periodically creeps into the script, and the wildly excessive overuse of stock footage and voice-over narration to make plot points that could have and should have been established by other means. They may not eat anybody, but Cahnís walking dead look and act a whole lot like Romeroís epoch-marking ghouls from nine years later, and even if only because of the very strong mental associations that similarity generates, they can be almost as scary.