The Invisible Man is nothing new. A quick search on IMDB yields 200 different title variations in film and television alone. In fact, when Universal Pictures adapted H.G. Wells novel to film in 1933, the idea of an invisible villain had already graced the screen over two decades before. Still, the Universal Monster became an enduring character in the annals of cinema and the icon has been repeatedly reinvented ever since.
Next week, writer-director Leigh Whannell unleashes his iteration of the icon. The Invisible Man hits theaters nationwide on February 28th bringing with it the hopes of unseen terrors once more. Known for Saw and Insidious, Whannell has garnered attention for his clever scripts and budget-friendly horror films that still entertain and more importantly, frighten. Hot off the heels of his film Upgrade, Universal reached out to him for possible ideas on how to update the iconic Universal Monster for 2020.
HorrorBuzz: It was kind of a weighty thing, to take on one of the classic Universal Monsters. Did you have your pick of which one you wanted to work with?
Leigh Whannell: No, it was something that was suggested to me, the character of The Invisible Man. I had a general meeting with the executives from Universal and Blumhouse. It was right after I finished Upgrade. I thought the meeting was going to be about Upgrade and how great it was. So, much to my surprise we hardly spent any time talking about Upgrade and we spent most of the time talking about these iconic horror characters. Someone in the room asks, “Well what would you do with The Invisible Man?” Now in hindsight, I can see, it was a total ambush. They knew what they were doing. They’re very smart people. But I was like a naive fawn in the crosshairs of a powerful rifle (Laughter) So I’m sitting down on this couch saying, “Well, you know, I guess I would tell the story from the point of view of The Invisible Man’s victim.” You know you want to see the film in the eyes of the person he is stalking, not through his eyes. They were like, “Great! Let’s do it!” They totally Jedi Mind Tricked me. It was like Obi-Wan saying, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” It was like they said, “So you’ll write it then?” And I was like, “Yes I’ll write it!” I walked out of there like, “What just happened? I blacked out there for 20 minutes and now I’ve got a job.” That’s really how it came about. As I thought about it more and more, after I got the job, I sat there thinking, “what is this job?” I started to see a real opportunity to modernize The Invisible Man and drag him into our moment, our century, to make him scary. The thing is when you bring up Dracula, the Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, we forget that they were created to be terrifying. They are so ubiquitous now that they’re almost comedic. When I think of Frankenstein I think of The Munsters, that’s what I grew up with, watching The Munsters after school. I wanted to kind of wipe that all away, clean the slate, and go back to the core tenant of these characters which is fear and terror, you know? Making them scary. That’s what these monsters need. I’m not particularly interested in directing a film about any of these other monsters but if anybody else does I hope that they really go back and make these monsters scary again for a new generation.
HB: What made you take the story in that direction, telling it from the victim’s point of view?
LW: That was an improvisation I made in that office. I thought we were just passing the time. That was literally the first thing out of my mouth when they asked me, “What would you do with the character?” It kind of put me on the spot. I was sitting there with all these faces looking at me and I made something up. When I say that I’m not alluding to saying that I am some sort of genius that can spit out nuggets of gold. It just seemed obvious, like it was the obvious way to go; If you want to make The Invisible Man scary, you would have him be the hunter.
Remember when that Jaws video game was released and you were the shark? I think it was called JAWS Unleashed. I remember being so excited, because I was a huge fan of the movie, that they were making a Jaws video game. But I was disappointed because when you are playing from the point of view of the shark it’s just not scary. I’m not sure what video game could be made out of that film. But it demystifies it. You don’t want to know too much about a villain. You know, the more I got to know Freddy Krueger, the less scary and the more funny and comedic he became. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good Nightmare on Elm Street movies made where Freddy was funny…
HB: Well, the same thing with Michael Myers.
LW: Yeah exactly! In the original Halloween, you’re seeing the entire film through the eyes of Laurie Strode and you are dealing with this unknowable entity that hides behind hedges, it’s the fear of the unknown. It just seemed like the obvious thing to do, as opposed to a stroke of genius. We had to make this villain, this iconic character, unknowable, etherial. That was from the very start. That’s not something that came to me after months of dead ends, it’s something that came out in that very first meeting.
HB: Thank you for doing that. It worked! Those long shots at nothing, and thinking, “What am I seeing? Am I missing something?”
LW: Good, good, that’s music to my ears.
HB: Did the performance of the Tom Cruise Mummy reboot affect the direction this movie took?
LW: No, I mean, if I am being absolutely honest I haven’t seen that film. I never got around to it. But no, that movie didn’t influence The Invisible Man in any way, shape for form. I kind of had to trick myself into thinking that this was the first Invisible Man move that was ever made to make it because I had to concentrate on it like it was its own little story.
HB: Did you write the script with Elizabeth Moss in mind?
LW: No actually, I rarely write a screenplay with an actor in mind. I usually write screenplays with friends of mine in mind. It’s a way for me to relate to the characters if it’s somebody that I know. I base a lot of the characters in my screenplays on my friends and family. So when it comes down to casting I suddenly have to reverse engineer it and think, “Oh, who could play this friend of mine?”. Elizabeth was actually brought up to me by Donna Langley at Universal. In her wisdom she was right. She did me a huge favor suggesting Elizabeth Moss because she is an incredible actress.
HB: She’s your best special effect.
LW: Yeah, I actually said that in an interview the other day, the best visual effect in the movie is a close up of Elizabeth Moss.
HB: Yeah. Totally agreed. If you were given the chance to work with any of the other Universal Monsters who would you pick?
LW: I’ve never really thought of that. You know what, I am a fan of werewolves and I am a huge fan of American Werewolf in London which is the film that pretty much dropped the mic on werewolf movies. It seems like there’s an opportunity to make that scary, you know? I think that people just have to remember that they are supposed to be scary. Like I feel that over time they have plugged too many other things into these movies. Like, “Yeah, it’s a werewolf movie in space or it’s a comedy about a werewolf.” I feel like these characters have endured because there’s something primal about them. There’s something instantly recognizable about them. You don’t need to add a whole lot of window dressing to them to make them interesting. They are interesting in and of themselves. So, I would say, a wolfman movie.
HB: I found what you did very clever. You didn’t cheat. In so many films you sit there thinking, “Why don’t they… If they just…” Here They do the things you are thinking.
Are we going to be going through an Invisible Man maze at Halloween Horror Nights this year?
LW: Interesting! Actually no I haven’t thought of that. Now that you bring it up, it does make me smile when there is a maze based on something I’ve created. Like, I remember one year at Horror Nights they had an Insidious maze and a SAW maze. and it was just a real moment in my life. Two ideas that I am the creator of are now drawing in these horror fans. I would actually love to see that.
Some of the movies that they have tackled have been really, top of the pedestal horror films like The Exorcist. I mean part of the fun of filmmaking… As you know films are hard, they take a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort for what is, ostensibly, a disposable piece of pop culture. The thing that makes it fun, the thing that makes it worth it is when it resonates. So, If I were to go to Universal and see an Invisible Man maze and people lining up to go into it… It just fills your heart with joy. Because all that work, all those grips and gaffers and costume designers and set designers and sculpt masters, and editors did not waste their time. They did something that resonated. So, yeah, I would love to see it.
Will Whannell helm another classic monster? We think it might be a good idea. Hardly unprecedented as James Whale did three of his own in the 1930s. Will we possibly get to be chased by the Invisible Man this fall at Halloween Horror Nights? Who knows? The fact is that The Invisible Man is arriving in theaters February 28th and you can see for yourself what a fun movie this is. We will be publishing our full review soon, but we can say that we liked The Invisible Man a lot.
Many thanks to Universal Pictures and Whannell for the opportunity to chat.