Sometimes revisiting an old film can reveal a load of new surprises, particularly if it ends up being a possible inspiration for later and better works. While not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, 1959’s Invisible Invaders managed to actually be a lot more thrilling than I recall from seeing it as a kid.
For one thing, it’s both an alien invasion and a zombie flick, melding sci-fi and horror pretty well despite some rather incredulous plot shenanigans. It’s also an unintentional response to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (also released in 1959) because it features more or less the same story executed far more effectively. Well, for a low budget flick, that is.
(Thanks, MovieClips Trailer Vault!)
After Dr. Karol Noymann (John Carradine) is killed in a tragic lab accident, his body is taken over by one of the titular aliens at his funeral in order to tell fellow scientist Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge) the earth is pretty much toast. Penner runs to the media but gets himself labeled as a crank (one paper goes as far to run a front page with a huge blank space representing the aliens you can’t see). But you didn’t pay your ticket money to see some science geek get razzed by the local and national papers, right? Those concealed creeps soon go on a bit of a world tour, inhabiting freshly killed bodies and using assorted sporting events to broadcast their threats to the world.
The film uses two effective crashes (a plane and a car) along with some nice makeup for the era as those corpses riiiiise up, shamble their way to the nearest stadium, choke out announcers and take the microphone to relay the coming apocalypse. There’s a ton of stock footage of assorted natural and man-made disasters as the alien-controlled undead set about sabotaging anything they can shuffle up to, killing what seems to be millions in the process. Meanwhile, Dr. Penner, his daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron) and fellow scientist Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton) are regarded as worth saving by the government thanks to Dr. Lamont’s discovering the aliens in the first place. They’re picked up by Major Bruce Jay (John Agar) and driven by Jeep to a (not so) well-hidden bunker where they work on dealing with the alien threat.
On the way to that bunker, the team is assaulted by a man with a shotgun who’s killed by Major Jay. Of course, as soon as the Jeep drives off, one of those slow-moving unseen usurpers slides up and takes over the freshly killed Jeep-jacker. So much for well-hidden bunkers, huh? Amusingly enough, when the dead guy with the bullet hole in his head pops up in his undead makeup he looks a lot like Harrison Ford. At least I thought so (and yes, I laughed myself off the couch at that point). The survivors use the bunker’s cameras to see that they’re not alone as a small pack of taken over deceased shambles towards their position. Noting the rather high levels of radiation in the area, it’s figured out that the aliens are responsible for that Geiger counter spiking and plans are made to deal with them.
Not to spoil the rest of the fun, let’s just say there’s a lot of funky “science” that happens, we see a few more zombies and there’s a big reveal about those aliens that leads to them getting the big boot before the end credits roll. Actually, the most interesting thing about the film is those zombies are called the Walking Dead multiple times (which made me crack up again). Between that and the whole alien forces mysteriously revive the dead plot, I wondered if George Romero was teeny-tiny bit inspired by what’s here when creating his much more effective masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. Granted, the alien controlled zombies in this film are more “sentient” (one even fires a gun later in the film) but keel over as soon as their hosts leave.
Unfortunately, the low budget means we never see hordes of undead storming those places they’re setting fires to or blowing up with assorted explosives. The film’s eyeball-rolling incredulity means you’ll not want to think too much about how they get where they’re supposed to be anyway. How the heck does a dead man with a ripped up face stroll into a stadium or hockey rink and not draw attention as he makes his way to the TV announcer’s booth? I know you’re NOT watching a well-aged sci-fi/horror film for anything resembling reality, but come on now! That and the film’s partially narrated in a great “we’re all doooooomed!” manner that adds some choice chuckles to seeing all that stock footage doing its thing.
Still, at the end of the day I had more fun watching this one than I did more recent “serious” zombie flicks like World War Z, which would have benefited from some of this film’s brevity and unintentional humor. It’s also a tidy 67 minutes of fun, so teaming it up with Romero’s more famous classic or even Freddie Francis’ oddball under-appreciated 1967 hybrid They Came From Beyond Space is a fine idea to liven up a dead weekend.