Writer: Matt Devlen, Tony Markes & Adam Rifkin (as “Rif Coogan”)
Cast: Noel Peters, Shannon Wilsey, Stephanie Blake, Melissa Moore, Clement Von Franckenstein, Claudette Rains, Eric Campanella, Debra Lamb, Gail Lyon, Marilyn Adams, Kris Russell, Rod Sweitzer
Plot: When young Kevin Dornwinkle (Kris Russell) is caught by his mother (Marilyn Adams) spying on his neighbor girl undressing, his mother brutally warns him that women are evil. Twenty years later, Kevin (Noel Peters as an adult) has become one of the preeminent scientists in the world, but fails in his attempt to turn himself invisible, instead going mad and killing four of his fellow scientists. He’s institutionalized, but escapes a few months later and gets a job as a physics teacher at a summer school, where he overhears a student named Gordon (Rod Sweitzer) planning to tease and torment him. At home, he continues to experiment on his failed invisibility serum, finally making a rabbit disappear. He uses the serum on himself, becoming invisible, but crashing to intense dreams about women teasing and taunting him, followed by an insatiable desire to use the serum again.
He’s later approached by a student named Vicky (Shannon Wilsey), who offers to do “anything” to get an A in his class. The same day, Gordon and his friends begin their campaign to antagonize Kevin, beginning with a belch and proceeding with the classic “everybody drop your books at the same time” trick. As they laugh, Chet (Robert R. Ross Jr.) is summoned to the principal’s office. The principal, Ms. Cello (Stephanie Blake) offers to help him with his grades in exchange for “special attention,” giving further credence to the audience’s theory that this movie was written by a repressed 12-year-old boy. Kevin later summoned to Ms. Cello’s office, where she tries to seduce him. When he rejects her, she threatens to call the police over a syringe she found in his classroom. To protect himself, he kills her. He returns to his class, where he’s hit by a good ol’ bucket of water over the door, then goes mad(der). He locks the doors to the school and goes on a killing spree, beginning by choking a student to death with a sandwich in what is probably the best scene in the film.
Having killed everyone else, Kevin returns home where he’s pursued by Chet, who’s got a gun and apparently word-a-day toilet paper, as he uses the word “astute.” Don’t give him too much credit, in the same scene he actually shouts, “Die, you invisible jerk!” Anyway, both Chet and Kevin wind up invisible and start pounding on each other before the gun goes off and a headless body appears. A pair of police arrive, find the corpse, and declare it a suicide. As they leave, Kevin reappears, laughing maniacally.
Thoughts: I asked you guys last week to pick a lousy movie for me to view in the first installment of “Crappy Movie Roulette,” and I’ve gotta say, you didn’t let me down. This is one of the worst produced movies I’ve ever seen.
Released in 1990, I’ve got to imagine this film had a budget of approximately seven dollars and eighty-three cents, most of which went to craft services. They couldn’t pay for any sets, clearly, or even bother to re-dress any of the sets they got for free. The top scientists in the world, for instance, meet in what appears to be the side conference room of a neighborhood church community center, which Adam Rifkin no doubt had to lie to get access to. There’s even a weird sense that we’re getting the opposite of product placement in this movie, outright product rejection, in that there are several close-up shots of radios and tape recorders, all of which seem to have had their labels peeled off in a half-assed attempt to remove the name brands. Casio wanted nothing to do with this film.
Rifkin is attempting to draw on the wild era of great 80s slasher movies, and as so often happens when people come in at the end of a trend, he takes it to ridiculous lengths. In 80s horror, of course, the killers’s victims are usually suffering a metaphorical punishment for their crimes – drugs, sex and alcohol being the most popular choices. In the world of The Invisible Maniac, that idea of the world providing the killer a slate of deserving victims is utterly absurd. Every woman in this movie exists for one of two reasons: to torture Kevin (his mother, the women in the scientific community), or to tantalize him (the girls in the class, and even the principal, who whips out the phone number and address of a student from her bra a good twenty minutes before summoning Kevin into her office for some quality time). Even the layout of the school seems to work against him. For the obligatory “sneaking a peek in the girls’ locker room” scene, rather than even trying to come up with some sort of plan (even Porky’s went to the trouble of showing them drilling a hole in the wall), the jock peeks through an air conditioning vent in the school gym, which apparently opens up directly into the shower. Purely from an architectural standpoint, that seems dubious.
Like any terrible movie, this film also has huge gaps in logic. What summer school, for example, has a need for a cheerleader squad practicing in full uniform? Why is it, just two weeks after escaping from a mental asylum and being all over the news, the principal who hires Kevin doesn’t recognize him as a psychopathic killer? Even in 1990, there must have been some sort of background check. And why do Dornwinkle’s clothes vanish with him when he turns invisible?
What’s more, this film doesn’t seem to have any sense of time. Young Kevin – as well as the neighbor girl he spies on – dress like refugees from a campy Saturday Night Live skit set in the 1950s… but when the “Twenty Years Later” card appears at the end of the scene, we jump to 1990. What’s more, this could easily have been avoided by just changing the card to read “Forty Years Later,” because Noel Peters looks like he’s at least 50 when he first appears on screen.
Nobody in this film can act, either – stiff line deliveries, melodrama that would get you kicked out of the least professional community theater, and worst of all, very few of them seem to be aware of the fact that they’re in a terrible movie. Only Gail Lyons, who plays the doomed April, seems to be in on the joke, hamming up her death scene as she’s strangled by the titular Invisible Maniac. She commits to pounding on air and even rolls her eyes as she dies in a method that seems to indicate she knows she’s in a flop and is making the best of a bad situation.
People often talk about bad movies, and about movies that are so bad that they’re good, movies that can be enjoyed in an ironic fashion, laughing at the absurdity of a failed attempt at art. There is, however, another level – the movie that is, as TV Tropes tells us, so bad it’s terrible. This is a film so poorly made that it actually laps itself on the bad movie scale, becoming something that’s not only painful to watch, but utterly absurd. Showgirls is the classic example here – so much blatant, absurd sex that it’s no longer even titillating, but just dull. The Invisible Maniac treads very close to that line, and even crosses it a few times before coming back at the end, where the death scenes are poorly shot and stupid enough that they’re laughable again. Drowning a girl in a fish tank? You got it. Submarine sandwich stuffed down a kid’s throat until it blows up like a cartoon fire hose? Done.
Is that enough to recommend the movie? Not really. It might find a worthy place in a bad movie night with your friends, and I’d love to hear the RiffTrax crew take it on, but it’s not really worth watching on its own.
The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!