I recall seeing INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959) for the first time sometime in the mid-60s at my grandparents house on a Saturday afternoon. My grandparents had a large antenna attached to their house which allowed them to pick up television broadcasts from stations in far off San Antonio. This was in the pre-cable television days. One of the San Antonio stations had a Saturday afternoon "Shock Theater" type program and that's where I first saw this film. To be honest, it kind of scared me when I was a kid.
I watched it again this afternoon for the first time in almost fifty years and, like so many things from my youth, it is nowhere near as good as I remember it being. In fact, it's pretty bad.
Atomic scientist Dr. Karol Noyman (John Carradine) dies in a laboratory explosion at the beginning of the film. His colleague, Dr. Penner (Philip Tonge), decides to quit working on atomic weapons and resigns from the government. That night, the reanimated corpse of Dr. Noyman appears at Penner's house and provides a huge info dump to get things moving. Turns out he's the vanguard of a race of invisible aliens with a base on the moon who have decided that with atomic weapons and space flight now a reality, the people of earth have suddenly become a threat to their race. Noyman gives Penner 24 hours to deliver the message "surrender or be invaded". The message is delivered by Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton) and, of course, no one takes him seriously.
When the deadline has passed, the aliens, true to their word, began their attack. This is accomplished through copious amounts of stock footage of various disasters and shots of animated corpses wandering the countryside. Curiously, all of the living dead are middle-aged, well-dressed white men (with cool ties!). This plot device neatly prefigures George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).
Dr. Penner, his daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron), and Dr. LaMont are put under the command of U.S. Army Major Bruce Jay (genre icon John Agar). They hole up in a bunker in Bronson Canyon (a location that my buddy Kelly Greene and I visited in 1994) to work on a way to defeat the aliens. We're told that there are other such teams in other bunkers but we never see any of these other people. The budget only allows for these four actors to save the world.
Through trial and error they discover that highly amplified sound waves can drive the aliens from the re-animated corpses and eventually kill them. They quickly cobble together some sonic bazookas and go on the offensive. The devices work, an alien ship is destroyed and the world is saved.
Invisibility, as a movie gimmick, can work well if some thought, care and attention to detail is put into the production. Just look at James Whale's classic THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). Here, invisibility is used because, hey, what could be cheaper than invisible aliens? The low budget accounts for the use of tons of stock footage and the same, lame "invisibility" effects recycled repeatedly throughout the film. It's rumored that director Edward L. Cahn had a two week shooting schedule and actually shot the film in one week just to impress the cast and crew. That haste is evident in every frame of this film. The idea of INVISIBLE INVADERS isn't a bad one, and as I said, it appealed to me as a kid. If this script by Samuel Newman had gone through a couple of rewrites, if the budget had been a little bit bigger, if Edward L. Cahn had slowed down and tried to actually make a decent picture instead of a cheap, quick exploitation film, things might have been different.
As it is INVISIBLE INVADERS just isn't very good. It's worth seeing at least once if you're a die-hard aficionado of 1950s science fiction films (as I am). But if you're not, move on, there's nothing to see here. Literally.