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The Invisible Maniac (1990) January 25th, 2021

Invisible Maniac is a ribald ‘modern’ spoof of the classic H.G. Wells story, exactly what you’d expect from the poster. Scientist Dr. Kevin Dornwinkle uses himself as a test subject when presenting his new invisibility serum to a scientific review panel. The serum doesn’t turn him invisible and his peers laugh him into a murderous rage. After killing four of his fellow scientists he’s institutionalized only to escape six months later. He finds work as a high school physics teacher and from there the movie is what I imagine a Porky’s style comedy is supposed to be. Gratuitous nudity, shower scenes, and casual sexual assault played for laughs.

As the movie progresses Dornwinkle struggles with his sexual urges but eventually manages to turn himself invisible, and insane! He systematically peeps on and then murders the students and faculty at his school before a final confrontation with a student in Dornwinkle’s apartment. In this climactic fight both men use the invisibility serum and fight unseen until the invisible maniac blows the student’s head off with a shotgun. The body rematerializes upon death just like in the Claude Rains film. The police arrive on the scene and assume the corpse belonged to Dr. Dornwinkle, death by suicide. Invisible Maniac ends with a newswoman reporting on Dornwinkle’s death but the audience knows the truth, he’s alive… a reality quickly demonstrated when the news anchor’s shirt is suddenly torn from her body as maniacal laughter echos through the studio.

I bought Invisible Maniac for my wife last Christmas for three reasons. She loves The Invisible Man, she loves really bad movies, and buying the digital copy on Amazon Prime couldn’t have cost more than $4. It was worth it. I’m not as big a fan of bad movies as she. Sure I like a good bad movie like SexSquatch or The Greasy Strangler but it’s not enough for a movie to just be bad, it’s got to be brilliantly bad. I don’t expect to win a pulitzer for saying Invisible Maniac isn’t brilliant or even good, and if I’m honest it’s not even disappointing. It’s nearly exactly what I expected. Gratuitous nudity, shower scenes, and casual sexual assault played for laughs.

That’s not to say it’s meritless. There’s enough oddities to make it worth watching as a spectacle. For example it stars 90s pornographic actress and controversy magnet Savannah who famously committed suicide after suffering a face injury during a car accident. Then there’s the weird mute janitor dream sequence. Sorry, let me back up. The janitor at the high school where Dornwinkle murders all these kids is mute and therefore mercilessly mocked by the soon-to-be-dead students. At one point about halfway through the film’s runtime the audience is taken into this janitor’s mess of an apartment where he falls asleep reading a newspaper and dreams horrible wordless dreams about a vampire punk sucking his blood and choking him. He jolts awake saved from his nightmare… only to fall asleep again immediately this time there’s more naked punks choking hims and silently smashing his face with a rock. It doesn’t end there, now he’s wandering around a smoky backyard while a woman stabs a voodoo doll of him with a sewing needle. He somehow remains asleep and finds himself back with the nightmare punks who make agonized faces in their fisheye closeups until a crazy man with a guitar slowly wonders around a garden ogling and screaming as naked women stand around him. It’s the soulless pornographic mockery of German expressionism… and it lasts at least ten minutes. When it’s all over Henry, the janitor, wakes up and is absent from the film for another 25 minutes when he discovers the murdered body of the school principal. THE DREAMS ARE NEVER RELEVANT TO THE STORY! They don’t play into anything later in the film and Henry ends up knocked unconscious on the school bleachers after a student assaults him. Why was this shit in the movie? It’s not only weird and unmotivated but it’s a huge departure from the film’s overall tone and gimmick… except for the nudity I guess. Maybe it’s just me but German Expressionism isn’t a huge turn-on yet here it is, inspiring a weird filler scene in Invisible Maniac. My best guess is that’s exactly what it is, filler. See, Invisible Maniac only runs about 90 minutes which for many films is the magic number to be considered ‘feature length’. My guess, is someone in the production team demanded the film exceed 90 minutes by any means necessary. Hats off, because this is the weirdest and most obvious example of this practice I can recall.

Lastly is the song. You may recall, in cinematic eons past, that movies would occasionally premiere accompanied by a title pop song. Apparently producers feel that we will not attend their movies unless we have the titles well drilled into our heads in advance. And like The Blob before it, Invisible Maniac is no exception. “He’s Invisible” written and performed by Dan Povenmire and Michael Culross Jr. is a pseudo-punk banger reminiscent of late 80s William’s pinball table soundtracks with a melody that could’ve been a Casio keyboard preset for all I know. Dan Povenmire worked as a storyboard artist for many 80s and 90s cartoons like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rocko’s Modern Life, and James Bond Jr… oh and if it matters to you at all he created Phineas and Ferb a show Michael Culross Jr. worked on as a composer. Small Holly-World.

In conclusion, if you’re into basic nudie-comedies and ten minute interludes where a mute janitor is tormented by naked punks then Invisible Maniac is the only movie for you.

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