More often than not, when you watch a film starring Bela Lugosi, the man has taken on the role of the villain. It can most likely be traced back to his star-making turn in Dracula ten years previous, but whatever the case, the man excels at playing the bad guy. He has the brooding down pat, the foreboding looks and the accent that lends an air of menace and mystery to him. If there was a man born to play the monster, it was definitely Bela Lugosi. In this particular film he is not what you would consider your classic bad guy as he is an unwitting one. It is not too often seen on film, though it does happen occasionally and usually you will see the unwitting hero archetype, but here Lugosi is just that – a man who commits murder with no memory of doing so.
The premise of the movie is essentially summed up in that line and yet Lugosi only does so as his mind has been shattered, though he has no realization of that fact. He is a husband whose wife had left him many years previous for another man, partially driving him mad in the process. To make matters just a little bit worse, his wife was in a car accident and after suffering brain damage, wanders back to the only home she had ever known and now lives in the basement thanks to the gardener, occasionally taking trips into the garden and triggering a psychotic break in her husband when she does so, causing him to kill. It effectively causes a mystery for the rest of the cast as they also have no idea what is truly going on.
Lugosi is masterful in the role, playing essentially two different characters – one unknowing of what is happening and the other some sort of strange golem focused upon a single task. Incredibly helpful was the very smart direction of Joseph H. Lewis and the photographers who would shoot Lugosi and hide him in darkness to give him that very eerie presence, one he has used in quite a few movies. As a horror film it works well, most of the fright coming from the unpredictability of Lugosi’s actions and from the way he carries himself. Though the film was more of a mystery than it was a horror, the two came together well and contained enough elements of both to create a very suspenseful picture.
Throughout the course of his career, Lugosi would be pigeon-holed into roles such as this and while it saddened him on one hand, he should have embraced the fact that this was the way the public wanted to see him – the dark and daunting evil, the man people do not know enough to be scared of. The Invisible Ghost, silly title and premise aside, is one of Lugosi’s better roles, one that required a little extra from him and though it had a couple of faults, it was a good film overall, rewarding viewers with fine acting from a master of the craft.
3 out of 5