Uncovering Curiosities: John Carpenter’s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN

If ever there was a cinematic curiosity that needs to be uncovered, it’s John Carpenter‘s Memoirs Of An Invisible Man. The film sees Carpenter take a trip into Alfred Hitchcock territory, riffing on North By Northwest with Chevy Chase slipping into Cary Grant’s well-healed shoes. It’s a solid attempt at recreating that vibe, but sadly production woes mean that it all feels a little disjointed – a shame considering this has all the elements to make a cracking adventure. 

Chase is Nick Halloway, a louche businessman who accidentally gets turned invisible after a visit to a science institute goes awry. Nick goes on the run with Daryl Hannah at his side but soon Sam Neill’s villainous CIA agent is on his tail, with the intention of using Nick’s invisibility for nefarious means (and chopping Nick into tiny pieces in the process).  

Slick and glossy, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man gave John Carpenter his biggest ever budget ($40 million), but it also gave him a lot of limitations. The film, based on the novel by H. F. Saint, deals with many of the director’s usual themes (the outsider and distrust of authority) but they feel softened by the need to make a crowd-pleasing studio film. It does feature some interesting special effects from ILM, which attempted to push the boundaries of CGI back when the film was released in 1992. 

Chevy Chase was always a comedy actor trapped in the body of a leading man and his turn in Memoirs, sees him to play things more straight than usual. He was a producer on the film and it went through a troubled pre-production with Ivan Reitman, who wanted it to be more of a comedy. Yes, there’s comedy in the finished film but it’s not as frivolous as some of his other work and Chase acquits himself well as Carpenters’s Cary Grant proxy.

You can almost hear Warner Bros demanding more humour in the film because audiences expect Chase to be funny.  It’s a shame that Carpenter and Chase weren’t allowed to craft something a little different, because its success might have led to some very interesting work from both of them in the future. Sadly, the film vanished at the box office, grossing a pitiful $14 million. 

Far from a disaster, but admittedly a little disappointing, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man is a fun film with strong elements but it could have been something very different entirely. It’s not one of John Carpenter’s finest films – but it’s an enjoyable and slick slice of early 1990s entertainment. 

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