Plot: Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) is haunted by his past and that drives his scientific ambition, as he explores ideas and theories no one would, which has him labeled by some as a hack. His current focus is on a meteor that landed in Africa, as he feels there could be untapped power within the space artifact. The meteor is highly radioactive, but Rukh pushes forward and believes if the radiation could be controlled, the results could be a true scientific breakthrough. His exposure has caused him problems however, as he tends to glow in the dark and his mere touch can sometimes kill, so he turns to Dr. Benet (Bela Lugosi) in a desperate state. He is provided an antidote, but it requires constant doses and there is no cure. As time passes, the radiation combined with side effects from the antidote take an immense toll on Rukh, who begins to have wild, even violent fits and vengeful thoughts. Will become of Rukh in this comprimised state and will his work with the meteor produce the results he hoped?
Entertainment Value: If you like your old school horror with extra hokey science and moral disclaimers, then you should appreciate The Invisible Ray. The narrative here is about science, a rivalry, betrayal, and some light horror elements, but it doesn’t really ever come together that well. I think the pieces are all here, especially with Karloff and Lugosi in the middle of it all, but it feels loose and even with an under 80 minute duration, drags at times. That’s not to say that The Invisible Ray isn’t interesting, as it does have some good scenes and the story shows sparks of potential, but the sum is less than the parts in this case. The movie is more or less saved by virtue of the genre titans involved, as Karloff and Lugosi are in fine form here, so even in the lesser scenes, their presence ensures some entertainment. I also think genre fans will appreciate all the dated science talk and the fun, low rent special effects, as seeing a glowing Karloff is always a good time, right? There is also good atmosphere in some scenes and the visuals are well crafted, so there’s some real positives here. I’d recommend this one to fans of the legendary leads, as well as those who have a soft spot for old school horror or science fiction cinema.
I have to think that without the presence of the horror elite in lead roles, The Invisible Ray wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. As I said before, the movie is a little muddled and without question, the leads help keep things on track. Boris Karloff has a wonderful, Gomez Addams look in this one, in which he plays a scientist who doesn’t start off mad, but certainly winds up there. He is able to, as always, bring some humanity to the role and that is thanks in part to the attention paid to his character’s past, which helps us understand his drive. Karloff hams a little in some scenes, especially after he snaps, but overall, his performance is sincere and solid. Bela Lugosi is fun here as well, in a role that lets him radiate menace, hidden under a civil exterior. He shines in this kind of part and that’s what happens in The Invisible Ray, with just enough touches of over the top to add some dark humor. These two all but save the movie, as it still might be passable, but their presence elevates the entire experience. The cast also includes Frances Drake, Beulah Bondi, and Violet Kemble Cooper.
The Disc: As part of Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Collection: Volume 1, The Invisible Ray has been given a new 2k scan sourced from the original film elements, which should please fans. This is a solid presentation, with impressive fine detail and depth, much sharper than I’ve seen before. The print is an issue at times however, as while it is mostly passable, some scenes have some prominent scratches and debris, which lessen the visual impact. Even so, the treatment overall is quite good and gives us likely the best home video version to date. The extras include a look at The Invisible Ray’s production that runs about half an hour, a film historian audio commentary track that includes Tom Weaver’s insights, some still photos, and the film’s re-release trailer.