The Invisible Ray (1936)

Its Karloff against Lugosi again in this impressive Universal Horror highlight with a great, original storyline. Universal R1 Lugosi boxset.

The Film

A creepy castle high up in the Carpathian Mountains, a thunderstorm rages across the valley as a lone car drives up the hill. Doctor Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) is waiting to demonstrate his latest creation to the men of science Sir Francis Stevens and Doctor Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi). By capturing a light ray sent from Andromeda in a machine, he is able to view a million light years of history stored within it, this includes a meteor impact in Africa millenia ago that might contain a powerful new element of importance to science. Benet and Stevens are medical doctors on their way to Africa and invite Rukh and his wife to join them so that Rukh can search for the meteor.
In remote Africa, Rukh finds the meteor but becomes infected by the radiation from the powerful 'Radium X' that it contains, to his horror he discovers that his touch has become fatal. Dr. Benet formulates a counter-drug from the Radium X, but warns that the effects it has are unknown. Rukh returns to his work, but in the mean-time his wife has fallen for the trip's geographer Ronald Drake. Benet becomes concerned for Rukh's sanity, and despite his protests has a sample of the element taken to a conference in Paris.
Rukh returns to his mountain-top laboratory where he tests the element on his blind mother and manages to sucessfully restore her sight. Travelling to Paris, Rukh discovers that Benet has achieved the same results and is curing hundreds of people. With the effects of the posioning getting stronger and sending him mad, Rukh plots his deadly revenge on the scientists he believe stole the Radium X from him.

The Invisible Ray is one of the best films of Universal's entire horror cycle. Lugosi and Karloff never looked so good, and get plenty of screentime, alone and together, while the film boasts very solid production, storyline and special effects.

Although the film opens in cliché Universal Horror style, with the thunderstorm raging over a mountain castle, this is merely a ruse, and we are quickly transported into the world of science-fiction with a flight through space on Rukh's machinery, from there we head to Africa, and then back to Europe giving plenty of variety of sets and characters. The plot twists and turns with plenty of surprises along the way, like in the earlier Karloff/Lugosi partnership The Black Cat (1934), we are not at first sure who is the bad guy, this keeps the audience guessing as to what is going to happen and just who is going to survive. The theme of an avenging mad scientist with super powers is hardly unique but has a certain freshness here - the characters he sets out to kill are more than just extras and are actually established characters. For once the love interest is actually quite interesting, and a much more major part of the plot than one might at first expect; the comic relief that often crops up inappropriately in these films is missing here, much to the film's advantage. The ending works well and rounds the film off nicely.
In all it is a very good storyline that fills out the run-time perfectly with almost no dead air; a lot of killings and events happen off-screen and are described to us in newspapers, although some of this is undoubtedly due to technical limitations, the off-screen killings stop the film from slowing down in the final quarter and becoming a 
cliché stalk-and-kill horror picture

The film was sold to audiences on special effects and these are impressive. Karloff appears to glow in the dark in several scenes, while his demonstration of the power of his ray on a boulder looks amazing. Sadly we do not get to see him use the ray again, in the original script we see him melt a statue with it, but with production over-budget and over-schedule, this scene never got made. The early flight through space that we see in Rukh's machine also looks impressive, especially considering the time it was made. The sets, especially those for Africa and Paris, look very impressive and are a long way from the usual generic-European Universal Horror sets, a large cast of extras is also on hand. Direction is decent and the camerawork is mostly unnoticed; again presumably due to the overrunning budget, there is only a minimal stock-score provided with most of the scenes unaccompanied.


Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi play the main roles in this film, and get most of the run-time. With an impressive wig from make-up man Jack Pierce, Karloff looks distinctly different here to normal. His character, Dr. Rukh, is not much of an extrovert so Karloff does not get much of a chance so show off his range, but he does look suitably menacing toward the end of the film, and his reaction to the infection is very good. Lugosi is on top of his game here, although seeing him play a good-guy is still rather bizarre and he adds an aura of evil to the character than probably shouldn't have been there. The rest of the cast is decent, although Frances Drake as Rukh's wife is notably poor and seems to have no facial expressions at all, while Frank Lawton as Ronald looks rather too slight to have crossed the Mountains of the Moon as is credited of him.

The Invisible Ray is an impressive film and one of Universal's best during their horror cycle, for once we have a tense storyline with strong characters and an unpredictable ending. The duo of Lugosi and Karloff play well against each other while the special effects and great sets hold up the visual end of the picture. Highly recommended to Universal Horror fans, or fans of either of the big two stars.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Bela Lugosi - the most famous Hungarian export, best known for his leading role in Dracula (1931)
Boris Karloff - a legend of horror cinema, and best known for his defining role in Frankenstein (1931)
Directed by anyone interesting? Lambert Hillyer - a solid B-movie director who also shot the same year's Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Any gore? None.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
All Universal Horror fans should watch this, proof that they didn't just make gothic monster-horror.
Good soundtrack? Standard orchestral score in only a few scenes.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White.
The print quality is good, occasional speckles and scratches but never unwatchable. Not as good as some of Universal's other releases, but far superior to any public domain prints. The hue of the picture keeps changing from a green tinge to a reddish one indicating that two prints were probably used, this can be a little annoying at times.
Audio English language original mono sound. Strong and clear.
Subtitles English HOH, French and Spanish.
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 19m 12s
Extras Bonus features:
  • Original trailer - 1m 44s - decent quality, with the usual Universal Horror oversell.
AvailabilityOnly avaliable in The Bela Lugosi Collection boxset.
Region Region 1 (USA) - NTSC
Other regions? None known.
Cuts? None known.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 11th June 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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