Sep 15, 2019

MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992)


Memoirs of an Invisible Man is probably the least discussed film of John Carpenter’s career outside of his first feature credit, Dark Star. There are a handful of reasons for this, which may be due to its so-so reputation, but it’s likely because it just doesn’t feel like a Carpenter film. Stepping in after original director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) left the production over disagreements with Chevy Chase about its tone, Memoirs of an Invisible Man remains the only film Carpenter made for Warner Bros. That may sound like random boring trivia, but considering his terrible experience with the production, which he’s talked about freely over the years, it serves as a reminder as to why he avoided working with major studios whenever feasible — and they don’t get more major than Warner Bros.

A byproduct of Carpenter becoming a senior citizen has been his adorable irascibility and his total loss of a social filter. He publicly called Rob Zombie a “piece of shit” for the shock-rocker’s fudging of reality regarding how Carpenter allegedly responded to Zombie’s intent to remake Halloween. (The two later mended fences.) In addition, his candid misery on the set of The Fog remake (on which he served as producer) became legendary around the horror community for how salty one human being could be for being paid handsomely to sit in a corner. In keeping with all this, he’s made it pretty clear over the years that there’s one actor, above all others, he absolutely hated working with, and though you’ll never find any written confirmation of this, it was most assuredly Chevy Chase. 


If you’ve read up on the comedian and actor, followed his behavior on the set of Community, or tangled with the gigantic tome Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, then you know he’s an extremely difficult personality to wrangle. Carpenter, not naming names, once said during an interview on the set of Escape from L.A. that an actor he’d just finished working with could “burn in hell for all eternity.” (I once pointedly asked Carpenter which actor this was, and if that same actor happened to share the name of a city in Maryland, and I received “no comment” as a response. However, he later disclosed during an interview that Chase “still sends [him] a Christmas card every year.”)

All that tabloid fodder aside, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, as a film, is very very…okay. Perhaps the most jarring thing about it is its somewhat confused tone. Though marketed as a comedy/romance, and in spite of its moments of levity (all, naturally, deriving from Chase’s invisible antics), the tone is fairly straight and even a bit dark. Memoirs of an Invisible Man just might be the only comedy/drama/thriller/romance/film noir in existence. (Chase’s character recording a pseudo-memoir of the events of his life over the last few days is a clear callback to Double Indemnity.) Chase and love interest Daryl Hannah show close to zero chemistry, but Michael McKean is typically great, if underused, and Sam Neill (yay!) as a shadowy government official in steady pursuit of Chase’s invisi-dude offers the best character – he’s certainly one of the main reasons to watch.


Memoirs of an Invisible Man has unfairly garnered a shitty reputation over the years – as a title that’s easy to dismiss and a very minor footnote in an otherwise celebrated artist’s career. I can somewhat understand why: as someone who considers Carpenter his all-time favorite filmmaker, Memoirs of an Invisible Man doesn’t feel like a Carpenter flick at all, and as any cinephile will tell you, one of the joys of watching films is to zero in on a filmmaker or writer’s style that speaks to you and to revel in that style for every one of his or her creations. (That the director’s name doesn’t precede the title, as it has otherwise ever since 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, seems to suggest that Carpenter feels the same.) It very much embodies the kind of too-many-cooks, compromised, and flavorless productions that studios pump out dozens of times per year. Carpenter doesn’t script, ghost-script, or score, and his usual cadre of cast and crew aren’t on board. There’s a new director of photography, a new composer, a new editor…and no Peter Jason.

Memoirs of an Invisible is the definition of disposable entertainment. It’s not offensive enough to be terrible, but if you’re someone like me who’d sooner watch a lesser Carpenter film that at least feels like a Carpenter film, then you may wonder when you’d ever get the urge to watch it at all. Funnily enough, while the title Memoirs of an Invisible is obviously about Chase’s character, it’s more appropriate for Carpenter’s ultimate influence on the film: as you’re watching, you know he’s there in the room with you, but you can’t see him at all.

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