The Horror Movie Magazine You Can
Really Sink Your Teeth Into
Issue #2

The Invisible Man Reverts: Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man  

Pam Keesey

Hollow Man
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Columbia Pictures, 2000
VHS $110.57, DVD $24.95

While no one who knows me would mistake me for a dyed-in-the-wool Verhoeven fan, I have to admit even I was expecting something more than the hollow treatment given this classic tale of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Kevin Bacon stars as Sebastian Caine, the scientist behind the military’s secret research on invisiblity. Although a brilliant molecular scientist, Caine is a first-rate jackass who fancies himself not only as being at the top of his field, as a ladies’ man and rock star, but also keen on thinking of himself as God. Elisabeth Shue is Linda McKay, Caine’s colleague and ex-girlfriend, and Josh Brolin is Matthew Kensington, Linda’s beleaguered boyfriend and a thorn in Caine’s side.

Admittedly, Hollow Man features some first rate special effects, with dazzling forays into invisibility and reversing the state of invisibility. These top-of-the-line special effects, however, are brought down by a shallow story line that reverts to alpha-male posturing and images of sexual assault to make what few points the filmmakers have to make.

Verhoeven and Marlowe would have been well-served to have dipped into The Invisible Man (1933) and The Invisible Man Returns (1940), the films upon which Hollow Man is based, however loathe they are to admit it. The director’s commentary on the DVD makes it clear that Verhoeven and Marlowe consider these two films to be camp at best, remarking on the gratuitous comedy a cigarette floating in the air, or clothes without a head, would lend to their own work. Yet the images they use, no matter how state of the art, are integral elements of the John May classic, complete with invisibility “reversion” and smoke blown and water being splashed into the face to make the invisibile man visible.

Camp or no camp, it is the essential humanity of first Griffin (Claude Rains) and then Radcliffe (Vincent Price) corrupted by the invisibility serum that makes their transformation so tragic. They are good men with good hearts. Griffin loses everything to the madness brought on by the serum, while Radcliffe only just escapes with his life—and his humanity—intact. Kevin Bacon’s Caine, however, lost his humanity long before we ever see him onscreen. Despite the fact that Verhoeven and Marlowe set out to make a “morality tale,” all they manage to prove is if you make a jerk invisible, you’ve managed to create an invisible jerk.

Despite the potential this film had going into production—a classic tale with strong film antecedents and a bold moral foundation—all Verhoeven and Marlowe have managed to do is convince me that if these two men were invisible, they’d be jerks, too.

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Pam Keesey is well known for her writing on women in horror, including her books Daughters of Darkness, Dark Angels, Women Who Run with the Werewolves, and Vamps: An Illustrated History of the Femme Fatale. She is the editor and publisher of MonsterZine, an online horror movie magazine that, in the words of Dr. Frank C. Baxter of The Mole People (1956), explores the meaning and significance of horror movies in the 21st century. In addition to editing horror fiction and non-fiction about horror, Pam has also worked as a technical editor, a news editor, and as an editor of occult books in Spanish.

Copyright © 2001 by the author. All rights reserved.