(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we take a look at a killer who can’t be seen. Because he’s sneaky. And invisible.)

Universal’s The Invisible Man (1933) remains a classic, but unlike the other “monsters” in the studio’s collection, the poor guy never got an official attempt at a reboot. (A new one was finally announced earlier this year from director Leigh Whannell, though.) We instead got variations on the theme with films like The Invisible Kid (1988), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), and The Erotic Misadventures of the Invisible Man (2003).

One that comes close to the original’s murderous mad scientist formula is The Invisible Maniac (1990), but that’s more of a low-rent T&A “comedy” than a serious thriller. By contrast, 2000’s Hollow Man is a high-rent slasher with a mean streak. It was a box-office hit too, and while its director is no longer a fan, someone somewhere felt there was enough interest to warrant a sequel.

Keep reading for a look at the direct to video sequel… Hollow Man II.

The Beginning

Scientists. Ugh. You think they’d do something nice for the world with those big brains, but according to the movies they’re always creating deadly viruses, terribly destructive bombs, monsters, and worse. Sebastian Caine knows all about such things as he and his team have succeeded in developing an invisibility formula, but the experiment goes sour after Sebastian makes himself a human guinea pig. It works, he’s invisible, but the accomplishment of it all soon takes a backseat to his attitude, aggression, and general horribleness. He assaults women and kills men, leading the rest of his team to realize the experiment needs to be canceled, but Sebastian is a step ahead of them and soon he has them all trapped and targeted for bloody murder. Luckily for the world, though, his ex-girlfriend/fellow scientist isn’t having it.

The DTV Plot

Years after the research program was terminated for obvious reasons, it becomes clear that the government lied about shutting it all down. A new invisible man named Michael Griffin has gone rogue and killed a scientist in search of a cure, but when he moves on to another egghead, he finds resistance both from the military who created him and a no-nonsense Seattle detective named Frank Turner. Michael killed Frank’s partner, and now the cop wants revenge in addition to answers. Several more bodies hit the floor before Frank realizes that the only way to fight an invisible man… is to become an invisible man. Look, I don’t make the rules.

Talent Shift

2000’s Hollow Man may not be a highpoint in director Paul Verhoeven’s career, but coming after the likes of Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), and Starship Troopers (1997), its blend of sci-fi/action was definitely in his wheelhouse. Writer Andrew W. Marlowe lacks anything remotely resembling that kind of name recognition, but he wrote Air Force One (1997) which is solid stuff. Composer Jerry Goldsmith (L.A. Confidential, 1997) and cinematographer Jost Vacano (Showgirls, 1995) add to the crew highlights. The film is no slouch in front of the camera either, with Kevin Bacon playing the mad scientist with terrifically cruel glee. His team includes Elizabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickins, Greg Grunberg, and William Devane. while Rhona Mitra appears in the thankless role of one of Sebastian’s victims.

Most DTV sequels fail to land any talent of note, so kudos to the makers of Hollow Man II for Christian Slater as the see-through killer and Peter Facinelli as the eventually transparent cop. Not a lot of kudos mind you, but some kudos. Director Claudio Fäh chased this DTV sequel with two DTV entries in the Sniper franchise, and it’s written by one of this column’s most frequently mentioned names – Joel Soisson – who’s behind numerous DTV sequels in franchises like Children of the Corn, Pulse, Hellraiser, The Prophecy, Mimic, and more. Normally that last bit wouldn’t be good news, but this is easily the strongest of his scripts I’ve seen so far. I know, I was surprised too.

How the Sequel Respects the Original

The film is only very loosely connected to the original – and it’s reportedly based on the first draft script that eventually became the first film – but it fully embraces the idea that invisibility makes bad people into even bigger dicks. And fairly pervy ones at that. The invisible villain here doesn’t rape anyone, thankfully, but he does spend time in a teenage girl’s room while she makes a night vision sex tape with her boyfriend. Why is the invisible guy there? To spy on the wholly unrelated house across the street of course. T&A quotient fulfilled, the follows up on the original’s tale of unchecked ego, invisible beatdowns, and action, and it does it pretty well too. Chases, stunts, and fights are all handled with more care than most of these DTV sequels receive, and it never feels plainly cheap to look at either.

How the Sequel Shits on the Original

Verhoeven’s original isn’t great, and thanks to that sexual assault scene, it’s also something of a rough watch. Those factors, plus the surprising truth that this sequel is a perfectly competent little action/thriller, means it really isn’t an embarrassment to its predecessor. Its biggest downfall – outside of a far less impressive cast – comes in the noticeable downgrade in special effects. What we get are typically serviceable including some well-done CG wire removals giving the illusion of people being pushed and pulled around the screen, but the effects beyond that are fairly sparse. Millions of dollars were spent on the original’s numerous effects-heavy sequences while thousands were blown here. We get a fairly bloody throat slash early on, but from that point forward the effects consist mostly of the aforementioned wire removal, some sketchy optical work (blood splashing onto the invisible guy), and whatever the hell is going on with Slater’s skin in the image above. Story-wise, it somewhat minimizes the idea of mankind overreaching in its pursuit of godlike powers to focus on the military’s search for new methods of government-sanctioned murder. It’s a bit blander perhaps, but irresponsible scientists are no more original.

Conclusion

It might surprise readers of this column to hear this, but Hollow Man II isn’t a bad movie. That’s a real rarity for these films as their typical existence as cash grabs usually lowers the bar considerably, but here the resulting movie is a solid enough little genre exercise. It’s nothing you’ll ever want to rewatch, but on the other hand, you won’t regret the ninety minutes spent watching it once.

Take the plunge with more DTV Descents!

Cool Posts From Around the Web: