Reviews

Henry’s Night In (1969)

I have no insight to offer. I have no hyperbole to abuse. I have no earth to shift. Because I just saw someone fucking an invisible watermelon.

That’s not totally true. It wasn’t an invisible watermelon. It was an invisible man. At least, that’s what Henry’s Night In would have us believe. The scene in question begins above a bed. The camera lies at rest, hovering over some well composed shadows. And a woman wearing a blond wig. She’s nude. She’s also thrusting into the void. Her legs somewhat unfurled, she licks the air, arms wrapped around what appears to be, if not for the magic of invisibility, a large watermelon or beach ball or sedan. Overdubbed moans suggest that the overdubber is being murdered in the sound booth. Sex can be so beautiful!

Henry is unable to satisfy his wife, Martha, due to a feeling of inadequacy following his mother’s death. They try to do it on that most erotic of surfaces, the garage floor. But it’s no good. Martha strips nude during dinner, motions to her mammoth breasts, and yells, “You see this? We’ll you’re never gonna have it!” Stumbling upon a public auction, Henry inadvertently buys an antique chest. He brings it home. He opens the chest. And there it is: The Diary Of The Invisible Man, complete with a formula for invisibility! Since Henry’s shrink suggested tons of extracurricular sex as a cure for his marital woes, this diary could not have been found at a better time.

The Invisible Man and sex. You don’t need much more than that to engage an audience. The anonymous filmmakers of Henry’s Night In were aware of this fact. Yet, they were not content with pulling a Barry Mahon, whereupon a propitious concept is neutered by a bare minimum of effort. Job one with Henry’s is to get naked people on the screen. Easy enough. But job two? I’d define it as: “Make sure that Casper, The Friendly Ghost music plays at all times, especially if it’s decided that the most successful shots are composed from under a steering wheel.”

Henry’s Night In goes the route of Dracula, The Dirty Old Man and Thigh Spy, in that it’s a fun, late 1960s softcore film that’s oblivious to everything but itself. The boobs and bush are there, and that’s why the film was made. But the bizarre presentation, coupled with the subject matter, is what piques and sustains the whole.

That’s really the key to this film’s notability — the details, and how they shape the whole. A propensity for decorating, eating dinner, and answering the front door, all in the nude. Unexpected moments of observation, such as the zoom-happy camera following Henry on a walk through the neighborhood, or the view of a city street from behind a storefront window. Harshly-edited music that jumps from Dixieland spice to library twee. Droning scenes of women showering, licking their own boobs while bubble-bathing, and doing nothing while Henry’s invisible presence is suggested by shaking trees, doors that open slowly, and a theremin. Mistaken cutaways. Unexplained plot points. All of this random stuff, working together in one 70 minute burst, moving fast and feeling no responsibility to clarification.

At one point, the film reveals that the real Invisible Man was inspired to find the secret of invisibility so that he could also have lots of anonymous, invisible sex. This detail was somehow left out of H.G. Wells’ book.

There’s a small pocket of late 1960s softcore that successfully exchanges lucidity for individuality. That’s the spot which fascinates me, and Henry’s Night In lands right on it. I’m glad that someone decided to make an erratic, dream-like movie about the Invisible Man and sex. I’m also glad that Henry hikes up his pants until they nearly touch his boobs. This is an unorthodox barometer, but an apt one.

From the Archives