Kino Lorber // 1940 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 10th, 2013
Sharp fanged blood sucking death dives from midnight skies!
Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi, Plan 9 From Outer Space) is a small town cosmetic chemist who is angry that his employers have (in his mind) unfairly swindled him out of his share of the company. Dr. Carruthers decides to extract his revenge using gigantic bats that he's been breeding in his laboratory. The good doctor offers up a new aftershave lotion to his victims, and when they put it on, it attracts the mutant bats which proceed to chow down on the victim's jugular vein. It's up to a clumsy photographer, 'One Shot' McGuire (Donald Kerr, Four Daughters), and hot shot news reporter, Johnny Layton (Dave O'Brien, Reefer Madness), to stop the vengeful doctor before he goes completely batty!
At some point in the mid-1980s, my parents purchased a cheap copy of The Devil Bat -- the kind of public domain title that was released by bottom of the barrel studios like Goodtimes Home Entertainment -- at local video store. The VHS case had a picture of Bela Lugosi in circular laboratory goggles overlooking what appeared to be a giant mutant bat being electrocuted. That videocassette sat at my folk's home in Wisconsin for decades and not a single person ever viewed it, but I always remembered that creepy cover image. Finally, after having been around the film for most of my young life but never watching it, I've sat through The Devil Bat. The film was produced by the independent Poverty Row studios, which pretty well describes the quality of this very short feature film: cheap and shoddy.
Bela Lugosi was not an actor known for choosing high quality film projects. In 1931 Lugosi shot top stardom in Tod Browning's now classic Dracula. The film was so popular -- and the actor so identified with the role -- that Lugosi ended up typecast in horror roles as bloodsuckers and mad men. Lugosi's career eventually went downhill and the actor, whose heavy Hungarian accent and infamous drug use was a hindrance on screen, ended up making cheap, low budget schlock, famously recounted in the biopic Ed Wood. The Devil Bat was one of those movies.
The Devil Bat is schizophrenic in its execution; part of the film wants to be an out-and-out horror movie with the other part struggling to be a comedy featuring O'Brien and Kerr as bantering investigators who always seem to find the corpses about ten seconds after the bat has flown off. Neither part works. Lugosi is, of course, quintessential Lugosi: he cackles maniacally, smiles menacingly, and has an accent thick enough to confuse even the most well versed linguist. The devil bat attacks -- clearly meant to be the highlight of the film -- would make Roger Corman proud. The monster bats are obviously on wires and pulleys, whooshing through the air with high pitched screams that sound suspiciously like an ambulance siren, dispatched through a window where you can practically see the operators working diligently. The fuzzy bats dive bomb onto a victim's throat, said victims yell out in pain, and the bats ascend away into the night. This happens repeatedly and to diminished effect with each consecutive attack. Since John T. Neville's screenplay tells us within the first five minutes who is behind the bat attacks, it's just a waiting game until Dr. Carruthers gets his eventual comeuppance.
To The Devil Bat's credit, I've seen far worse 'thrillers' from the classic age of movie monsters. Director Jean Yarbrough (who toiled away on such TV shows as The Addams Family and My Favorite Martian) has a working knowledge of the camera but its clear the low budget limitations did the production no favors. Scenes are looped and repeated, mostly those of the bat plunging down from the night sky or leaving from the laboratory window. The bats themselves look cheap, like Styrofoam balls wrapped in old squirrel hides. None of the actors acquit themselves since none of them are given dialogue that's especially memorable. The Devil Bat's saving grace is Lugosi's always welcome presence; otherwise, this would have been one more forgotten cheapie in Hollywood's historical vaults.
The Devil Bat is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in 1080p high definition. The packaging states that this is an "HD restoration from archival film elements," but that doesn't necessarily mean the image looks spectacular. I'm sure the VHS copy my parents owned was atrocious, and comparatively the Blu-ray image looks very good. The black and white image is solid and attractive for a film of such low budget origins. That being said, there's a lot of dirt, grain, and other imperfections. This may be the best The Devil Bat has ever looked, but it's not great. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and is passable at best. The music, effects, and dialogue are usually clear and easy distinguishable, and little else. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are included on this disc.
Extra features including a brisk commentary track by film historian Richard Harland Smith, a trailer for the 1932 Bela Lugosi film White Zombie, and an archival photo gallery.
As far as early 20th century horror goes, The Devil Bat can't hold a candle to Universal classics like Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and Lugosi's far better Dracula. This one works best at 2:00 AM, preferably with a Bud Light and bowl of nachos.
Mediocre late night viewing only passable in high definition.
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* Full Frame (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated