Evil takes flight!
Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) has made a decent living coming up with new types of shaving lotion formulas. Working from his laboratory in his home, Dr. Carruthers spends oodles of time toiling away on his experiments which in turn are given to the Heath corporation, a family owned business that distributes the doctor's products. What the citizens of Heathville (har-har) don't know is that the good doctor is also creating gigantic bats in his home that are trained to kill, kill, KILL! It seems that Dr. Carruthers has some pent up anger at the Heath family (which includes the stunning Mary Heath, played by Suzanne Kaaren) because he was bought out of a lucrative deal with the cosmetics he produced. In turn, he's decided to play with the glands of various bats (or something along those lines) and create a monster the size of a microwave oven! As he sends his mutated "devil bat" on a killing spree, a newspaper reporter (Dave O'Brien) and a wacky photographer (Donald Kerr) show up to bust the story wide open. As the bat continues his reign of terror, the clues quickly come together and point to only one man: the menacing Dr. Carruthers!
During his illustrious and rocky career in movies, Hollywood legend Bela Lugosi wore many hats. Through the early 1900s until his death in 1956, Lugosi played in everything, from classic horror flicks (White Zombie, The Black Cat) to Ed Wood exploitation (Plan 9 From Outer Space, Bride of the Monster). Oh, and he also had a starring role in a little 1931 Universal Studios piece called Dracula (the role for which he'd always be remembered). In 1940, Lugosi once again adorned the silver screen in the hokey, entertaining yarn The Devil Bat. Like many other "horror" movies of its day, The Devil Bat features chintzy special effects (I'm sorry, is that giant bat made out of carpet?) and archival footage of the film's titular beast (because nothing says scary like a "National Geographic Special"). Ah, but the fun of a movie like The Devil Bat doesn't reside in the special effects—it's the hammy, stiff performances that makes this film a hoot. From the supporting cast's obnoxious acting (when the bat attacks, folks generally flail their arms and run in circles) to Bela's charming portrayal of a doctor gone mad—does anyone smirk as villainously as Lugosi?—The Devil Bat is a classic Z-grade title to be relished. As usual, Lugosi's screen presence is strong and dignified, even when the script is not. The only real downer about this film is that it was a sad indication of where Lugosi's acting career would be heading over the next few decades (I got just three words for you: Glen or Glenda?). Clocking in at a mere 68 minutes, The Devil Bat never over stays its goofy welcome. As directed by Jean Yarborough (the enjoyably titled Hillbillies in a Haunted House), The Devil Bat makes me yearn for the days of drive-ins and Cadillac make-out sessions. Six years later a sequel would be produced—The Devil Bat's Daughter, also available on DVD—but it's of little comparison without Lugosi's magnetic persona.
The Devil Bat is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame. Those who have suffered through cruddy, low budget VHS copies of this classic will be happy to see it in a remastered transfer from original 35mm source elements. The colors and black levels are all fairly sharp and solid throughout the length of the feature. Of course, since this film is well over 60 years old it sports many an inconsistency—grain, dirt, film tears, out of focus shots and jump cuts are present throughout. However, considering the age and materials used, this picture is in better shape than I anticipated. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono. This sound mix is exactly what I expected—flat and void of any dynamic range. Once again, this film is ancient, so it's not surprising to find this track in only mediocre shape. A few pops and some dialogue distortion hinders the track every so often, but otherwise this is a clear mix that features a creepy music score. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are available on this disc.
Not to be confused with those schlocky, bottom feeder titles, The Devil Bat has been authorized by the estate of Bela Lugosi and includes a fine assortment of extra features. Starting out this disc is a commentary track by film historian Ted Newsom and Bela Lugosi's son, Bela Jr. The good news is that this is a very straightforward and honest commentary track—Lugosi and Newsom both acknowledge how low the production values were and that Lugosi, Sr.'s talents were not utilized to full effect. The bad news is that this track is not half as good as the jam packed Universal monsters commentaries (such as Dracula and Frankenstein). However, while this track isn't quite as fast paced as others, it's still packed with great information about the film's production, the time period and, most importantly, Bela Lugosi. A gallery of still images from The Devil Bat includes poster art, stills from the film, and pictures of Bela in those wacky mad doctor goggles. "The Dr. Prescribed Death" is an old radio show from 1943 featuring Bela's Hungarian vocal chords and makes for a fun listen for fans of the Golden Age of radio. Finally, there are trailers for the Lugosi flicks The Human Monster and Scared to Death.
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• Commentary Track by Film Historian Ted Newsom and Bela Lugosi, Jr.
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