The Vampire Bat
These are the TALONS of The Vampire Bat.
Year of Release: 1933
Also Known As: Blood Sucker, Forced to Sin
Running Time: 64 minutes (1:04)
Director: Frank R. Strayer
Melvyn Douglas ... Karl Brettschneider
Lionel Atwill ... Dr. Otto von Niemann
Fay Wray ... Ruth Bertin
Maude Eburne ... Aunt Gussie Schnappmann
George E. Stone ... Kringen
Dwight Frye ... Herman Gleib
Lionel Belmore ... Burgermeister Gustave Schoen
An entire town is thrown into a panic when hordes of bats fill the nighttime sky and villagers are found bleeding to death in their beds, supposedly from vampire bites. But one investigator refuses to believe this wild theory and maintains that a deranged killer is on the loose, not a bloodsucking fiend.
The Vampire Bat, remindin' us that all those people in the nursin' homes who speak so fondly of "the good ole days" are prolly just too far down Senility Lane to recall the mobs with torches, the fear of bein' deputized an ordered around anytime the sheriff gets in over his head, an bein' attacked by the goddamned vampire bats anytime you open up the card catalog at the public library. But that's cool, you go ahead an reminisce about your precious polio an tye dye t-shirts while I cruise around town to the max in my Gremlin, chuggin' Jolt Cola. Buncha dickbrains, need to get with the times an eat my shorts already. An speakin' of people that took over 30 years to get it together, this movie's essentially Batman if you were to replace Bruce Wayne with Renfield from Dracula. Course, Renfield never had much of a brain, so he basically played second banana to Bela Lugosi an ended up never makin' anything of 'imself, just like his mama always said would happen when she'd catch 'im tryin' to trap farts inside a milk bottle. So he ended up havin' to work for fish heads instead of gettin' rich offa insider tradin' info like Bruce an amassin' enough money to build custom cars an invent a wide variety of wonderful toys. An unfortunately, Renfield could never hope to afford a butler so he'd have somebody around to dry clean the bat guano outta his shirts either. But on the plus side, the guy that co-starred with 'im an wore more make up than Tammy Faye, Zsa Zsa, an Violent J combined was generally on his side, at least. Plus he never got saddled with an androgynous man-child whose presence caused 'im to sleep on his back every night so he wouldn't wake up with a slipped dick in his lower back, so I suppose you've gotta take the bad with the good.
In any event, there're people out there that'll tell you you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But sometimes you can at least jog the old dog's memory an get 'im to show you where he buried his rotten old relics, givin' you the opportunity to explore some long forgotten philosophical wisdom that's been abandoned an lost like Lance Armstrong's personal integrity. So here're a few tidbits I plucked outta the cobwebs along with a nasty little white headed fly that might prove to be thought provoking... or maybe just bore the crap outta you like your Gramma tellin' the story about 'er trip to the Grand Canyon with Grampa back in 1958 before they'd added the safety rails, for the 68th time. First, if the best evidence you can muster to prove that vampires're runnin' around suckin' people dry like a teamster workin' a 72oz Big Gulp are the city council notes taken from Farfigkrauten, Germany in 1643, you may encounter some skepticism. This should be obvious, cause everybody knows that most historical texts don't gain credibility until they've been translated an revised a coupla dozen times. Second, doctors were really spoiled back in the 30s. I mean, anytime they needed blood for their experiments involvin' aquatic, pulsatin' Morel mushrooms, they'd just get some big galoot from the agricultural college to brain random people an haul 'em back to the lab. These days, they have to steal blood samples in small doses an pretend to be runnin' tests on 'em if they don't wanna risk havin' their malpractice insurance shoot through the roof like a hillbilly pickin' off packrats through their ceilin' tiles with a .22 pistol. An third, the best way to corral a mentally retarded, socially maladjusted person is with 200 P.O.'d villagers carryin' torches, an 20 German Shepherds who all think the guy's holdin' dope. There're other ways of course, but they all make it look like you've gone soft on crime, an once you wuss out, the folks from the neighborin' counties stop invitin' your kids over to use the condemned as pinatas while they're bein' hanged. I don't think I need to explain just how badly that kinda ostracization can damage a developin' young mind.
But the thing that really kinks my hose about this one is how much social stigma we've placed upon believin' in the supernatural. Now I don't want alla you guys out there who've got the complete box set of In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy to get your jimmies rustled, cause I'm not bringin' this out into the open so I can give you a metaphorical equivalent of the pantsin' you used to endure from the varsity squad back in high school. I just bring it up cause, in the movie, everybody on the town council thinks there's a vampire runnin' around town rackin' up overdraft fees on the residents' blood banks, an yet everybody's too afraid of what the next town over, with their fancy phonographs an ballpoint pens might think if they were to find out. So these people *know* they should be lookin' like a poor man's Mr. T all decked out in silver neck chains, tradin' out their onions for heads of garlic to tie on their belts, an carryin' a belt fed automatic bazooka that fires oak stakes, but do they take any of these simple precautionary measures to ensure the town's safety? Of course not. No, if they did that, someone from over in Dookenheimen might start spreadin' the word about how "queer" everybody in town is an start refusin' to let 'em play in the annual softball tournament. Everybody's sure it's vampires, an yet, they'd rather die than risk lookin' silly. An this kinda thing's still goin' stronger'n ever, even as our society becomes more an more tolerant of previously unacceptable social abnormalities like not bein' straight, white, an male. Even now, you walk into a post office with a bullet proof vest on an everybody laughs atcha. Wear a chain mail bra with a padlock to the dentist? Hilarity ensues. An don't even think about takin' condoms into a sorority house, you'll never hear the end of that one. Times change, but people don't. You'd think that by now these'd all be perfectly rational precautions, but still, we're mocked. Well, I'm done bein' ashamed of wearin' Depends to senior citizens amateur night over at Cooter's Bar an Topless Dancin' (look we've all been over there when somethin' scarier'n that thing you pulled outta the shower drain that was still quiverin' got up on stage an started high-kickin' to "Like a Virgin", so spare me your internet tough guy speeches). So if the rest of you Dukes an Duchesses of Dignity wanna keep stickin' your necks out for the sake of your superficial supercilious status, by all means, go for it. But I'm officially goin' Ash Williams, an as of right now, I'M THROUGH RUNNIN'.
The movie begins with this sawed off gimp who looks like he'd be ringin' the bell in the clock tower an sexually harassin' Gypsy babes if he were just a tad uglier (Kringen) hangin' out under a tree fulla bats the size of Kim Kardashian's left butt cheek til he spots Darkman duckin' into somebody's window an heroically wanders off like some Italian bat up in the tree just told 'im he didn't see nothin'. Meanwhile, the local Burgermist... Burgermast... alright the hell with this; Ronald McDonald's complainin' to a detective (Karl) that he's got a half dozen corpses stinkin' up the joint just in the last 6 weeks alone an starts readin' off the city council minutes from Scheizenkopfen, Germany from 1643 where they had the same problem with the goddamned vampire batmen til Karl gets this look on his face like somebody just tried convincin' 'im that some day the only people wearin' fedoras'll be hipsters tryin' to score tail. So Karl gets up an tells the council that it's prolly just Jacques the Gypper an that once he finds 'em the guy'll surrender faster'n an Iraqi security officer an takes off so he can head over to this laboratory an smooch his dame (Ruth) back to consciousness an try to convince 'er to quit 'er thinkin' job since women in the field of scientific discovery generally only get famous for discoverin' somethin' that kills 'em. Elsewhere, Lionel Atwill (the guy who owns the house and the lab) is doctorin' on this old hag who looks like the Aztec Mummy after somebody gave it an atomic noogie (Martha) til this creepy little mental invalid who looks like Roach from The People Under the Stairs (Herman) creeps in an gives the old hag a flower before takin' off to go race Algernon through a maze. Seems Martha's forgotten 'er potty trainin' ever since she was attacked by Bat Boy an so Lionel prescribes some Depends an tells 'er to try 'er best not to look like a mosquito an goes on his way. Outside, Kringen tells Lionel he's had the willies ever since Battra tried gettin' tangled up in his hair before flyin' into an open window the other night an about that time Herman shows up an tries to convince Kringen not to tell Ronald about what he saw cause the bats're his friends an goes on to explain that once he's gone he'd like to be remembered fondly as Willard's only slightly crazy bat lovin' uncle. Then Herman wanders off an Kringen tells Lionel that Herman's been makin' pets outta the bats an that he's not the kinda guy to create gossip but some of the bigger bats look just like 'im if you compare their baby pictures an Kringen decides he'd better go tell Ronald about what's been goin' on in case he thinks it's serious enough to take all the way to Mayor McCheese. But later on that evenin', once Martha goes to sleep after prayin' to God that she won't hose down 'er electric blanket, 'er shutters start openin' up like Axl Rotten's forehead in a Taipei Death Match til somethin' sneaks in an siphons out all 'er blood like a common Puerto Rican goat.
Then Lionel comes back so he can poke 'er with a stick to make sure she's dead while Herman neanders his way inside through the sea of villagers who've all got this expression like Herman ain't had a bath since the Taft administration. Inside, Karl asks Lionel what he thinks happened an while Lionel's explainin' that they're either lookin' at the work of a vampire or Keith Richards' physician, Herman lifts up the meat sheet an gets this look on his face like his Dad just flushed his goldfish down the crapper right in front of 'im an runs outta there squealin' like a wounded jackrabbit. The next mornin, Lionel walks into his lab to find Ruth's hypochondriaunt that looks like Mrs. Dubcek on 3rd Rock from the Sun takin' 'er pulse an claimin' that she ain't long for this world til she heads outside so she can break up Ruth an Karl's make out session. Course, Ruth an Karl've seen the Fred Sanford act more times than Ted Nugent's seen underaged vagina, so they sneak outta there while Aunt Dubcek's dictatin' 'er epitaph til Herman shows up an starts makin' cat noises from the bushes to distract 'er so he can steal 'er fruit basket. He's one slick, magnificent bastard ain't he? I'll tell ya, if this guy ever teams up with Yogi the Bear, Jellystone Park's had it. Unfortunately, Aunt Dubcek finally turns around an catches 'im snackin' on a coupla nanners, but notices a cut on his hand an goes to get some Bactine to torture 'im with until he teaches 'er how to throw 'er meow like that. Poor deluded woman, by the time she gets back he'll prolly be wearin' the fruit bowl on his head like the babe from the Chiquita ads. Meanwhile, Lionel's inside readin' an Anne Rice novel to Karl with the hope that he'll come over to the dork side an join his vampire discussion group when Ronald an the Fry Guys show up an tell 'em that Kringen was found dead from a combination of exsanguination an middle aged virginity. Then Karl deputizes the Fry Guys an tells 'em to go put on some hazmat suits an apprehend Herman so he can put 'im under the hot lights an feed his pet bats to Ozzy Osbourne one at a time til he tells 'im what he wants to know. Unfortunately, the Fry Guys decide it'd be a great idea to get half the county together an give 'em all torches to track down the mentally handicapped man before they head over to Colin Clive's place to settle his hash, an Herman ends up gettin' backed into the Cave of the Swallows an decides to go base jumpin' without a parachute. While that's goin' on, Lionel's sittin' at home usin' his Psycho Wave to telepathically communicate to his flunkie (Emil) the proper form for carryin' a dead woman back the lab so he won't pull a muscle in his back an end up on workman's comp.
So once Emil gets the broad stabbed, slabbed, an labbed, Lionel hooks 'er up to this aquarium filter that sucks all 'er blood out an pumps it into a big water bong so he can keep this giant, pulsatin' Morel mushroom he's got in a fish tank alive. Then Karl, Ruth, an Aunt Dubcek come back to Lionel's place an Dubcek ends up wanderin' upstairs an findin' the dame with the maimed frame that Lionel just got through vacuumin' out, an once the others make their way up to the room Karl finds Martha's crucifix layin' on the floor lookin' like Linda Blair just got 'er jollies with it. Lionel then explains who the crucifix belonged to, an that Herman had been at both Martha's place the day she had 'er main vein drained, an outside his place earlier that day beggin' for table scraps. But just when it seems like everything's comin' together like all that crap that falls onto the floor at a meat packin' plant after Armour gets ahold of it, Ronald shows up an tells everybody about Herman goin' to the hole like Magic Johnson on a fast break jam several hours ago an Karl gets this look on his face like he's just checked the mail for the 56th consecutive day an his Mae West calendar still hasn't shown up yet. So now Karl's real confused an more'n a little bit P.O.'d after findin' out the Fry Guys actually staked Herman to the ground like a tent just to see if he'd melt into a pile of Old El Paso Enchilada sauce an so he tells Lionel that he's gonna check out every inch of the house til Lionel pulls out a bottle of Flintstones chewable arsenic capsules an tells Karl to take two, get plenty of dead rest, an have Ruth call 'im once she's mourning so he can snag 'er on the rebound. Later that night, Emil's out Spidermanin' around on the rooftops again while Lionel sits at his desk with this look on his face like he's gettin' a prostate exam with a railroad spike as he instructs Emil to wait til Karl goes to bed before sneakin' in an that he's not to bring any of Karl's pets home with 'im cause he never ends up takin' care of 'em. Unfortunately for Lionel, Ruth chooses this moment to poke 'er head into his study an sees 'im usin' the Care Bear stare on the wall an talkin' to nobody an so she just kinda excuses 'erself for a minute an listens til he realizes she's heard alla his psychic-babble an goes over to the door til she steps back inside where she ends up gettin' grabbed rougher'n a male stripper workin' the shift immediately followin' the special 8pm showin' of Interview with the Vampire. Will cut here, but this one's in the public domain and can be viewed on Youtube, for anyone interested.
You could probably tell from just the goings on that this one's another moldy oldie from the classic era of horror films, which is generally considered to be 1930 - 1949. As I've mentioned in past reviews of movies from this era, they don't do much for me. The pacing is slow, there's generally a lot of talk with next to no walk, and most movies produced within this time frame are very much products of it that don't often stand the test of time. There are of course, exceptions, which everyone is likely familiar with even if they may not have seen them, most of which tend to belong to Universal. But by and large I find the classic era of horror to be a lot like the modern era, at least in terms of my ability to find anything I thoroughly enjoy. Though ironically, it is definitely the famous, mainstream titles from the classic era that are the best, where now, it's almost without exception an independent title. But when measured against other movies of its time, The Vampire Bat certainly isn't a bad movie, and I've unquestionably seen my share of titles from the 70s and 80s era, which I'm particularly fond of, that're a lot worse. I really wouldn't have any hesitation in recommending this title to anyone who enjoys the classic era, it's just that these old pot boilers seldom strike my fancy. Many alleged "horror" movies of the era are really just Mystery titles that happen to have an above average body count or that show more (read; some) blood than a who dunnit. Again, those particularly popular titles of the era like Frankenstein and Dracula certainly qualify as horror, but a lot of titles really don't, this one included. And they tend to succeed or fail based upon the acting performances of the cast far more than any other detail, which is something I tend to devalue when compared with a movie's plot or its special effects. Fortunately, The Vampire Bat has a few recognizable genre actors from the time that help prop it up and give it a certain level of class and credibility, including; Dwight Frye, Fay Wray, and Lionel Atwill. Atwill, one could argue, could have been huge in the genre, had he not been convicted of perjury in court as a result of his unwillingness to turn over the guest list of a Christmas party he hosted, which has been described as more of an orgy than a party. It was that conviction that expelled him from the good graces of Universal and reduced him to taking roles in B movies, unable to ever regain his star. But anyway, while the movie lacks a major horror headliner, it does have the three semi-regulars, and they all perform admirably for the time.
Well then, lets put this pot on the stove an see how long it takes to boil over. I'll keep an eye on my sundial for the official results. The plot is okay, but pretty old and tired even for the 30s, with the detective tracking a killer angle you've seen enough times that your eyes begin to gloss over the moment you realize what you're in for. Though there're a few kinks in the hose that never seem to get straightened out. For instance, they never touch on why it is that Atwill can telepathically communicate with the flunkie, nor do they ever provide any much needed exposition about the heart that he has growing in his fish tank, or why it needs blood (at least in the Mill Creek print, which may be cut). Now that I think about it, this plot's pretty goddamned inept. The acting will be the high point, with the best performances going to Atwill as the mad professor tryin' to pin his experimentation on vampires, and Dwight Frye as the unkempt, mentally handicapped Herman, who is to all bats what Gamera is to all children. Without Frye, this one might well be completely in the toilet. Maude Eburne is also pretty entertaining as Fay Wray's hypochondriac aunt who spends most of the movie doin' 'er Fred Sanford impression.
Here's who matters and why: Lionel Atwill (House of Dracula, Fog Island, House of Frankenstein, Captain America 1944, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Night Monster, The Strange Case of Doctor Rx, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, Man Made Monster, The Gorilla, Son of Frankenstein, Mark of the Vampire, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Doctor X), Fay Wray (Black Moon, King Kong, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Doctor X), Melvyn Douglas (Ghost Story, The Changeling 1980, The Old Dark House), Maude Eburne (The Boogie Man Will Get You, The Bat Whispers), Dwight Frye (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Dead Men Walk, Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dracula), Robert Frazer (Black Dragons, Condemned to Live, The Whispering Shadow, White Zombie), Rita Carlyle (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1941), Lionel Belmore (The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939, Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein), Harrison Greene (The Devil Commands, Murders in the Rue Morgue), Fern Emmett (Dead Men Walk, The Mummy's Tomb, The Monster and the Girl), William Humphrey (The Phantom of the Opera 1925), Paul Panzer (The Return of Doctor X, The Walking Dead, The Black Cat, Frankenstein), Carl Stockdale (Revolt of the Zombies, Condemned to Live), Paul Weigel (Dracula's Daughter, The Invisible Ray, Condemned to Live, The Black Room 1935, The Black Cat). Other less ghoulish roles for Lionel Atwill include; playing Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Rawitch in To Be or Not to Be, and Colonel Bishop in Captain Blood. Fay Wray was Eve in the original 1932 movie adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game, though she'll forever be known as the woman that Kong carried to the top of the Empire State Building in King Kong. Melvyn Douglas will almost certainly be better known for his saner roles of Homer Bannon in Hud, Benjamin Rand in Being There, and Leon in Ninotchka. And George E. Stone will be best remembered not for any horror movies, but for playing the Court Clerk on Perry Mason, Toothpick Charlie from Some Like it Hot, and Society Max in Guys and Dolls.
The special effects... well, it's a 30s movie. But if you're a fan of diagonal screen wipes, boy are you in for a treat. Technically it does actually have a few, including the still beating heart in the fish tank, blood being pumped out of a corpse into a beaker, and a few puncture marks on the necks of the murder victims. The heart doesn't really look like a heart; although, because so little is explained about it, it may well not be a normal heart. Looks like a Morel mushroom to me. The blood's okay, the punctures are alright, and I'll give them a little praise for not resorting to bats on strings as some of these movies do. Though they went with the humungous, cute fruit bats rather than the ugly little beasts that tend to strike even the smallest amount of fear in anyone. The shooting locations were pretty fair, with most of the scenes being shot on Universal's European Village sets, and Atwill's house having been recycled from the 1932 movie, The Old Dark House. The science lab isn't bad for a movie this old, though I think my favorite set was the Burgermeister's council chamber in the opening sequence. It also utilizes the Bronson Caves in L.A. for the sequence where Dwight Frye is fleeing from the torch-wielding townsfolk, which is a site that's been used a whole lot in cinematic history. As far as the soundtrack goes, I really don't remember much about it, and I believe that's because it doesn't really have much of one, short of the opening track that plays in front of the credits which is alright, but very 30s and difficult to take too seriously. Like many of these older movies, it relies more on sound effects rather than a dedicated soundtrack, though there really weren't even a whole lot of those either, so it's kinda pitiful. Overall, it's pretty weak-kneed, slow paced, talky, but still watchable if you're a fan of these films from the classic era. Not really my thing, but there isn't anything inherently wrong with it that would make me unwilling to recommend it to fans of 30s horror, those of whom will want to tack on an additional 10% or so to my rating to get a better idea of how much they themselves might enjoy it. Check it out, if that's your thing.