The Devil Bat
Sharp fanged blood sucking DEATH dives from MIDNIGHT SKIES!
Year of Release: 1940
Also Known As: Killer Bats
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 68 minutes (1:08)
Director: Jean Yarborough
Bela Lugosi ... Dr. Paul Carruthers
Dave O'Brien ... Johnny Layton
Suzanne Kaaren ... Mary Heath
Donald Kerr ... 'One-Shot' McGuire
Guy Usher ... Henry Morton
Yolande Donlan ... Maxine
Edmund Mortimer ... Martin Heath
Gene O'Donnell ... Don Morton
Alan Baldwin ... Tommy Heath
John Ellis ... Roy Heath
Arthur Q. Bryan ... Joe McGinty
Hal Price ... Chief Wilkins
A chemist feels betrayed by the company owners who have profited from his discoveries. Seeking revenge upon the men, the chemist has bred a large vicious bat that will attack anyone covered in a particular cologne he has manufactured. After a series of deaths due to the bat, a reporter discovers the truth behind the attacks and sets out to stop the madman.
The Devil Bat, remindin' us that the papers are seldom kind when they discover you used performance enhancing drugs to achieve a batting title.
An speakin' of little furry things you don't want hangin' around - I'm all for free enterprise in this country, an I will defend to the death a man's right to own an operate his very own drive-in, but sometimes I think Skunky Hernandez may not be the most responsible steward of the land. Call me a filthy hemp hockin', spotted owl nuzzlin', GMO fearin' hippie if you want to, but I just feel like dumpin' the concession stand leftovers into the catfish pond prolly ain't good for 'em. I mean, sure, most of us can pack away four orders of nacho cheese (hold the nachos) an cap off the night with a deep fried chimichanga an a 72oz Dr. Pepper an be alright in 3 or 4 days, but we've trained our whole lives for this kinda livin'. These fish ain't had a chance to build up the immuno acids an things necessary to deal with levels of saturated fat an cholesterol that have been known to leave a man clinically dead for brief periods inside the Grime Time outhouse - an despite our best efforts, Tetnis an me haven't been able to successfully rewire his portable defibrillator paddles to be safe for use on piscean patients (we finally hadda give up after accidentally turnin' three mud cats into fish 'n chip baskets in the name of science).
The patrons're pretty cheesed about it too, particularly since Skunky refuses to spring for the Lipitor capsules necessary to clear out the blockage in their little heart valves. Poor fish've gotten so lethargic that once they're hooked they just kinda roll onto their sides an quiver like those middle-aged fat guys at hot dog eatin' contests just before their stomachs explode. I'm tellin' ya - I ain't never seen nothin' like this before; Apollo rolled on one of them catfish last week an I STILL haven't been able to scrub the smell of onion rings off 'im.
Finally I went up to Skunky an I says: "Skunky, these fish're sufferin' from acute McDonaldosis an I wanna know whatcher gonna do about it."
"Dunno, take nap maybe?" - Skunky was pretty clearly in denial about the situation an what it meant for the ecosystem an the 35 cranky old men with three letter names who look forward to fishin' every weekend.
"So you're gonna lay on your ass an watch your B.O. fumes peel the paint off the ceilin' while we've got a full blown crisis goin' on here?" I asked incredulously.
"What crisees? Ees no crisees! So feesh gain a leetle weight; happens to best of us," he deflected.
"Oh sure, I suppose it's normal for critters without a lung system to sit on the surface gaspin' for air, I dunno what I was thinking," I fired back.
"They's jous' happy feesh. Look - they ees waving at us! Hello happy feesh!" Skunky waved to the pond oblivious to the fact that people have been committed for less ridiculous behavior.
"For cripes sake, Skunky! They're so diabetic their whiskers're bendin' themselves into little Wilford Brimley-staches!" I yelled, but by that time Skunky'd waddled down to the pond to make kissie faces at 'em so I gave up tryin' to reason with 'im.
I did manage to convince Juanita to at least let us dump the deep fryer grease in the outhouse rather'n the pond, but I only even got that far after Aesop Marlin reeled in a fish so greasy it shot out of his hands like a bar of Irish Spring an stabbed Maime Tibbets in the backside with its spines durin' Dear Mr. Wonderful an she threatened to sue Skunky for "everything he had." Fortunately Tetnis managed to talk 'er out of it while he was bandagin' 'er hiney by explainin' that it wouldn't be worth it since she'd never manage to get the smell outta Skunky's stuff even if she lived to be 200. I think this kinda thing may be parta why the Chamber of Commerce sends out 30 day supplies of anti-psychotic medication in lieu of tourism brochures.
I'm tellin' ya, if somethin' ain't done soon we're gonna hafta call the Maury Povich Show so he can come out an rescue these fish with a helicopter an have 'em flown to an obesity clinic in Wisconsin for emergency lap band surgery an mandatory Overeaters Anonymous classes. Not that there's anything wrong with bein' fat, mind you, an I'd just like to state for the record that some of my best friends used to be fat. Actually most of 'em still are fat, we're just not on speaking terms anymore cause apparently fat people don't like bein' told that they're fat even when you're sayin' encouragin' things like: "hey, walrus rump, I see you've busted my toilet seat again - perhaps the tractor tire in the yard'd better accommodate your needs." The only reason I'm bringin' it up's cause this week's flick stars the great Bela Lugosi, who's breedin' a race of super bats of the fat persuasion so he can sic 'em on a buncha buttholes named Heath for exploitin' his genius for commercial gain an for makin' toffee bars that're hard enough to use as blacksmithin' anvils. I'm not gonna sugarcoat it for ya - this flick's old enough to be the front runner in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary, but I'm gonna try not to hold that against it - an just to prove I've still got a little respect left for my elders, I'm gonna share with you good people three things I learned from this flick durin' the moments where I was successfully able to keep my eyelids in the fully upright and locked position. First, in more civilized times it was customary to station men in three-piece power lunch suits outside the bedrooms of distressed damsels in case they should be attacked in the night by vampiric winged mammals. Second, freedom of the press is protected by the first amendment of the constitution, and by Smith & Wesson. An third, it's really hard to sleep upside down with a hiatal hernia.
The movie begins with Bela Lugosi workin' in his lab mixin' up potions an lookin' sinister like only he can, til he decides to take a break an head up to his attic where he's trainin' the next generation of neck-biters to raise awareness of the need for plasma donations, by sendin' 'em out to show everybody what happens when you get an overdraft penalty at the blood bank. But before he can send his batlings out on a blood drive he's gotta hang 'em upside down from an old Buck Rogers zap gun an run 1000 volts of electricity through 'em until they get super-sized an make the place smell like the kitchen at Hooters. I know this may sound cruel, but the bats're so well trained that they don't move or blink or anything despite bein' hooked up to a tractor battery like prisoners in a Russian gulag, so there's no need to call P.E.T.A. Basically Bela's corkin' his bats an trainin' 'em to hate the scent of a cologne he's developin' so they'll glom onto people's jugular veins, an since this particular strain of lady attractant is worn exclusively by arrogant douchebags, we should prolly assume that it's part of the Axe line an that Bela's doin' his part to keep the world safe from pathetic horny frat pledges with disgusting cold sores an bad beards. Unfortunately Bela loses track of time while runnin' a battery of tests on his subjects an forgets he's supposed to go hang out in a smoke-filled room with a buncha stuffy executives from the Dow Chemical company who wanna stand in awe of him, an so the corporate overlords send this dweeb named Roy to deliver a bonus check to Bela for his contribution to the fight against human body odor. Bela's P.O.'d that these Rolls Royce drivin', Grey Poupon slurpin' phonies think they can just buy 'im off like an EPA inspector at an ExxonMobil spill, so he offers Roy a dab of Old Slice an sends 'im on his way before openin' up his attic window an orderin' his squadron of smelth bombers to open up Roy's throat like a Pottery Barn in a Seattle strip mall. This would never work today on account of the bats havin' to chew through 2" of jowl flab to get to the good stuff, but it's pretty goddamned diabolical for 1940.
Next thing, this fat newspaper editor who looks like Tony Soprano on a high gravity planet (McGinty) sends a two-man news crew (Johnny an McGuire) to investigate the murder, only Johnny talks like Maxwell Smart auctionin' off cattle at the county fair an so he's even harder to understand than Bela, so when he interviews Lugosi an the dead guy's sister (Mary) there's a bit of a language barrier. Then Bela sends his meat-seeking missiles out for another round of pin the veil on the honkey, an next thing you know Bat Albert's doin' the Batusi all over the face of Mary's other brother (Tommy). Johnny happens to be nearby an empties his press issue revolver into the sky but never manages to connect cause Space Invaders hasn't come out yet an so he don't know he's supposed to shoot at where the bat's goin' to be instead of where it is. Needless to say nobody believes Johnny about the bat except for the Weekly World News, so he decides to have McGuire rig up a fake one an send it flyin' down a zip line like a yuppie tourist in the Costa Rican jungle to get a picture so McGinty won't cancel the credit card on their expense account, only while McGuire's shootin' the picture the trigger-happy sheriff shows up with a 12 gauge an blows the model into fly tying confetti an locks 'im up for tryin' to pass off guano as real news. So now Johnny hasta go bail McGuire outta jail before he gets privatized an then everybody in the cast gathers around various radios to listen to some wiseass whistleblower denounce McGuire's picture just cause his bat happens to be sportin' a Hasbro logo. As you can imagine, McGinty is royally hacked off, an the moment the broadcast ends he calls up Johnny an shitcans both him an McGuire an tells 'em they'll never work in the news business again as long as he lives, even though that'll prolly only be another week or so since the guy's blood pressure's so high you can use his left ventricle to pump up a flat tire. Sides, all that really means is Johnny an McGuire're no longer bound to the level of journalistic integrity that only moments before led to the creation of a false flag operation, so Johnny, McGuire, an the sheriff take a sample of the cosmetic product that keeps showin' up on all the bodies to Bela to analyze an he gives 'em some BS excuse about trade secrets or somethin' an tells 'em Senator McCarthy'll come blacklist 'im as an enemy of Capitalism if he tells 'em what's in it.
Bela doesn't appreciate their meddlin' to say the least, so he gives 'em a free sample of his lotion so they can put it on the skin an leave to feed the crows again, cept this time when Count Schlockula swoops in to put the bite on 'im Johnny plugs its ugly bathole with his revolver. Then there's a whole buncha printing press fu talkin' about the "devil bat" an how it'll prolly never stand trial on account of bein' blown into batatouille, an by now Bela's so mad about how unfairly his little friend's bein' depicted by the lamestream media just for killin' a half dozen people that he hasta juice up another bat with Volt Cola an grin like a jackal on a zebra carcass. Bela's still got a coupla big wigs that need scalpin', so he goes to his boss's office an cajoles 'im into slatherin' the Bed, Bat, and Beyond exclusive onto his jowls, cept pretty quick the guy starts talkin' about how Bela'd be as rich as he is if he'd taken a share in the company instead of bein' suckered in by the J.G. Wentworth pitch, an pretty quick the right side of Bela's face starts twitchin' like it's all he can do to prevent the Michael Flatley demon inside 'im from takin' control an doin' the Riverdance all over the honcho's spleen. It's the Sour Patch Kids facial contortion that finally makes the boss man realize he may have conned the wrong chemist, but before he can go snitch to the cops he gets dive bombed by one of Meatloaf's greatest hits an gets turned into Bloody Mary mix. This leaves Mary as the last ma'am standing an the sole surviving heir to the vast Horbath Empire an so now Bela's got 'er in his inverted crosshairs, only he fails to account for the greatest nemesis of flying creatures everywhere - the sliding glass door. By this point Johnny's finally startin' to wonder if maybe the evil foreign weirdo who's always tryin' to smear things on people's necks might be up to somethin', so he orders Mary to switch over to hysterical woman mode an get Bela to come examine 'er so he can go root around in Bela's belfry an try to solve the case of the Foo Foo Juice murders. This's about as far as I can go without spoilin' the endin' or causin' people's heads to explode from prolonged exposure to bad bat puns, but if you wanna check the flick out for yourself it's in the public domain an available for viewin' at the link below.
Alrighty, well, not too bad for a low budget public domain flick from 1940, but how come these movies always use stock footage of the cutest bats they can find? Filmmakers in those days always wanted to use Fruit bats or Fox bats and they're just too dang cute to inspire fear in anything but flying insects, ya know? Maybe that's all the zoos had back then, or maybe it's cause your uglier bat species are smaller, and bigger is scarier, I dunno, but looking at these bats just makes you wanna give 'em chin scritches. Other than that though, not a bad effort, and probably the biggest financial success of all the films produced by PRC, which stood for Producers Releasing Corporation, but was sometimes referred to as Poverty Row as it was located in an area of Hollywood where numerous low budget studios were clustered together. The Devil Bat was their first Horror flick, as the studio was primarily known for producing B-grade Westerns typically shot over the course of a week, and despite its successful run at the box office the studio stuck primarily to the Western genre (and later a series of Jungle flicks after managing to get Buster Crabbe under contract), producing only a handful of Horror flicks after The Devil Bat and eventually folding in 1946. Fortunately in 1940 Bela Lugosi was still considered a reliable draw despite having lost the battle to become the #1 Horror icon to Boris Karloff years before and, as is often the case, it is his performance that carries the flick. Lugosi was in the midst of a brief resurgence when The Devil Bat came along, having spent the last few years in decline before the re-releasing of Dracula and Frankenstein in 1938 rekindled interest and landed him several supporting, and even a few starring roles in bigger budget flicks being shot at the time, but it wasn't long before the fascination faded again and he was forced once more to return to the schlockmeisters, eventually ending his career with the man widely considered to be the worst director of all time, the late great Ed Wood. I still say Lugosi got hosed and that he should have been the undisputed champion of Horror's golden age, but it's kinda funny to think that the only reason he didn't is because he refused to take the role of the Monster in Frankenstein on the basis that his face would be covered and that the Monster had no speaking lines; guess those are the breaks though.
No use in cryin' over spilled plasma I guess, so let's give this "devil bat" a quick once-over and see how bad the flea infestation is. The plot is, of course, a bit far-fetched (though not nearly as ridiculous as many early Science Fiction films), but if you disregard the murder weapon the movie is a pretty standard revenge tale, with the supporting cast spending the film's entire runtime trying to figure out what's goin' on while Bela smirks in his laboratory. Were Bela using a gun, poison, or *anything* but ooky spooky winged monsters the movie'd be a crime drama, and as such the flick is very formulaic and completely devoid of plot twists, but for its time it's coherent and competently written, if a bit dull. The acting is pretty good, with Lugosi turning in another solid performance as the benevolent, learned pillar of the community on the surface, with the scorned, diabolical madman bent on revenge lurking just below. Surprisingly, particularly for the budget, the supporting cast is also up to the task this time around, with Dave O'Brien serving as the journalistic straight man to Donald Kerr's slightly lecherous, bungling comic relief character. Suzanne Kaaren is also adequate as the distressed damsel despite the fact that the writers didn't seem to think she'd be particularly broken up about her entire family being murdered all around her, and writing her lines accordingly. The writing in general is far more comedic than the super-serious Universal monster flicks of the time, but it ultimately works, particularly once you've seen the special effects in action.
Here's who matters and why (sides Bela Lugosi, of course): Dave O'Brien (Bowery at Midnight, Spooks Run Wild, Night of Terror 1933), Guy Usher (Buck Rogers 1939, The Mummy's Tomb, King of the Zombies, Mystery of the Wax Museum), Yolande Donlan (Turnabout, Tarzan and the Last Safari), Donald Kerr (Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, Man of a Thousand Faces, I've Lived Before, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Magnetic Monster, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Mighty Joe Young 1949, The Monster and the Girl, The Ape 1940), Edmund Mortimer (Murder in the Blue Room, Nabonga, The Mad Ghoul, I Married a Witch, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1941, Buck Rogers 1939, Werewolf of London, Neptune's Daughter), Gene O'Donnell (The Ape 1940, The Mad Ghoul), John Ellis (Man Made Monster), Arthur Q. Bryan (Samson and Delilah), Hal Price (Mysterious Dr. Satan), John Davidson (Adventures of Captain Marvel, The Purple Monster Strikes, Mummy's Boys), Billy Griffith (The Phantom 1931), Wally Rairden (The Monster and the Girl).
The special effects are, without question, the film's greatest liability. At no point do the bats ever look even remotely convincing, and prove laughable in every sequence in which they appear, instantly destroying a scene's atmosphere the moment they come in to view. I suppose you've got to give them some credit for trying to bring the bats to life by more complicated means that simply attaching a string (although there is some of that), but it's abundantly clear that they're either using zip lines to guide the models or, occasionally, kites. The kites are an interesting idea, and to be fair they offer different flight patterns without ever looking any worse than the models on zip lines, but it's still very apparent what's going on and it's all pretty silly. The sets are decent enough, though the only interesting one is Lugosi's laboratory filled with beakers, bunsen burners, and all the usual sciency stuff we've come to expect from these old movies. They've also got some retro futuristic equipment in the room where Bela super-sizes his bats that's kinda neat, but for the most part the flick jumps from residence to residence to the occasional office, so while there's nothing truly memorable, there's also nothing detrimental. The soundtrack is comprised of standard cookie-cutter compositions that could be injected into any other Horror/Thriller/Mystery/Suspense/Crime film of the era and still fit, although it probably shouldn't be judged too harshly given that soundtracks were only just beginning to become common in those days. Still, it sounds like every other movie from 1940, and while it is better than not having a score at all, these musical pieces are probably best remembered for turning up in old Disney cartoons on Mousterpiece Theater rather than the movies in which they first debuted. Oh, and apparently bat noises are indistinguishable from those of Howler monkeys in the San Diego zoo, just in case anyone was confused by that. Overall, The Devil Bat is fairly competent on a technical level and would earn a passing grade in that respect if not for the atrocious special effects - that said, it's just not very entertaining when Lugosi's not on screen, and even at a 68 minute runtime it really drags in places. Still, if you enjoy flicks from the Golden Age of Horror you'll probably like this one, but if you're like me, there's just not enough here to overcome it's age.