From the DVD case: Thousands of monstrous bats fill the night sky of a terrified village, while residents are murdered in their beds, drained of all their blood. As the killings increase, rumors of a vampire in their midst send the townspeople into a frenzy of panic, as even the most respected scientist of the community seems convinced by the evidence. Only one investigator refuses to believe the superstitious tales and argues that a maniac must be at the root of the killings. A mob gathers to hunt down the suspected vampire and drive a stake through his heart, yet the exorcism fails to end the horrific slayings. (1933,b&w)
Mark says: This film starts off as a detective mystery, turns into a vampire story, and ultimately ends up as a piece of science fiction. It’s certainly not a horror classic, but it is fine low budget entertainment. Filmed on borrowed sets of Universal horror films (e.g. The Old, Dark House), it boasts a strong cast of Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye.
Fay Wray plays the beautiful love interest, Ruth Bertin. This is not a juicy role for her, but her presence onscreen certainly helps the picture. However, it is not a role that will make you forget her as the heroine of King Kong.
Lionel Atwill is the deliciously evil Dr. Otto von Niemann, and Melvyn Douglas plays the skeptical detective, Karl Brettschneider.
The major flaw of this film is the ending, which is disappointing, to say the least. The movie holds together fairly well until Dr. Otto von Niemann’s plot becomes clear. After that, the picture loses so much credibility that you are hardly concerned with the outcome.
Another thing about horror films of this time, is that directors often include some character for comedy relief. In The Vampire Bat, the comedic relief comes in the form of Maude Eburn, as the hypochondriac aunt, Gussie Schnappmann. It’s as if the filmmakers of that era thought the horror was so great that the audience would need some type of tension release to survive the film. Generally, I find this type of characterization, at best, distracting, and at worst, detrimental to the overall atmosphere of the film.
This movie would have rated higher with me if the ending had been stronger. It’s an enjoyable film, but I wouldn’t buy it unless I found it in a bargain bin.
Directed by Frank Strayer.
Special Note: The film transfer on the dvd I own (Alpha Video) is uneven and very dark in places. The sound quality certainly could use some improvement, too.
Scene to watch for: Dwight Frye climbs a lamp post to snatch a bat from its perch. Meanwhile, a mob of townspeople are hiding, just yards away, watching the spectacle as if they can’t be seen.
Line to listen for: “Vampires are at large, I tell you! Vampires!”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.