The Devil Bat (1940)
With the horror films resurgence in the late thirties, Bela Lugosi was back in business though not in starring roles with the likes of Columbia or Universal studios. This even after his magnificent return to form as Igor in Son of Frankenstein just a year prior to this low budget programmer from PRC. Not to worry as it’s one of Bela’s more enjoyable poverty row romps. Partly because he gets plenty of screen time and definitely because of his dead pan delivery when it comes to saying farewell to his intended victims.
Mel Brooks could have had a field day remaking this as a straight up satire.
This time out our favorite madman of low budget forties flicks is a kindly doctor in a small town who hides a terrible secret in his attic. You guessed it. An overgrown vampire bat that today we would assume has been fed a steady diet of steroids. In Bela’s day it was electrical gadgets hooked up to the furry fellow. Much like any other mad scientist film of the era. We owe this to the masterful creations from the mind of Ken Strickfaden whose work ranged from Frankenstein in 1931 to Young Frankenstein in 1974.
Bela has an axe to grind with a successful cosmetics firm in town that is making fortunes off of his discoveries. Though he sold his formula outright, he feels cheated and is going to use the enlarged bat and his new shaving lotion to even the score.
I’m not making this up!
“Now rub it on the tender part of your neck.”
Bela sets his murderous intentions in motion by gifting his bottles of lotion to those he wants his well trained bat to attack. The fragrance acts as a bait and the Devil Bat swoops down from the skies and cuts through the jugular of the intended prey.
Utilizing a popular plot device of the thirties, it’s a newshound played by Dave O’Brien who is on the case with full co-operation form the local police chief. Truthfully it’s a funny bit as the chief just gives the entire case over to our intrepid newsman and his skirt chasing camera man.
Romance is also abundant when O’Brien meets Suzanne Kaaren who is marked for death by Bela. Can O’Brien rise to the challenge of catching a live Devil Bat and trace it’s origin to the man with the shady shaving lotion.
It shouldn’t be too tough once he connects the dots showing each victim was doused in the stuff.
While I may be poking fun here it’s done with admiration. This is a totally whacked flick from the past. Truthfully I’d love to watch it in a room of like minded fans of classic horror films. It really makes for a fun comedy from our vantage point looking back.
Bela’s stiff delivery works to the films advantage here and by extension ours. His lines are hilarious with his pauses and gloomy delivery. Each time he bids farewell to a victim he slips in a classic “Goodbye,” to their “See you later, Doc.”
Then there is the classic, “I don’t think you’ll ever use anything else.” to another who loves the feel of the deadly concoction. It’s laugh out loud funny. Seriously this would make for a wonderful Mel Brooks styled satire in the right hands today.
When the countries greatest scientists are heard over the radio condemning the existence of a Devil Bat creature just conjure up Bela’s thick accented delivery in response as you read this line. “Imbecile! Bombastic ignoramus!”
Devil Bat has received numerous releases over the years due to it’s public domain access. If I could suggest 2 releases to check out, one is the recent blu ray from Kino Lorber with commentary from Richard Harlan Smith and a trailer for White Zombie. The other from Lugosi Enterprises in 2002 on DVD. This included commentary from Ted Newsom and Bela Lugosi Jr. as well as a radio broadcast featuring Bela in The Dr. Prescribed Death.
So I did indeed update to blu but won’t give up my DVD copy thanks to the generous bonus features.