The Devil Bat
the devil bat | jean yarbrough | john t. neville | bela lugosi | suzanne kaaren | dave o'brien | animal attack | mad scientist | sci fi | sci-fi | revenge | united states | guy usher | yolande donlan | donald kerr | edmund mortimer | gene o'donnell | alan baldwin
Film: The Devil Bat
Director: Jean Yarbrough
Writer: John T. Neville
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren and Dave O’Brien
This was a film that I think I heard about this movie through podcasts. I didn’t really know much about it and decided to give it a viewing when I saw it was a horror film for 1940 to go with my podcast theme of the Journey Through the Aughts. Seeing that it starred Bela Lugosi, did peak my interest for sure. The synopsis a mad scientist develops an aftershave lotion that causes his gigantic bats to kill anyone who wears it.
We start this off learning that in this small town of Heathville, everyone loves Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi). Due to this, he’s allowed to conduct experiments at his home without much interference. The movie then takes us into his house. We see that Dr. Carruthers is experimenting on bats and he has made one quite large with electricity. He also has created a lotion used for after shave as well. He gets a call to come to a party from Henry Morton (Guy Usher) and Martin Heath (Edmund Mortimer). Dr. Carruthers thinks it is to announce the engagement of two of their children and doesn’t realize it is them wanting to give him a bonus check. He does agree to come.
He gets caught up in his and doesn’t actually show up though. We then see Henry, Martin along with their children Mary Heath (Suzanne Kaaren), Don Morton (Gene O’Donnell), Tommy Heath (Alan Baldwin) and Roy Heath (John Ellis). They do try to call Dr. Carruthers and gives them the unfortunate news that we will not be attending. Roy states he’ll go up to the doctor’s place and give it to him. It is there that he gives the check to Dr. Carruthers who in turn gives Roy an experimental aftershave he’s created. He wants him to use it and give feedback.
The movie then gives us insight into the mind of Dr. Carruthers. He’s mad at the owners as he feels they swindled him. They bought him out when he wanted the money up front with the new company they formed with a formula he created. They got rich and he became bitter. To get his revenge, he releases his enlarged bats into the night and they’re attracted to the aftershave that Roy put on. He’s killed that night.
It is a mystery as to what did it though, as no one saw it. Mary was outside with Don and they heard the scream, but only found her brother dead. A reporter is assigned to this investigation. A hot-shot named Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien), along with a photographer ‘One-Shot’ McGuire (Donald Kerr). They meet up with Chief Wilkins (Hal Price) who accepts their aid into this investigation and set them up with interviews with those involved.
Mary takes a liking to Johnny where McGuire takes interest in her French maid, Maxine (Yolande Donlan). The evidence doesn’t make sense as what they find doesn’t match the size of the claws and bite marks. Dr. Carruthers is even helping with the investigation as well. Johnny and McGuire do some shady things to stay on the job, but they see what is causing this and try their best to get to the bottom of it.
Now this is an interesting film for me. It feels like a Universal Film, but it’s not. Producers Releasing Corporation was behind it. I read up they would shoot films quickly, with small budgets, but would ramp up the horror to some of the predecessors from the past. This had a low-time running time that made it feel like a Universal film. I did also find out that this is the most successful film that they ever made.
What also struck me here is this feels like it is a bridge to the more classic horror we got in the 30’s from Universal to the Sci-Fi/Atomic age of the 1950’s. We’re mixing science here with Dr. Carruthers making these normal bats larger and also able to control them with this element he discovered from Tibet. It is explained that monks use it there, but he’s been conditioning these bats to not like it and using it in his revenge plot to target certain individuals. I do find this to be a pretty interesting story if I’m going to be honest.
Something else that is relevant here is the press doing things that aren’t the truth and how it creates problems. This is quite a fitting movie to watch during this ‘Fake News’ era. McGuire purchases a bat from a taxidermist. He is staging a photo so they can send it to the editor to keep them off his back. The problem is that the only people who have seen this thus far is him, Johnny and Mary. Dr. Carruthers of course as well, but he’s not going to admit that during this time. A zoologist is brought in to rebuff the photo and it gets them into some hot water. This is an interesting concept though to have where them staging this makes people not believe and it is outrageous as well as being outside of comprehension.
It is really hard to knock this film for its pacing as the movie runs 68 minutes. I’m glad that it did to be honest. If anything though, the characters could be fleshed out a bit or they could develop a bit of the subplots, as they really don’t with either. The movie moves a good clip even though many of the deaths are off-screen. I don’t hate this completely. It would have gotten repetitive with it so they use newspaper headlines to fill things in. This is a cheap way of doing things, but I don’t mind it. The ending is Universal in that it is abrupt and wraps everything up nicely.
Moving this to the acting, I did like to see Lugosi. I’m not completely up on his timeline, but I do know he did a lot of Universal films and they started to butt heads on making him top billing. There was a drug problem aspect to his story as well, but not sure again when that really started. His performance is good where we can see the duality of his character. He seems nice, but we can see he isn’t when he’s alone. That also deteriorates as his plan works. Kaaren was fine, but she really isn’t fleshed out and similar could be said for O’Brien. We see that he’s a good reporter, but will cut corners along with Kerr. I did like he brought some levity with Donlan. The rest of the cast was fine in rounding in this out for what was needed.
The last thing to cover would be the effects. I first want to give credit for using actually footage of live bats. They’re very quick and it is extreme close-ups. It is hard to fault the movie for the fake bats we get when they’re flying. This is something we could get to see for the next 30+ years at times as well. I can be forgiving as it does bring a bit of charm if I’m honest. The cinematography was also fine in my opinion, but nothing really special.
Now with that said, this isn’t a great film, but I still enjoyed this low budget effort. We get an intriguing bridging film from one generation to the next mixing sci-fi with revenge. The concept isn’t bad, but we don’t really get the fleshing out of the characters or the subplots. It has a low running time, which is fine, but I would have liked a bit more for my problems above. The effects are okay for the era and the soundtrack really didn’t stand out or hurt the movie. I did like seeing Lugosi here and thought the rest of the cast help to round this out. I will warn you; this is from 1940, so it is in black and white. There is a colorized version that you can also see, I wanted to see how it was originally intended before seeking that out. I would say this is slightly above average in my opinion, but nothing great. This would be a good introduction to younger horror fans for sure after you show the Universal classics in my opinion.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10