I have never found bats in themselves to be scary creatures. Their association with vampires drives a certain degree of fright, but you don’t often see movies about the rodent-sized flying creatures attacking people. The solution to the only moderate fear factor associated with bats is to, of course, make the beasts much larger. Thus is the monster in The Devil Bat.
Bela Lugosi plays a scientist whose primary occupation is to create new cosmetic formulas. Dr. Carruthers works for the Heath cosmetic company, owned by a Martin Heath (Edward Mortimer) in the town of Heathville. Martin along with Henry Morton (Guy Usher) built the prosperous company on a cream they bought from the doctor many years earlier, at which point Carruthers could have opted to be a partner in the company. Now he tolls away in his stony lab while the businessmen enjoy their wealth.
After all this time, the doctor opts to get his revenge. He has finally developed a method by which he can make an ordinary bat grow to five times its original size using some sort of electrical stimulation. The scientist has simultaneously created a “shaving lotion” with a strong odor that will attract the bat. To fulfill his plot, Dr. Carruthers one by one entices members of the Health and Morton families to test the new shaving lotion before letting the “devil bat” loose to hunt down the pre-selected prey.
After the first murder –and these are immediately considered murders– an out-of-town reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and a photographer One Shot Maguire (Donald Kerr) move in to not only report on the crime but to apparently solve it as well. Johnny immediately makes pals with the police chief and offers to help track down the truth. Johnny will also develop a crush on the Heath daughter Mary (Suzanne Kaaren), and the two will be the first to witness the murderer, AKA devil bat, but are unable to stop death after death.
Bela Lugosi is obviously the big-name star of the picture, but upon arrival of O’Brien’s Johnny to the scene, The Devil Bat attempts to become a reporter-as-detective drama. O’Brien’s poorly acting cannot, however, compete with the Lugosi’s star power despite the villain’s equally sad performance. O’Brien and Kerr attempt to bring humor to the story via their goofy interactions with each other and their curmudgeon of an editor. Lugosi’s doctor will ultimately die by the hand of his own creature, but the conclusion is far less dramatic or cautionary than your typical creature-turns-on-master ending.
The most notable thing about The Devil Bat are the effects, which are awful. The only real bats we see are those small ones exiting the rooftop window at Dr. Carruthers’ home. The normal-sized bad the scientist lugs from storage to his experiment room hangs stiffly upside down from its perch. Upon contact with the electrical impulses, the creature’s wings move rigidly and various cut-away edits allow it to become gradually larger at each glimpse. Lugosi, meanwhile, stands outside the chamber making expressions of delight at the viewing window. The doctor twice creates a devil bat via these means and the first time a strange use of back projection has the doctor listen to his creature with a stethoscope with the scene and the bat being projections. A later repeat of this scene actually involves the puppet bat.
When the bat takes wing, it “flies” clumsily through the sky and is hurled at victims who simply fall to the ground so we cannot see the lack of dexterity of the creature. It also has an awful caterwaul that is a combination of dog bark-type noises and outright screams.
To say The Devil Bat is humorous, is an understatement. The bat itself is such a pathetic creation that its appearance is substance enough for laughs. Lugosi –and other actors– sadly give uninspired and outright bad performances that will cause you either to cringe or snicker. Lugosi certainly was capable of better.
- The Devil Bat is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 31 on TCM.