e-mail:Smokey X. Digger
The Devil Bat
1941, Dir. Jean Yarbrough
The Devil Bat. Spooky. I saw this one on the racks at New England Comics , previously unbeknownst to me as a purveyor of fine crap video. And for only $4.95! What attracted me to this particular title was the combination of Bela Lugosi in the lead role and the fact that it was made in 1941. Anything that Bela did after 1940 is as sure a bet to be crap as you're gonna find, so I eagerly threw it in my VCR. And I found a paper thin plot and a mystery so cut and dry that only a group of idiots couldn't figure it out. Luckily, the principal characters in this film fit that description perfectly. Bela's character is a feeble attempt to recreate his character from 1935's The Raven , in which he plays a doctor who becomes infatuated with a rich judge's daughter and seeks revenge when she is kept from him. In this film, he plays Doctor Paul Carruthers, whom the video box claims is obsessed with the daughter of Martin Heath, a rich partner in a cosmetics firm. There are several hints throughout the movie that indicate that the Doc has the hots for Mary, but nothing even bordering on obession. And he does attempt revenge, but his motivations are monetary, not spurned love. Oops, I get ahead of myself.
The film opens with text explaining how the entire village of Heathville loves Dr. Carruthers and how great he is esteemed to be, but in actuality he is conducting "weird, terrifying experiments". Cut to one of said experiments, where the Doc is tinkering about his lab. He goes through several hidden passageways (seemingly a staple of any of Bela's labs, houses, etc.) into an attic room where hangs an enormous fake bat. Bela takes it downstairs and hooks it up to an apparatus that proves the equipment from Frankenstein's lab was getting screen time as late as 1941. After some electricity and noise, Bela checks the critter's heartbeat. He is then interrupted by a phone call from Martin Heath who, along with his business partner Henry Morton, invite Carruthers to a party that evening. He refuses, claiming that he is too busy with his "formoola" for a new shaving lotion, but changes his mind when they tell him that the party is Mary's idea. Obviously, the man is obsessed. Then he returns to his bat, dips a cotton swab in some liquid and shoves it into the bat's face. This causes a stock footage bat somewhere to squeak annoyedly, and Bela is pleased. He then talks to the bat; "You hate this strange Oriental fragrance, even while you sleep." Oh, it's sleeping! That's why it's not moving! I get it. "You will strike ... to kill!"
At the party, Morton is going around warning everybody not to tell Carruthers about the $5,000 bonus check he has for him. Doc happens to be late, so Heath calls him. As it turns out, Carruthers can't make it, so they send Heath's son Roy to bring the check up the road to Carruthers. While there, Doc offers some of the lotion to Roy, instructing him to rub it on the "tender part" of his neck. Roy leaves, and as Doc looks over the check, he begins thinking out loud. Bela's voice - over explains how he feels betrayed by the Heaths and Mortons for getting rich off of his formoola, and he regards the check as "a bone thrown to a faithful dog". He goes to the bat room (no jokes about vampires peeing, please) and releases his bats. The large one, which apparently has a siren, attacks Roy, who has made it back to the Heath's. They hear his screams, discover his body, and call Carruthers who arrives and pronounces Roy dead.
At a newspaper office, editor McGinty calls in Johnny Layton and assigns him to the case. When Johnny asks who Martin Heath is, McGinty replies with the following line of questioning: "Did you ever have a date with a girl? Did she smell sweet?" Johnny wonders exactly where this conversation's going until McGinty explains Heath Cosmetics. So Johnny and his photographer "One Shot" (of course) McGuire head for Heathville. They visit the police chief, and after reviewing pictures agree that the scratches on Roy's neck could not be human. Doc Carruthers had suggested a wild animal at the inquest, but the chief believes it to be the work of the beak and talons of a bird. One Shot offers that perhaps it was an African Leopard Man, "because they use steel claws". Nevermind that we're in a suburb of Chicago. it is in this scene we learn that One Shot is intended to be the comic relief for the evening. Note the word "intended" because his lines are about as funny as a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward (thanks for the line, Dad). Further complicating the process is the fact that the police found hairs on Roy's jacket that they believe to be those of a mouse. There was also a lingering scent that the chemists were unable to analyze.
So our dynamic duo go off to interview Mary. Carruthers apparently wouldn't let them talk to her at the inquest. He shows up and explains it was only because he is fond of her and wanted to shield her from excess grief. Clearly an obsessed madman. Mary's French maid brings in tea, and McGuire decides to go off and snoop around for clues. Mary confides in Doc and Layton that at the time of the murder there were no sounds of a struggle, "only those awful screams". Jeez Mary, "awful screams" don't qualify as sounds of struggle? What do you think one does when struggling against a giant bat, sing an aria from "Carmen"? Anyway, Johnny comes across One Shot taking pictures of the French maid. He reprimands him saying, "If you're gonna shoot, shoot!" I guess throwing a "Don't talk" in there would've been too much to ask.
Now the Doc is trying the lotion on Tommy Heath, another of Martin's sons. When Tommy offers some to Carruthers, the Doc confesses to a "violent dislike for perfumes". Tommy leaves and again the bats are released. Layton and One Shot are in the garden on surveillance when they are joined by Mary. Tommy passes through on his way to bed, but as he walks across the patio, someone off - screen throws a large fake bat at him. He catches it and holds it up to his neck. Layton fires at the bat, but it escapes. back at their hotel room, Layton and One Shot discuss a plan to get a picture of the bat. Layton instructs the photographer to go to the taxidermist and have him construct a giant bat. One Shot balks at the idea of stuffing a bird, but assents when Layton assures him that bats are mammals. So after another death is discovered and a montage of newspaper headlines, One Shot has procured his fake bat and enlists the help of the French maid to rig up a photo shoot in the Heath garden. One Shot manages to get a picture despite the chief coming along and shooting the fake bat. At this point, Layton and the chief start to put the pieces together, noting that every victim was wearing the Doc's lotion, but the chief won't blame the Doc based on his reputation.
One Shot's newspaper photo is denounced as a hoax when a proiminent professor announces on the radio that upon exaiming the picture, he found a "Made In Japan" label on the fur. So McGinty fires Layton and One Shot and Mary calls to reprimand them. Layton, understandably pissed, threatens to skin One Shot alive and nail his hide to a barn door. Excessive? Then Layton and the chief visit the Doc, who offers them both a bottle of lotion. Only Layton accepts. That night on surveillance, One Shot is wearing the lotion. The bat attacks, Layton shoots it dead, and he and One Shot are back in everone's good graces. Carruthers is not deterred, however, and simply grows a new bat to send after Henry Morton. NOTE: Nobody seems particularly sad that friends and relatives are dropping like flies. After saying incriminating things to Henry Morton, Carruthers beats him to the Heath's and releases the bat from the trunk of his car. Morton then arrives to tell everyone of his suspicions, sees the Doc's car, touches it to make sure it's real, and is killed by the bat.
Everybody now decides to stay at the Heath home except for the Doc. As Mary goes to bed, she discovers that someone has put new perfume in her bottles. NOTE: This is never explained. The footage of bats being released is shown again, and the Devil Bat flutters outside Mary's window. At this point I wondered what all the other bats do while the Devil Bat goes about it's work. Act as extras in another film , perhaps? Anyway, Mary screams, and our heroes concoct a plot (to investigate the bats, not for the film). Layton calls the Doc and tells him that Mary needs medical attention. The Doc rushes over (Jesus Christ, why is there no restraining order on this psychopath! He's obviously an obsessed rapist!!!) and Layton sneaks into the lab. The Doc returns before Layton can leave, but the reporter is able to conceal himself. He then follows Carruthers through the secret passageways and observes him releasing the bats. Layton scurries away and returns, requesting some of the lotion. He then invites the Doc to accompany him on the night's surveillance. In the garden, Layton splashes the Doc with the lotion and holds him at gunpoint. He tells Carruthers that he knows everything, the bat shows up, the men begin wrestling, and the chief shows up and shoots at the bat. Carruthers escapes and attempts to kidnap Mary (Aha! He's obsessed!), but is done in by his own creation. Such unbearable irony! The bat goes after Mary, but is shot by Layton. The End.
IN CLOSING: As Bela Lugosi's career began to spiral downward, one gets the feeling that he still enjoyed himself. It was probably the drugs. This film is remarkably half assed and formulaic, but it manages to provide some humorous moments. They are not however, the moments that the producers intended to be humorous. The bat attack scenes are hilarious, as is the stock footage of bats making strange noises as Bela talks to them. There are several great lines, some of which made me laugh out loud and rewind several times. At only 67 minutes, it doesn't even take a big chunk out of your day! Recommended? Yeah, why the hell not.
A review by someone who knows what they're doing: AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST?