The Devil Bat (1940)
Released: September 10, 2013 by Kino Classics
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
Summary: Death by… Shaving Lotion? Yes, really!
Once upon a time there were two rich families, the Heaths and the Mortons, who became richer still on chemical cosmetic formulas concocted by Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi), who accepted a cash payment for his initial efforts rather than a stake in Heath and Morton’s operation. While this benefited Carruthers in the short run, it made him bitter and vengeful over time.
But, let’s kick it over to the on-screen text “Foreword” that opens the picture:
“All Heathville loved Paul Carruthers, their kindly village doctor. No one suspected that, in his home laboratory, on a hillside overlooking the magnificent estate of Martin Heath, the doctor found time to conduct certain private experiments – weird, terrifying experiments!”
|Did you read that? They LOVE me!|
Now, Dr. Carruthers didn’t really have it so bad on the whole. He worked in a laboratory, and with materials, apparently supplied by Heath and, presumably, drew a salary – or, at least existed on a stipend – that would ensure his continued services. He’s even presented with a bonus check for his continued good work by one of Heath’s sons…
What IS a bit hard to understand (at least outside the context of horror movies), is why you’d want to grow giant killer bats and use them as the instruments of your revenge.
|Caught between "The Devil Bat" and the "Deep Blue Zombies"!|
|The Shaving Lotion of Death!|
CARRUTHERS: “Good BYE, Roy!”
CARRUTHERS: (in reference to the new brand of shaving lotion): “I don’t think you’ll EVER use ANYTHING ELSE!”
…And, Dr. Carruthers would have succeeded, too, if not for “those meddling kids from SCOOBY-DOO” – no wait, I mean “Johnny Layton” and “One-Shot McGuire”, a meddling newspaper reporter and his meddling photographer.
|"Who's on first... Bat's on second... I don't know's on third!|
Despite throwing-off a distinct “Abbott and Costello vibe” (perhaps because “The Devil Bat’s” director, Jean Yarbrough, was later known for working with the legendary comedy team?) , Layton and McGuire, working with heiress-to-be “Mary Heath”, eventually turn the tables on Carruthers, ridding the world of Devil Bats once and for all.
|NO! No, not ME! Noooo!|
Once again, it seems Bela Lugosi was done in by a newspaper reporter, just as he was HERE!
|That does it! I must CANCEL my newspaper subscription at once!|
|Shhhh! Perhaps it's SLEEPING!|
|Here we go... AGAIN and AGAIN!|
Oh, and there’s one additional casting selection of note! Arthur Q. Bryan, best known as the voice of Elmer Fudd, is seen in a rare on-camera role as (the comedy team of) Layton and McGuire’s harried newspaper editor!
|"A Wild Hare" (1940)|
Both “The Devil Bat” and the Tex Avery directed Warner Bros. cartoon “A Wild Hare” (which marked the FIRST “vewy, vewy, quiet” hunting-encounter between Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd) were released in 1940. I don’t know which one was released first, but it’s interesting to think about WHO may have actually had the more successful career going forward… Bela Lugosi or Arthur Q. Bryan.
As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.
The CONS:No Theatrical Trailer for “The Devil Bat”: As the DVD market has changed; I’ve lowered my standards of what is an acceptable package for a movie DVD. Formerly, those standards required the inclusion of a theatrical trailer for the film, a commentary track, and a "making-of" featurette. Today, I'm somewhat satisfied with only a theatrical trailer, And, alas, this version of “The Devil Bat” fails to include one.
It’s Bela Lugosi: The American cinema’s first truly enduring master of horror, in a delightfully fiendish role. Sure, he’s campy sometimes. But who wouldn’t be, in a picture like this! Lugosi never fails to light-up the screen whenever he’s on!
It’s “Poverty Row”: These supposedly “lesser” films are a wonder unto themselves! I’ve grown to love the product of these smaller independent studios more and more, every time I see one!
Picture Quality: The picture quality is fantastic for a film of this vintage. Bela Lugosi films that did not originate with major studios like Universal and Columbia usually suffer in overall quality, but Kino Classics is to be commended for its superb restoration efforts. (Images used here are from the Internet, and not necessarily indicative of the great restoration work that his been done on this film!)
|You don't need GOGGLES like these to see the great picture quality!|
Theatrical Trailer for “White Zombie”: (02:47) I suppose, if you could not include a theatrical trailer for Bela Lugosi in “The Devil Bat”, the next best thing would be to offer a theatrical trailer for Bela Lugosi in “White Zombie”.
Funny thing is, neither the narration, in both voice and tone, and the superimposed text graphics, in their style, would seem to be authentic to a film released in 1932 – so I’ll not quote any of it. See it for yourself, and decide. Cross-checking with my DVD of “White Zombie”, it COULD be from a reissue trailer of 1952 – but it doesn’t even feel contemporary with THAT year, and more like something altered in recent times. We may never know.
One thing we DO know is that legendary Donald Duck comic book writer and artist Carl Barks drew upon “White Zombie” as his inspiration for the great Donald Duck comic book classic tale “Voodoo Hoodoo”, published in 1949. See “The Carl Barks Library of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Volume II” Pages 7–15 for more detail.
Image Gallery: An array of theatrical posters, lobby cards, and stills from “The Devil Bat”. The “slideshow” is user-controlled, allowing you to savor each artifact (or move on to the next) at the viewer’s own pace.
Commentary Track: Film historian Richard Harland Smith offers a lively and informative commentary for the 01:08:27 length of the film. This sort of feature should be a part of EVERY movie package (…and pretty much once WAS!), and should exist for at least selected episodes of every TV series package. Unfortunately, such tracks appear less and less these days. Again, kudos to Kino Classics for this!
Smith’s observations include:
Dr. Carruthers’ glowing and sparking lab machinery was courtesy of Kenneth Strickfaden, who created, or otherwise furnished similar props for Universal’s “Frankenstein” series of films – all the way up through ‘60s TV favorite THE MUNSTERS. Smith adds: “This is one thing modern horror movies no longer do – CRACKLE!” And, “You can’t hear a TESLA COIL over the buzz of a CHAINSAW!”
|Oh, Lily? There was this Dr. Carruthers... and did he ever have a GREAT yard sale!|
Ever wonder what became of the physical sites of the Poverty Row studios? I know *I* do. Smith informs us that the last production to be filmed at the site where “The Devil Bat” was shot was the BAT (appropriately?) MASTERSON western TV series, that starred Gene Barry. A Trader Joe’s now stands at the location. (If only it was a place that sold “shaving lotion”!)
Smith describes “The Devil Bat” as both a “Mad Scientist Film” and a “Revenge Thriller”.He also regards “The Devil Bat” as “…One of the early Body Count Movies – the grandfathers of 'Halloween' and 'Friday the 13 th', in which you are introduced to a cast of victims and asked to attend their murders – one by one. [JOE’S NOTE: Sure makes me think of THIS personal favorite Vincent Price effort!]
…Perhaps she should have asked Bela Lugosi if he had any of those Devil Bats left over!
|"Now, my winged friend... We're going to kick some CAN!"|
The restoration effort by Kino Classics is magnificent for a film of this vintage. I purchased the Standard Definition version, and I can only imagine how great the Blu-ray must look!
Kino Classics includes a nice selection of Extra Features for “The Devil Bat”, at a time when such things seem headed toward extinction.
“The Devil Bat” is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in horror films of the period. It’s probably more likely to make you smile (or even laugh) than it is to actually scare you, but that’s the great charm of a film like this. Just sit back and watch Bela Lugosi “chew up some scenery”, while his mad-scientifically augmented Devil Bats “chew up some necks”!
Give “The Devil Bat” extra points if you like Bela Lugosi… or bats – or if you’re just plain old “Bats for Bela”!