The Devil Bat (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Review)
September 21, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“The Devil Bat” is one of those low budget films that is interesting for its blend of horror and comedy, even if some of it was not intentionally meant to be funny. You just can’t help but laugh or be amused because of how ludicrous the story can get. While “The Devil Bat” is not one of the better Bela Lugosi films, for those who want to watch a low budget horror film from 1940 in HD, then this Blu-ray release is worth a try!
TITLE: The Devil Bat
FILM RELEASE: 1940
DURATION: 68 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, 2.0 LPCM Monaural, B&W
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
Screenplay by John T. Neville
Original Story by George Bricker
Produced by Jack Gallagher
Associate Producer: Guy V. Thayer Jr.
Cinematography by Arthur Martinelli
Edited by Holbrook N. Todd
Art Direction by Paul Palmentola
Bela Lugosi as Dr. Paul Carruthers
Suzanne Kaaren as Mary Heath
Dave O’ Brien as Johnny Layton
Guy Usher as Henry Morton
Yolande Donlan as Maxine
Donald Kerr as “One-Shot” McGuire
Edmund Mortimer as Martin Heath
Gene O’Donnell as Don Morton
Alan Baldwin as Tommy Heath
John Ellis as Roy Heath
Arthur Q. Bryan as Joe McGinty
Hal Price as Chief Wilkins
John Davidson as Prof. Percival Garland Raines
After the Production Code forced the major studios to shy away from morbidity, violence, and the supernatural, Bela Lugosi (Dracula) found refuge in a place where horror was not only allowed, but enjoying a low-budget renaissance: the independent studios of Poverty Row.
In THE DEVIL BAT, Lugosi stars as a scientist who commands a mutant bat to avenge himself upon his enemies (using a specially formulated after-shave lotion as the targeting device). Even as he takes diabolical pleasure in such a ludicrous premise, Lugosi invests the character with an underlying sense of tragedy, a visionary genius out of step with modern, corporate society.
One of the pleasures of reviewing classic Hollywood films is to discover “Poverty Row” (B movie studios) films of the 1920’s-1950’s.
While studios were under to enforce the Production code, there were companies creating quick and low budget films. Companies such as Monogram Pictures, Republic Pictures, Grand National Films, Inc. and many more. In 1939, Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) was formed and would focus on westerns, gangster films, serials but also horror films. But their goal was to create films under $100,000 and to their credit, they were one studio who had talented names in their films. From Neil Hamilton, Eddie Dean, Ralph Morgan, Lee Tracy, Patsy Kelly, Benny Fields but also Buster Crabbe, Julie London and Bela Lugosi.
For Bela Lugosi, having had a successful career in the teens and 1920’s especially in the horror film genre, by the mid-1930’s, with the British ban on foreign films, many American studios dropped horror films from their schedule and it had an effect on Bela’s career. Also, he faced competition against Boris Karloff, who studios such as Universal would prefer.
But while he would star in MGM’s comedy, “Ninotchka”, Bela Lugosi began to get back into the horror genre by working for Poverty Row companies. While Lugosi worked on films for Monogram Pictures, would work on the first horror film for PRC in 1940 for the film “The Devil Bat”.
And as the film had fell into public domain, in 1990, “The Devil Bat” was restored from its original 35mm archival film elements and again for a new restoration in 2008.
And now, “The Devil Bat” was released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber in Sept. 2013.
“The Devil Bat” begins with Dr. Paul Carruthers (portrayed by Bela Lugosi), a scientist who works for a company in creating products, such as perfume and after-shave lotions. He is offered to stop by to a party hosted by his employers in which he declines. Dr. Carruthers is seen focusing on taking a bat and experimenting with it in his lab using electrical voltage. And he ends up increasing the bat’s size.
Dr. Carruthers also concocts an after-shave lotion which he gives to people and trains the bat to smell for the after-shave lotion and whoever is wearing it, must be killed. And those he wants killed are his employers, people who have made an amazing fortune through his inventions but yet he doesn’t get any percentage of the sales because he took a cash payment earlier before his products became popular.
So as he meets with each of the people who have gotten rich from his products that he created, Dr. Carruthers has his target victims use his lotion and late at night when they are out at night, he sends his killer bat to find the scent of the shaving lotion and kill the individual.
As the police try to solve the case, a photographer named Johnny Layton (portrayed by Dave O’Brien) who is dating Mary Heath (portrayed by Suzanne Kaaren) begins to worry for her safety, since her family members are being targeted and killed. So, together with his photographer “One-Shot” McGuire (portrayed by Donald Kerr), both try to uncover who is omitting these crimes. But when they see the bat they have dubbed as “The Devil Bat” flying and killing a man, now they must prove to the public that no matter how outrageous it sounds that a killer bat is responsible for killing its victims, they have solid evidence that a bat did the killing but someone is behind the bat in making them kill.
Will Johnny and “One-Shot” find the killer? Or will Dr. Carruthers get away scott free for his crimes?
There is no denying that many incarnations of “The Devil Bat” that have been released on public domain are not the greatest and while there have been two restorations done for the film, for those familiar with Kino Lorber, they do not clean up the film, they present the film in HD. Upon watching “The Devil Bat”, viewers will notice an excessive amount of white specks and scratches. But with that being said, it’s not the type that will hinder your viewing of the film unless you are sensitive to a film not being cleaned up.
So, with that being said, the film looks better than any previous standard definition release but with the film being a Poverty Row film that is not a classic or significant other than being PRC’s first horror film, it’s unlikely anyone is going to release this on Blu-ray and do an expensive restoration work anytime soon.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Devil Bat” is presented in Linear PCM 2.0 monaural and I didn’t notice any significant audio problems during my viewing. It does have light hiss but nothing that would ruin your viewing experience of this 70+ year-old film.
“The Devil Bat” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith.
- Photo Gallery – Stills from “The Devil Bat”
As a fan of Poverty Row films, part of the reason why I enjoy them so much is the fact they are low-budget, sometimes very cheesy but you occasionally find some gems and for the most part, I have watched quite a number of films that I found entertaining, not great or something I would consider as a classic but a film that was enjoyable despite it not having a top star or big budget.
In the case of “The Devil Bat”, it’s PRC’s first horror film and they had Bela Lugosi, a man who’s career of taking on macabre roles since the silent era to the talkies. And where many silent film stars did not have a career after their booming silent film careers, Lugosi was known for his role as Dracula and may one call it fortunate or unfortunate for the typecasting of villainous roles, he still continued to work whether a big budget or small budget film.
“The Devil Bat” is quite cheesy in terms of modern cinema. A man using electrotherapy to grow bats and train them to kill by the scene of aftershave lotion is quite silly but for the B-films of yesterday, they were not going after dramatic cinema or anything deep. With a limited budget, you have a bat who looked like it was stuffed going after humans. It’s just how they attacked humans was so unconvincing and not scary. And I don’t even think how one would be scared for that time.
One scene had a man in a patio area with chairs, screaming for help while the bat was still far away. Could he not run inside the home instead of yelling for minutes? Could he grabbed the chairs that were around and whacked the bat? One would have to defend their life, not standing there and screaming. But it has that feel of 1940’s cinema B-movie that you just have to laugh. It’s supposed to be a horror film but yet you have two media people who are there to uncover the killer of the victims and they are often bickering with their boss or with each other. In some way, I found myself imagining how this would be a fascinating Abbot & Costello or even Laurel & Hardy comedy/horror film if they starred in it.
As for the Blu-ray release, it’s not the clearest of films. It has many white specks and scratches but if you can focus yourself watching the film and not looking at the white specks, then you are fine. LPCM audio was good but it does have hissing and some crackle. As for special features, you have an audio commentary track by film historian Richard Harland Smith.
So, the question that many people will ask if it’s worth it? If you are the type who cringes at films that are not cleaned up, then probably not as the Blu-ray release of this film has a lot of white specks and scratches. But if you are a fan of classic cinema, including poverty row films, then I recommend it.
For me, I absolutely love Poverty Row films. To see how creative a director and his crew can get with a small budget is intriguing and while I’m more biased towards the gangster, screwball, romantic comedy type of B films, “The Devil Bat” is one of those low budget films that is interesting for its blend of horror and comedy, even if some of it was not intentionally meant to be funny. You just can’t help but laugh or be amused because of how ludicrous the story can get. While “The Devil Bat” is not one of the better Bela Lugosi films, for those who want to watch a low budget horror film from 1940 in HD, then this Blu-ray release is worth a try!
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