Home Video Hovel: Devil Bat, by Scott Nye
If nothing else, The Devil Bat boasts the kind of premise that you can turn around in your head for hours, just to find its many facets of perfection. You see, Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Legosi), the physician who looks after the health of a small New England town (I don’t actually recall if it is New England, but boy does it feel like it), also works as the chemist for a cosmetics company, the owners of which he resents after he missed out on incredible profits when they were first getting started. To get revenge, he breeds a giant, deadly bat that is drawn to kill whoever wears a special shaving lotion that he just so happens to be handing out the cosmetic company’s top brass. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, only someone did. I’d also like to say the film only gets better from there, but unfortunately it quickly devolves into a series of heavily expository scenes with only a dash of solid humor.
Not that there isn’t some fun along the way, mind, and the 68-minute running time ensures that while it may feel much, much longer than 68 minutes, it’s also a pretty breezy watch. Legosi was rarely an uncompelling performer, and he’s well supported by Dave O’Brien as a young hotshot reporter and Donald Kerr as his photographer, “One-Shot” McGuire. It’s not hard to see why the whole affair became something of a cult classic in the ensuing, public-domain-ridden years, between Legosi, an absurd plot, a number of stiff performances, and a French maid, and I suppose those elements hold up well enough, but are presented with so little enthusiasm that they become largely neutered. That most of the scenes require actors to recap other, presumably even duller scenes that the production didn’t have the money to shoot certainly doesn’t help matters, and it can often feel like a bit of a slog.
Still, you know, Devil Bat. As revenge schemes go, that’s pretty great.
Kino’s new Blu-ray release is superb. The transfer doesn’t utilize the finest source print you’re ever going to see, and no clean-up work seems to have been done at all, but it’s never unwatchable, and everything stays in focus, so really, want more could you want. Having languished in public domain hell for decades upon decades, this is certainly the best treatment you’re going to find anytime soon, and much better than anyone could have reasonably expected. It captures all the present details, provides good depth and exceptional contrast.
There’s only one special feature, but it is the special feature – a commentary track by Richard Harland Smith of TCM’s terrific Movie Morlocks blog. He does a wonderful job of expressing and dissecting the film’s virtues, as he sees them, and posits the thing as more intentionally comedic than it may first appear (I’m not so sure I agree with him, but he makes a good case), in large part by pointing out some of the odder, more esoteric details that wouldn’t be in any straight scarefest. Quality stuff.
If you’re a fan of more-than-a-little-cheesy, old school horror films, this should move quickly to the top of your wish list. Those perhaps not as taken with the subgenre may want to be cautioned, as this is not the stuff of which a conversion is made.