Home Video Hovel: The Vampire Bat, by David Bax
With a name like The Vampire Bat, you’d expect Frank Strayer’s 1933 film (restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and released on Blu-ray by The Film Detective) to be a horror film. And I suppose you wouldn’t entirely be wrong. It is, after all, about people being killed by a vampire (or is it?). Yet the movie is structured more like a whodunit. Unfortunately, the fearless investigator spends a lot more time standing around, talking about the case and flirting with his paramour than he does on any actual sleuthing.
Set in one of those European towns you often find in 1930s movies where everyone speaks English with an American accent, The Vampire Bat picks up with a rash of mysterious deaths in which people have been drained of their blood via two small holes in their necks. The superstitious townfolk jump to the conclusion that there’s a vampire on the loose but police inspector Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) is sure there must be a more practical explanation. He spends most of his time either talking it over with Dr. Otto von Niemann (Lionel Atwill), seemingly the only other learned man in town, or stealing kisses from Ruth Bertin (Fay Wray), who lives with Dr. Niemann as, I don’t know, his ward? It wasn’t clear to me.
The Vampire Bat is charmingly cheap-seeming. Most of the movie takes place on what were probably pre-existing sets and obvious backlot locations. The opening scene—the only extended outdoor sequence—is essentially a silent film. I actually had to stop and confirm the release year to make sure the film was released in the sound era.
But that’s the experience of watching The Vampire Bat. It has very little to offer in the way of originality yet there’s something endearing about the whole, corny affair. Especially when characters keep referring to the “joogular” vein.
As per The Film Detective’s commendable modus operandi, The Vampire Bat is a public domain movie that has been done little justice over time. UCLA worked from a hodgepodge of prints to come up with this new transfer. There are some stability and density issues as well as what appears to have been warping in the source elements. The audio also has a hiss that comes and goes. But the point is that it’s been decades since anyone has been able to see this movie looking this good.
Special features include a commentary by film historian Sam Sherman and a featurette on Douglas with his son.