We’re going to close out our 2012 Halloween series with a film from my favorite of the great horror movie icons…Bela Lugosi. There’s no question that his career had some pretty major ups and downs, but somehow I always find his presence on screen to be appealing. Today’s film features him in a mad scientist role. A mad cosmetics scientist, to be exact. Prepare for 1940’s “The Devil Bat.”
Our story takes place in the village of Heathville, a town built on the success of a cosmetics company run by Henry Morton (Guy Usher) and Martin Heath (Edward Mortimer). These two men, and their families, have struck it rich with their company. However, Dr. Paul Caruthers (Lugosi), who has come up with many of the formula’s that created their products, feels cheated. His hard work has made the other men wealthy.
Caruthers has had enough. He decides the time is right to exact his revenge. Using some sort of buzzing, zapping, mad scientist gear, he transforms a simple bat into a super-sized flying rodent. He has also perfected a new formula for an after shave lotion, the scent of which will draw the bat and cause it to attack. Caruthers first targets his employer’s adult son, Roy Heath (John Ellis). Roy tries out some of the new after shave and later that night is attacked and killed by a giant bat.
Everyone in town is confused by the mystery death, especially Roy’s sister, Mary (Suzanne Kaaren). The crime is big enough to draw the interest of reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and his photographer “One-Shot” Maguire (Donald Kerr). When they spot the bat as it claims Mary’s other brother Tommy as it’s second victim, they send their editor a story about a “devil bat.” It becomes a national sensation, but they need a picture. So these two geniuses get a stuffed bat from the local taxidermist (every town has one, right) and rig it up so they can get a picture. This gets them fired from their paper when the ruse is discovered.
Nobody suspects Caruthers, but he’s starting to get nervous with this reporter in town. The doctor gives Johnny a bottle of the after shave, but it’s One-Shot that ends up using it. That night the bat attacks him, but Johnny manages to shoot it down. Now with real evidence of the bat, their editor quickly welcomes them back. But Caruthers isn’t finished yet, creating a second devil bat and setting his sights on eliminating Mary next.
“The Devil Bat” is a low-budget effort, and I admit it’s a bit goofy. I mean, not many movie mad scientists are actually disgruntled employees of a cosmetics company. The effects are clunky, with fake looking bats that either glide around like a child’s kite or hang lifelessly from their perch. However, there’s an undeniable appeal to the film, and that is largely due to Lugosi. He manages to pull off a character who is mad with thoughts of revenge, yet he comes across to the town’s folk as everyone’s favorite doctor. He’s the nice guy who’s really deep down evil. Who better to play such a role than Lugosi?
The film would’ve been a bit more successful had it put more effort into making the bat itself more menacing. Granted, the effects budget was very limited. But the bat simply swoops in for the kill and leaves. I could’ve gone for some chase…the bat stalking it’s victims…that sort of thing. A scene where the bat hovers outside of Mary’s window as she sleeps is a step in the right direction, I just wish there were more of that.
“The Devil Bat” may not be a horror classic, but it does have a lot going for it. It doesn’t have the eerieness of other great Lugosi films like ”Dracula,” “Son of Frankenstein,” or “Island of Lost Souls,” but the Lugosi magic is still there.