The Devil Bat (1940) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and his “31 More Days of British Horror” in May, Jules is travelling across the pond this July with… you guessed it… 31 Days of American Horror!

You can check out al of the “31 Days of Hammer” reviews by CLICKING HERE, and the “31 62 Days of British Horror” reviews by CLICKING HERE.

Director: Jean Yarbrough
Starring:  Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren, Dave O’Brien

Cheap, cheerful and fairly forgettable, The Devil Bat is far from essential viewing. Everything about it screams “poverty row quickie”, but it has one major thing going for it that makes it worth investigating – Bela Lugosi.

The great man stands out a mile in a film like this, his natural charisma, wit and timing are so head and shoulders above the rest of the cast it’s ridiculous, like he’s wandered in from another, better film. Saying that, there’s a lot to enjoy in The Devil Bat, just don’t expect much excitement.

Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is a chemist in the town of Heathville who’s under contract with Mary Heath (Suzanne Kaaren) and Henry Morton (Guy Usher), owners of a local family cosmetics firm. The company have made a fortune on a face cream he developed, but haven’t shared the wealth, leading him to swear vengeance on the entire family.

Turning his genius from chemistry to genetic manipulation, Carruthers develops a method to massively increase the size of bats and then trained them to attack and kill by attraction to a special aftershave which he begins giving out to Mary and Henry.

When they turn up dead, a newspaper reporter (Dave O’Brien) decides to investigate, but the bodies are starting to mount up…

As enjoyable fluff goes, this is fairly enjoyable. It’s not terrible by any means, but there’s really not much to it beyond its Scooby Doo plotline and hokey effects. The titular devil bat is a poor effect, but there’s a feeling Jean Yarborough knows rightly how fake it looks when the slippery snapper One-Shot” McGuire (Donald Kerr) makes up a fake of his own for a photo and is instantly exposed as you can see the label on its wing. It’s witty, self-referential stuff that lets you know the filmmakers are in on the joke. It’s not that they aren’t taking it seriously, more that they know their limitations and aren’t scared to acknowledge them with a smile on their face.

There’s a nice steadily increasing mortality rate going on too. This could easily have been one of those films where the talk exceeded the horror, but John Thomas Neville’s script joyously starts bumping people off at a frantic rate and doesn’t really let up.

Saying that, it’s slight stuff and only lifted up by the presence of the great Bela Lugosi. He’s on absolutely top form here, making the very most of a very average script and character, giving each portentous line a gravitas it probably doesn’t deserve. His mad scientist is wonderfully nuanced, charming but intense, measured but completely insane at the same time.

The Devil Bat, for all its weakness, isn’t a bad film in any way, it’s just bang average, but has a star who is anything but. Essentially it’s the Bela Lugosi show, but since when is that a bad thing?

Rating: 2.5/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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