BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
Vintage horror films rarely get as good as the jewel uncovered here with The Film Detective’s release of a restored version of The Vampire Bat. There is so much happening with this forward-thinking film that watching it – especially on blu-ray – becomes a treat in and of itself. Shadows move. Figures both descend and grow in the darkness and, through it all, there is an elevated sense of dread and tension building as an entire village of innocents suspect that the recent deaths in their community are due to a vampire on the loose.
However true it is, it’s hard to dismiss this picture as simply a bandwagon release that follows in the footsteps of Universal’s first three horror pictures (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy). This is so much more than just another knock-off film. The people involved with the film might not have realized that at the time of its release. Great art is like that. The Vampire Bat – much like Roger Corman’s early directed offerings – is fresh, fast, and filled with a joy in the craft that comes from having complete creative control. Simply put, The Vampire Bat is not to be missed.
Starring Lionel Atwill (Doctor X) as the scientist at the center of the mystery, Fay Wray (whose next film would be King Kong) as his lab assistant, and Melvyn Douglas (Hud) as policeman Karl Brettschneider, The Vampire Bat begins by thrusting us deep into the shadows of a small European village. The shadows remain a constant and, in fact, set up several scenes in weird and twisted ways.
Written by Edward T. Lowe (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula), the film’s beginning is a statement of building mood with images only. A man goes about his business, but feels a change sweeping over the sleepy town. He shudders. There is something moving across the roofs of the village buildings; it almost glides. He doesn’t see it, though. He just knows something is coming. Suddenly, screams are heard and a bedroom light is extinguished.
Turns out, Kleines Schloss is a town with something to hide. It is already a spooky place where the village idiot (Dwight Frye, Dracula) goes around talking and petting the bats that claim the trees in the town as their home. But the truth in all these killings hits a bit too hard, rocking the privileged in the town. The film might be a “quickie” since the bigger studios took so long to get their films out to release, but you’d never tell that from the leased sets (from Frankenstein no less and the music). We even get an extended mob chase within some caves - complete with lighted torches - to give us a good naturalistic flavor of authenticity. The point is that everything works and adds to a favorable review of this film.
Directed by Frank R. Strayer (The Monster Walks), this pre-Code horror film from Majestic pictures, one of the Poverty Row film studios that eventually created Republic Pictures two years after this film’s initial release, is a definite must-own for the Horror Hounds and Gore-Gore-Girls out there. Many have never seen this picture. And, thanks to the work the UCLA Film & Television Archive put into restoring it, those who have seen The Vampire Bat get the added treat of seeing the phenomenal torch color sequence designed by Gustav Brock.
The Film Detective’s blu-ray release (flying into stores and onto shelves on April 25) of Strayer’s film is a reason for cinema lovers to celebrate. It’s a cult film, sure, but that doesn’t mean it no longer works for mainstream audiences to appreciate it. This is not one of those creaky house old school horror movies. It is a very modern-paced horror film and includes so many wonderful moments between its All-Star cast that true cinema lovers will not want to miss the bite of The Vampire Bat.
MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime: 65 mins
Director: Frank R. Strayer
Writer: Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Cast: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas
Tagline: These are the TALONS of The Vampire Bat
Memorable Movie Quote: "Goodnight, gentlemen. Don't let the vampires get you."
Theatrical Distributor: Majestic Pictures
Release Date: January 21, 1933
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: April 25, 2017
Synopsis: When corpses drained of blood begin to show up in a European village, vampirism is suspected to be responsible.
The Vampire Bat: Special Restored Edition (1933) Blu-ray
Home Video Distributor: The FIlm Detective
Available on Blu-ray - April 17, 2017
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Audio: Dolby Digital Sound
Discs: Blu-ray Disc
Region Encoding: Region-free playback
The Film Detective, in conjunction with UCLA Film & Television Archive, present The Vampire Bat in full screen with an aspect ratio of 1.33.1 and Dolby Digital Sound. Restored from a 35mm composite acetate fine grain master and a 35mm nitrate print, the film has never looked better. Shadows are deep and punctuated throughout the grays to make this black-and-white gem feel new again. The film looks marvelous and works itself into a frenzy that pays off in the final moments. The crisp attention to the detail in the transfer is a bonus. The release includes the fabulous Gustav Brock color sequence, which has been unseen since its first run in theaters all those years ago.
Film historian and cult appreciationist Sam Sherman – for those wanting a bit more history on Poverty Row and the film’s production – provides a commentary. This is an exciting commentary to listen to and Sherman is indeed quite the personality.
Also on the disc is a featurette with Melvyn Douglas’ son, Gregory Hesselberg, as he talks about his father and his memories of his father. It is a moving and deeply personal recollection about a son trying to remember his father who was barely there.
- A Melvyn Douglas Featurette: An Interview with Gregory Hesselberg