Book Reviews

DEVIL BAT DIARY: THE JOURNAL OF JOHNNY LEYTON

By • Oct 8th, 2011 •

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In the tradition of Gore Vidal’s MYRON…(the sequel of sorts to his camp classic MYRA BREKINRIDGE) comes yet another revisionist take on old movies. This time however the characters are not lost in an old movie; they really are the old movie. In Myron our protagonist falls asleep while watching Maria Montez in all her Technicolor glory as COBRA WOMAN, however when he wakes up he finds himself in the movie itself. The premise of Peter H. Brothers novella is simply taking a second more detailed look at Bela Lugosi’s camp classic DEVIL BAT as if it were a true story that could not really be told in the pre-war era of Hollywood with the production code enforced as it was in 1940, the year DEVIL BAT was being filmed over at Monogram pictures.

Mr. Brothers’ love of Lugosi and all his films is evident on every page since he must have had to watch this film dozens of times to prepare for this retelling and revising of the characters. If you are planning to read this book it is essential that you see the film at least once to fully appreciate what he has accomplished here. The title includes the line THE JOURNAL OF JOHNNY LAYTON and it is with Layton that the tale officially begins. The differences are many and a few are surprising, especially the revelation that the overweight police chief Walker is gay and on the make for our handsome humpy reporter Johnny‚Ķa detail no doubt left on the cutting room floor over at Monogram, but reinstated here courtesy of Mr. Brothers imagination. The evil Dr. Carruthers as played by Lugosi is well represented here and with much time given to discuss his motives for revenge against those who stole from him in the first place. Of all of Lugosi’s films done during the 40’s, DEVIL BAT mirrors the actor’s plight with his terrible career moves after the success of DRACULA in 1931. By the time he was making these potboilers at studios like PRC and Monogram he was paid flat fees of $ 5000 or less for each one of them, like VOODOO MAN or RETURN OF THE APE MAN. In this film Bela takes revenge on those men who stole his invention and openly took pleasure in doing so…his response was to create a hybrid of killer bats that, when given a scent he cleverly placed on the victims throat, would then swoop down from the night skies, tearing their throats out….very vampiric of course; after all this is Lugosi we’re talking about here.

I won’t spoil the rest by giving away too much about what is revealed as our handsome reporter uncovers the underbelly of a small American town, as revealed on the late late show, with the addition of a third dimension, undreamed of by those who only know this material from the film.

Peter H Brothers first came to my attention via the films of Ishiro Honda since he has done a study of the Japanese director of ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE before taking on the sage of the devil bats. He is also an actor, and of course a lifelong Lugosi fan….anyone who sees themselves in this must check this book out ASAP.

POSTSCRIPT

I am no stranger to revisionist writing myself, only instead of DEVIL BAT my Monogram film of choice was VOODOO MAN. If you want to read how I brought character actor George Zucco out of limbo long enough to do his “Cabaret act” in a dream of mine regarding time spent with Kenneth Anger then go to the Camp David archive and find WELCOME TO THE BREAKFAST SHOW……only RAMBOONA knows for sure….

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One Response »

  1. Having encountered the wit and presence of Gore Vidal in the flesh, I delved longingly into the imagination of Brothers’ book “Devil Bat Diary.” Long live Lugosi! (and Johnny Layton, not to be confused with John Lydon).

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