BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE DEVIL BAT

By • Sep 22nd, 2013 •

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THE DEVIL BAT is a poverty row treasure. Some of Lugosi’s dialogue is juicy beyond belief. I shall never forget, and often chuckle on revisiting, his furious, offended pronouncement – “Imbecile! Bombastic ignoramus!” -44 minutes into the film, as he vents his feelings about a pompous radio personality’s theory. Who wrote that, and did they know Lugosi would be on the delivering end? In my humble, if admittedly twisted, estimation it’s better than “Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”

At one point in the film, Doctor Paul Carruthers (Lugosi) hands unsuspecting (and innocent) Roy Heath a bottle of his new after shave lotion to pat on his neck, knowing that an electronically enhanced fruit bat will shortly thereafter seek out Heath’s jugular to chomp on, and the friendly victim says ”Goodnight, Dr. Carruthers.” Richard Harland Smith points out in his commentary that Lugosi’s reply – “Goodbye, Roy” – is tinged with compassion and regret. And it’s true. Lugosi gives the line reading real texture. But he didn’t in the DVD release I’ve had all these years. In that version, the subtlety (a word rarely befitting Lugosi) of his delivery was partially buried under the degraded quality of the image.

Kino’s BluRay HD re-mastering is impressive. I can even read the copyright notice, which was just an indistinct black blur on the DVD. Practically everything is improved here (at the 24-minute point, the bottle’s label – After Shave Lotion. Experimental – is overexposed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that way when the film was shot). The image is sharper, and there are far fewer speckles and other signs of wear. Voices have a bit more clarity. This is clearly the one to own, and to screen for friends who are in the mood for a very guilty pleasure within which Bela clearly is giving it his all.

One hesitance: does the improved quality actually diminish the ‘so bad it’s good’ nature of the film? Smith maintains that the film has good production value considering the source, that the sets are impressive, and that it is by no means a bottom-rung production. I hear what he’s saying, and there are far worse poverty row releases, but it’s a dreadful production nonetheless, and it’s not only in the limited art direction, it’s in the duration of takes, the blocking of the scenes, in the general mise-en-scene. All of it is weak.

Except, curiously, for the bat-flight shots, which are better than Universal’s fake bat scenes, or Hammer’s. I’m thinking that the incredible Lydecker brothers may have been behind it, or at least someone who studied at their side. But as to the question of whether the improved quality of the BluRay affects the perception of the film in a way that diminishes it’s delicious awfulness, I’m just not the one to judge, having seen it so often over the years. Maybe I’ll throw a Devil Bat party and check out audience reactions.

Smith took his commentary chores seriously. The cast is thoroughly vetted for our ingestion. In a few cases I learned more than I cared to. But Suzanne Kaaran’s life was mighty interesting. Everything from Olympic goals (thwarted by her family) to inventing a bottle cap. Made me study her more carefully every time she was on screen, particularly if she was doing something physical.

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