Produced by Phil Goldstone
Written by Edward T. Lowe
Photographed by Ira H. Morgan
Directed by Frank Strayer
Cast- Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, Dwight Frye, Robert Frazer.
1933 Majestic Pictures. 63 minutes
By Glenn Andreiev
As a classic horror film fan, I found The Film Detective’s and UCLA’s restoration of the previously faded, public domain 1933 chiller THE VAMPIRE BAT a delicious treat.
“A tree is a tree, film it in Griffith Park.” was the battle cry of B-studio producers looking to finish their bargain basement horror western or serial quickly and cheaply, the results often were stagy westerns and horror movies that look like they were filmed in toolsheds. Produced by Phil Goldstone at the poverty-row Majestic Studios, THE VAMPIRE BAT is quite a handsome looking film for it’s obviously low budget. According to B-Movie Producer/Historian, Sam Sherman (ANGELS WILD WOMEN, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN), who provides the audio commentary track here, Goldstone assisted major studios in banking/financial needs during the 1920’s. When Goldstone went to produce his own low budget films, the major studios paid back to him plenty of favors.
Universal allowed Goldstone to film parts of VAMPIRE BAT on their still standing ‘Frankenstein Village” set and on a leftover interior set from THE OLD, DARK HOUSE.
THE VAMPIRE BAT begins with chilling night time images: a camera prowls across and up a German village square. The jolting sounds of a woman’s screams sends bats crawling and scattering along bare trees. Detective Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) disbelieves the villagers’ claim that a vampire is behind a recent wave of murders- murders where the victims are drained of every drop of blood. In fact, the villagers are sure they pin-pointed the killer as Herman Glieb, (Dwight Frye) a simpleton who keeps bats as pets. Karl is dating Ruth, (Fay Wray), an assistant to Dr. Von Niemann (Lionel Atwill). The villagers, and Karl look to the pleasant and Teutonic Von Niemann for for advice and reason. Finally, the villagers form a mob, and hunt down the terrified Herman. In this scene during this black and white film, the villagers’ torches were originally hand-tinted red. This is fitting, because this hunting scene is the moment of true horror in THE VAMPIRE BAT. Dwight Frye does a superb job conveying Herman’s total fright as he is hunted. It’s like watching a panicked six-year-old targeted by grown hoods. The location photography here, filmed at Bronson Canyon (also used in THE SEARCHERS) is alive with detail. After this scene, the remainder of VAMPIRE BAT gives the true reveal of the real killers. The killers’ identity comes as no surprise to the audience, as they wait for the film to stagger to an end. Despite VAMPIRE BAT’s third weak act, the film maintains a rich and creepy look. As always, Lionel Atwill is smooth as brandy. Atwill, with his velvety voice, can read diet soda ingredients, and we would still get chills. Sadly, lovely leading lady Fay Wray is given very little to do here. When one tries to track her post KING KONG films, like THE VAMPIRE BAT, one feels all her roles and dialog were drained of “every ounce of blood”.
Regardless, THE VAMPIRE BAT restoration is a must for the horror film fan. It is a quickly paced entertaining slice of horror fun. THE VAMPIRE BAT is released by The Film Detective, a distribution company headed by film collector Philip Hopkins. The Film Detective restores and releases, in sparkling new editions, public domain films that were doomed to waste away in lower than low DVD bargain basement bins in Auto Zones and Dollar Trees. Some of the films The Film Detective has bought back from public domain Hell are BEAT THE DEVIL, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, ELLA CINDERS and THE MEMPHIS BELLE.