Directed by Jean Yarbrough [Other horror films: King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), She-Wolf of London (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), Master Minds (1949), Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)]
Having seen this low-level classic around four times now, I have to say that, while definitely hokey, The Devil Bat is a lot of fun, much of it coming from the somewhat ludicrous plot and Bela Lugosi’s great performance.
Of course, Bela Lugosi, even by this point, was an old hand with the genre (before this film, he appeared in at least 15 other horror films), and it’s clear to see why. I utterly love his mad scientist routine here – his facial expressions and exuberance crack me up.
There’s a running gag here, in which after the doctor gives some shaving lotion to an intended victim (the lotion in question, due to it’s properties, will attract an over-grown bat to attack the wearer) in which the to-be victim says “Good night, doctor.”
And Lugosi’s reply, every single time? “Goodbye.” The first time, it was funny. The fourth time, I was laughing my ass off, as his tone was just perfectly somber (and almost no one caught on). So I love Lugosi in this film, and if you’re a Bela fan, I’d recommend seeing this for his presence alone.
Everyone else does pretty admirably also, though. Dave O’Brien (who, on IMDb, racks up an impressive 243 acting credits) did great as the lead protagonist (despite not appearing until around 18 minutes into the movie), and given that he had flaws (such as concocting that stupid fake bat picture), came across as a multi-layered character, which I appreciated. Donald Kerr (who has an even more impressive 511 credits) gave some good comic relief, and Suzanne Kaaren did just as good as you could expect, given actresses’ often-limited roles in these movies.
The revenge plot of Lugosi’s is so absurdly fun that it makes up for the failure of the special effects (close up, there’s a real bat squeaking, but from far-off, it’s one of the fakest-looking animals you’ll ever see), but honestly, when it comes to movies from around this time, I think most of the questionable special effects can be brushed off, especially if you’re getting a kick out of the movie regardless.
Director Jean Yarbrough did fantastic for only his third full-length feature, and actually did a lot for horror, as he later directed, among others, films such as King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), and Master Minds (1949). I’ve only seen a handful of these (King of the Zombies and House of Horrors), but generally, I know many of these, while not overly well-known, are enjoyed by other fans of the genre.
There’s not necessarily a lot to this movie (though at an hour and eight minutes long, it’s a bit lengthier than some other flicks from this time), but what we do get is pretty good. The Devil Bat has long been a favorite of mine, and while overall, I think the 1940’s is probably one of the worst decades for the horror genre, this will always be one of those classics I go back to.