Directed by Frank R. Strayer [Other horror films: The Monster Walks (1932), The Ghost Walks (1934), Condemned to Live (1935)]
I saw this once before, and this black-and-white flick, while not really classic, still holds up pretty well.
Just a few years since Dracula came out, I found it interesting how one of the main conflicts of the film is whether the deaths in a small village can be attributed to supernatural means (a vampire) or more pedestrian means (a serial killer). Of course, folklore runs rampant, and most villagers are terrified of the possibility of vampire attacks. Throw in a town misfit who has a thing for bats, and you have a potentially dangerous situation.
Really, the film is pretty fun, what with these elements coming together with both a solid cast and some occasionally interesting cinematography, creating a somewhat moody and mostly enjoyable film. The biggest problem are the dollops of comedy thrown in, mostly coming from Maude Eburne (who was also one of the actresses who brought down my enjoyment of The Bat Whispers, on a side-note).
The rest of the cast are extraordinarily good, though. Melvyn Douglas (who appeared a year earlier in The Old Dark House, and much later in 1981’s Ghost Story) made for a pretty good protagonist, and his conflicts against the superstitious villagers as to the cause of these deaths were a rather nice touch. Fay Wray (from Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game, Mystery of the Wax Museum, King Kong, and Black Moon) didn’t really do all that much, but was a very fair piece of eye candy. Dwight Frye was fun to see here, as he played both Fritz from Frankenstein, and more memorably, Renfield from Dracula. He did good in this film, playing the mentally-handicapped village weirdo.
Lionel Atwill, of course, had a fantastic presence, and his various roles in other horror movies only help – his impressive horror resume includes Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Murders in the Zoo, Secret of the Blue Room, Mark of the Vampire, Son of Frankenstein, The Gorilla, Man Made Monster, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Doctor Rx, Night Monster, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, Fog Island, and House of Dracula. Certainly not as prolific as Bela Lugosi, but still, he added a lot to both this movie and early genre pieces, as demonstrated by his impressive resume.
Frank Strayer, the director, who did a few other horror films from the time, didn’t really add a lot to the genre, despite how much I enjoy both this one and The Monster Walks. Still, he did well with the limited budget he had, and made a little moody piece, so that’s commendable.
The unnecessary comedic elements aside, The Vampire Bat is a rather solid black-and-white flick, and while it’s nowhere near the classic nature of Frankenstein, Dracula, or any of the Universal films, it’s still a good way to spend an hour, and if a fan of this classic period of horror, I’d recommend giving it a go.