johnlink ranks THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933)

I try to watch all kinds of horror movies around Halloween, even movies which probably don’t qualify as modern horror. This B Movie showed up on TV, and it seemed like a good way to spend an hour plus.


I watched THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) on 10.28.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

On the surface, THE VAMPIRE BAT is your basic vampire story. A small German village has a rash of murders. The villagers assume vampires, the local smarty pants, Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) thinks that is all a bunch of hogwash. His mentor, however, Dr. Niemann (Lionel Atwill) is less dismissive. Also involved in the proceedings here is Ruth (the immortal Fay Wray). She is a bit of a tease as a love interest for Karl, but we like her. She’s never funny, per se, but she is a sort of clever and cute foil.

Melvyn Douglas immediately grants this low budget film with plenty of energy. He is dryly funny (Karl turns to a fat priest and informs him that he would make a wonderful meal if vampires were real). His character gives us someone to follow. The one who really has a great presence, though, is the weird Herman (Dwight Frye). He is a complete rip off of a typical hunchback, oddball character. But Frye sells it. His Herman, of course, is immediately assumed to be the vampire since he is weird. He doesn’t help matters by befriending bats and sneaking around corpses (and looking more than a little like Stephen Baldwin). But, as an audience, it feels like this is way too easy a solution since the main characters don’t buy it and only the flock of villagers want his blood from the outset. Surprisingly, the movie keeps us guessing about the identity of the killer for the first half of the film. It is smart about setting up will he/won’t he moments of deception. The main culprits seem to be the doctor and Herman, but the movie plays with us openly as to wether one of these two is about to do something sinister. The truth actually does manage to catch us off guard.

The filming of this movie is not particularly interesting. The camera moves a bit, mostly via crane shots. But the shadows and angles don’t shout horror the way some of the true greats of that era of film do. It is not that Director Frank Strayer is not capable, it seems, just that this B movie is much more concerned with telling its story than it is looking like anything special. The above average characterization, even in the minor characters, make up for some of the lack of substance in the auteurship. Though some of the locals are a little hokey, they are less interchangeable than most movies of this type.

There’s some stuff here about the fear of the other. Nothing particularly new, save for the persecution of Herman. He is clearly a character with a severe mental handicap. The villagers treat this as vampirism, even if the audience can see it as Herman having something less malevolent and more behavioral. The movie doesn’t exonerate the townsfolk for their treatment of Herman, but it barely bothers to condemn them.

It’s hard to say that this is a movie to recommend, really. It’s not a bad movie to see, but it is also a 81 year old horror movie which doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before. Sure it has clever bits of distraction, and sure it has some nice character work with a decent final reveal. But none of that stands up to a modern movie equivalent. Those who like early sound film (and I count myself as a modest fan) will find stuff here they enjoy. But this is not the kind of movie which is going to convert modern horror fans to start digging through this era of cinema history.





~ by johnlink00 on October 28, 2014.

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