The Vampire Bat
the vampire bat | frank r. strayer | edward t. lowe jr. | lionel atwill | fay wray | melvyn douglas | mad scientist | drama | mystery | romance | sci-fi | old dark house | maude eburne | george e. stone | dwight frye | robert frazer | rita carlyle | lionel belmore | united states
Film: The Vampire Bat
Director: Frank R. Strayer
Writer: Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas
This is a movie that I didn't know about until listening to Horror in the House of Sammons podcast. I believe they have this in a box set. It also popped up when looking for horror movies from 1933 on Letterboxd. What intrigued me when looking at this was seeing it featured Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas. They're all actors that I've seen in other things and they tend to give good performances.
Synopsis: when corpses drained of blood begin to show up in a European village, vampirism is suspected to be responsible.
We start this with Kringen (George E. Stone) walking at night. He has a club. We see that there are bats in the trees and they spook him. There is then the scream of a woman and a light in the room goes out.
It then shifts over to men in a burgermeister's office. He is Gustave Schoen (Lionel Belmore). Speaking with him is Karl Brettschneider (Douglas) amongst others. There is concern that the recent string of murders is done by vampires. They believe one has returned to the village. I thought this was an interesting superstition believed by the local people. The increased number of bats are a part of it. This takes place in Germany so that is another part. Karl believes there is a logical explanation and he will find it.
Karl is seeing Ruth Bertin (Wray). She works with a Dr. Otto von Niemann (Atwill), but he's currently out. Ruth lives with her aunt, Gussie Schnappmann (Maude Eburne). She is a hypochondriac and seeks the help of Otto. He gives her fancy medical terms to placate her. He also prescribes things in a similar way.
Otto is out helping Martha Mueller (Rita Carlyle). She is a local flower seller. She is ill and he tries to help her. While he is caring for her, Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye) comes up. He is an odd character. He plays with the bats and moves around the village throughout the night. These things cause him to become the prime suspect of the murders in the eyes of Kringen and other like-minded men. They believe him to be a vampire.
Karl isn't convinced. He has a difficult task of uncovering the truth. Otto falls in line that he doesn't think it is a vampire either. There is this odd character that lives in a locked room of Otto's place. His name is Emil Borst (Robert Frazer). We see what happens when superstitions and the minds of men are allowed to run wild with disastrous results.
Now that is where I'll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I'll start is that this is an interesting bridge film for me. Earlier in this decade we would have movies like Dracula where we have locals believing in lore like we get here. When that shifts to the modern of the time London, the characters don't. We get that here with Karl and Otto vs. the less educated. What I mean is that this feels like a bridge film is that there are elements of crime and film noir just a few years ahead of those movies being popular. I'm trying to tiptoe around spoiling this film, but let's say that things aren't necessarily as they seem.
Where I'll then go from there is delving a bit more into the elements I noticed here. I've already said this could be a vampire film. The victims are being drained of blood. There is an element of the mad scientist and 'The Old Dark House' incorporated as well. I'm impressed that this movie is ahead of its time. It is assuming that people had seen the earlier monster movies with the vampire and then leading you down that path. It kept me guessing as to what the explanation would be. I did know who was partially behind it. Maybe not all the elements, but it still feels like the era with playing its hand a bit too much. That finesse would come as cinema developed so I won't hold it against it.
The last thing with the story that I want to explore is with the superstitious beliefs. Kringen, Gustave and the town is ready to believe in the supernatural. They're convinced it must be vampires. What is interesting in looking at this with modern eyes is that I can see a correlation with religion. There is blind faith that these things are real without proof. Karl won't be convinced without it. It is only when he can't seem to find an explanation that he starts to wonder. This was something else that impressed me when it came out.
Moving then from the story to the cast. We have a great group here for the era. Atwill plays this doctor so well. He knows what he's doing, but he also seems a bit of a villain with little effort. He fits perfectly in this role. I liked Wray not being a helpless woman. She is working for Otto. Douglas is good as her partner and equal in the relationship. I like that he won't be easily swayed without evidence. I love how frustrated he gets in his search for the truth. Eburne, Stone, Frazer, Carlyle, Belmore and the like are all good in their roles. Special shout out to Frye as an actor who just steals the scene when he's on screen. We have a good cast across the board.
All that is left then would be with the filmmaking. The cinematography is good. It doesn't necessarily stand out, but it fits the era. There aren't a lot in the way of effects. Part of this is the type of movie. They hide things when needed to build the mystery. It also doesn't need more than what we got. Other than that, I thought the soundtrack fit for what was needed.
In conclusion, this is a bit of a hidden gem in my opinion. It is playing with expectations of the audience and I appreciate that for a movie that is 90+ years old. There is a strong cast here. There wasn't a bad performance. I'd also say that it is well-made. I will warn you again that this is from 1933 and is in black and white. I'd recommend this if you like films from the era. This is one deserves more to check it out if you appreciate early cinema.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10