Wednesday, December 2, 2009

'The Vampire Bat' is early horror film that still entertains

The Vampire Bat (aka "Forced to Sin" and "The Blood Sucker") (1933)
Starring: Melvyn Douglas, Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Dwight Frye and Maude Eburne
Director: Frank Strayer
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

As a series of vampire-murders plunge a German village into superstitious hysteria, only Karl Brettschneider (Douglas), the local police inspector, refuses to believe in the undead. However, when one of the murders take place in a house where he is visiting with his girlfriend Ruth (Wray) and her boss Dr. Niemann (Atwill), even Karl starts to believe in vampires. But what is Niemann hiding behnd that locked door from his study... and how did Ruth come into possession of a cruxifix that belonged to one of the victims?

"The Vampire Bat" is part mystery film and part horror movie. It features a fairly simple script that is elevated by an excellent cast who all give fine performances--even the bit players put on great shows. Douglas and Wray are particularly good in the film, and they have an on-screen chemistry that makes the romance between their characters seem real. (In fact, the garden scene feels like one of the most realistic romantic exchanges of any film I've seen from this period.)

This is another minor classic from the formative years of the horror genre. It's no "White Zombie" or "Frankenstein", but it's a decent movie and it's made all the more interesting because the filmmakers didn't necessarily try to adhere to genre conventions because they didn't exist yet. I might have given this film a Seven rating if not for the underwhelming appearance of Ruth and Niemann's labs--the film's small budget shows more on that set than anywhere else in the picture--and for a structural issue with the story that ends up weakening the film's Big Reveal vis-a-vis the vampire murders.