The Devil Bat (1940)
“Sharp Fanged Blood Sucking DEATH Dives from MIDNIGHT SKIES!”
Director: Jean Yarborough
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren, Dave O’Brien
Synopsis: A mad scientist develops an aftershave lotion that causes his gigantic bats to kill anyone who wears it.
There can’t be many of us who haven’t felt unappreciated by our bosses at some time or another. Overworked and underpaid, we might harbour malevolent fantasies of making them pay for taking such unfair advantage of our talents but we rarely turn those fantasies into reality. However, Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is made of sterner stuff than the rest of us. When he has a grudge he acts upon it. Carruthers is a scientist — or maybe a doctor, who knows? Certainly not screenwriter John T. Neville — who develops perfumes and aftershaves for his bosses. Over time, they’ve grown wealthy on the back of his genius while he toils unrecognised for a monthly pay cheque. To be fair, he was offered the chance to waive his wage in favour of a share of the profits but he turned it down — as one of his bosses rather tactlessly reminds him at one point — so he’s only got himself to blame, but somehow that knowledge doesn’t make the injustice of it all any easier to bear for Carruthers.
In fact, his bosses aren’t ungrateful for his work and what it has reaped for them, and to show their gratitude they organise a small gathering at the home of Henry Morton (Guy Usher), the partner of his boss, Martin Heath (Edmund Mortimer) at which, unknown to Carruthers, they intend to present him with a cheque for $5,000 in recognition of his services to their bank accounts.
But although he says he’ll be there, Carruthers doesn’t show. He’s working late at his home laboratory, you see, perfecting a scent that will enable him to have his revenge on those who have wronged him. Concealed in his lab is a secret panel which leads through a secret corridor to a secret lab in which Carruthers conducts all the secret experiments he doesn’t want anyone to know about. While he’s supposed to be dining at Henry’s he’s beaming benignly through the window of a heavy metal door as he watches a few thousand volts that are zapping through a giant bat. The theory behind this experiment is a little hazy to be honest, but the intent is to condition the bat to attack anyone unlucky enough to be wearing that unique scent I told you about.
When it becomes apparent that Carruthers isn’t going to show, Heath’s son, Roy (John Ellis) volunteers to deliver the cheque that night. Carruthers accepts the cheque with as much good grace as he can muster, but he sees in young Roy the first deserving victim of his scent-activated pet, and so invites the young man to apply the new aftershave to ‘the tender part’ of his neck. Then, when Roy has departed, Carruthers releases the bat, which makes a beeline for poor Roy and tears out his throat.
Roy’s death is bizarre and suspicious enough to attract the attention of the media in the form of Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and his photographer ‘One-Shot’ McGuire (Donald Kerr), and Layton just happens to be around to witness the bat claim Carruthers next victim, another son of Heath’s. Cue hysterical headlines rushing at the screen while spinning like one of those spinny things on a stick in a very strong wind. The story — which was stupid enough to begin with — gets increasingly mindless when Layton decides to stage a fake attack using a stuffed bat.
I could claim that I don’t want to ‘spoil’ the rest of the movie by revealing what happens next, but to be honest the plot is so mind-blowingly stupid that I just can’t be bothered thinking about it anymore. Lugosi hams it up as usual, but there’s something likeable about the old boy, anyway. He’d seen his career slide from starring as Universal’s Dracula to appearing in no-budget PRC programmers opposite people who really had little justification in describing themselves as actors. If he hadn’t had a habit before now, appearing in bilge like The Devil Bat would surely have driven him to it.
(Reviewed 22nd September 2013)