THE VAMPIRE BAT
The Vampire Bat gives the impression of having been hastily slung together to capitalise on the dual successes of the two films that sparked off the Golden Age the Bela Lugosi Dracula (1931) and the Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931). The Vampire Bat is clearly trying to be another Dracula of sorts in that it is centred around a series of vampire bat killings and of course features Dwight Frye doing a memorable variant on the crazed Renfield role he played in Dracula. It also copies very much the Mittel European setting and Expressionist laboratory designs from Frankenstein indeed the film was shot on the same European village sets used in Frankenstein as well as features Lionel Atwill as a mad scientist in the Colin Clive mold.
On the other hand, the attempts to combine the vampire and mad scientist film do not easily mesh. The vampire bat killings are soon passed over in favour of the mad scientist story in the eras penchant for rationalising of all supernatural elements, the bats turn out to be part of the mad scientists scheme. Although it is never very clearly explained what Lionel Atwills mad scientist is up to, or even for that matter how it is that he manages to mentally control people. Nor does the attempt to mislead us at the outset that the killings might be being conducted by Dwight Frye convince very much Lionel Atwills imperious glares give the game away far too obviously.
Despite the ramshackle nature of the films conception, director Frank Strayer does a good job of making the atmosphere work. The scenes in the lab and particularly where the lynch mob pursues Dwight Frye into the caves work through some fine lighting effects. Lionel Atwill is on top form, giving a wild-eyed performance, and Strayer does a marvellous job in the eerily lit scenes in the lab with him mentally controlling Robert Frazer, or with Fay Wray accidentally spotting him and the images of Frazer creeping across the rooftops and into a victims bedroom. There is probably a little too much comic relief given over to Maude Eburnes maid and her hypochondria as she drinks potions and attempts to pronounce medical phrases, otherwise The Vampire Bat is a likeable outing.
Director Frank Strayer made a number of other genre outings during this era, including the Old Dark House films The Monster Walks (1932) and The Ghost Walks (1934); Condemned to Live (1935), which had an almost identical mad scientist/vampire plot; and Death from a Distance (1936), a murder mystery with an SF twist. Most of these are cheap B programmers. Strayer is best known for the series of Blondie films made during the late 1930s/40s based on the popular syndicated comic-strip.
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