Movies from the “golden age” of black and white films (approximately the 1930’s through the 1950’s) almost invariably contain well-written dialogue and strikingly subtle humor, making them a favorite among many fans of cinema. The horror movies of this more subtle period in film history are therefore of a cerebral nature, primarily relying on the viewer’s imagination to generate the true sense of horror that modern movies generate through more visual means. It is these oft-ignored horror movies that will be the focus of a series of articles detailing the reasons why true fans of horror movies should rediscover these films. The Vampire Bat (Majestic Pictures, 1933) is the second movie in this series.
The Vampire Bat made its debut during the Great Depression when Universal Studios was the undisputed king of horror films. This “poverty row” film from Majestic Pictures, unlike many other Depression-era films from the smaller picture studios, had the look and feel of a Universal horror film. Veteran horror actors Fay Wray (as Ruth Bertin) and Lionel Atwill (as Dr. Otto von Niemann), combined with several sets from Universal Studios including the village from Frankenstein, create an overall atmosphere of the highest quality for the time period.
Set in the fictitious German village of Kleinschloss, The Vampire Bat tells the story of a series of vampire-like killings. Police inspector Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) is one of the few voices of reason in a village overcome by fears of a resurgence of vampires as evidenced by a recent gathering of bats in the town.
Why This Movie Has Been Forgotten
The primary reason this movie is unknown to many horror fans is its unsatisfying climax. The whole movie is wrapped up in a matter of a minute or two. The simple solutions and fortuitous happenings surrounding the rescue of the girl (Fay Wray) and the death of the villain (Lionel Atwill) are just too easy for most modern horror fans.
Why Horror Fans Should Watch This Movie
- Fay Wray. Not much more I can say here. She’s beautiful and a great actress.
- Dr. Otto von Niemann’s science laboratory is hilarious. Why is it that every laboratory in old movies must contain glass beakers filled with mysterious bubbling liquids? It reminds me of ”computers” shown in movies from the 1980′s and 1990′s. Remember all those blinking lights?
- This movie features early horror settings at their best. With scenes filmed on movie sets originally found in Frankenstein (the village of Klineschloss and the village morgue), The Old Dark House (von Niemann’s house), and The Cat and the Canary (von Niemann’s furniture), it’s easy to see why the atmosphere of this film is superior to most other low-budget films of the same time period.
- There is a classic “torches and clubs” chase scene in which the townsfolk, certain that they’ve discovered the identity of the vampire, stalk and kill the village idiot Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye).
- Maude Eburne’s portrayal of the hypochondriac Aunt Gussie is extremely humorous.
- The Vampire Bat features a couple of obscure and no longer accepted additions to the vampire legend. The first of these additions occurs very early in the film. The Burgermeister (Lionel Belmore) is attempting to convince the town’s police inspector that vampires have once again appeared in Klineschloss. As part of his “proof” of vampirism, the Burgermeister explains that each victim has a blood clot 8 inches from his or her neck. This, remarks the Burgermeister, is “the mark of the feast, the Devil’s signature”. The other addition is that vampires can completely dematerialize (as opposed to merely taking the form of a mist). This, it is said, is how they escape their graves.
Overall, The Vampire Bat is a very worthwhile film for the fan of horror movies. The acting is good, the scenery is good, the story is good, and you get to see Fay Wray. What else do you need?
If you would like to watch The Vampire Bat, you may view it at the following link.