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Frank Strayer
Lionel Atwill, Fay wray, Melvyn Douglas
Writing Credits:
Edward T. Lowe

When corpses drained of blood begin to show up in a European village, vampirism is suspected to be responsible.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 63 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 4/25/2017

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Sam Sherman
• “Becoming the Son of Melvyn Douglas” Featurette


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Vampire Bat [Blu-Ray] (1933)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 10, 2017)

On the heels of the success of 1931’s Dracula, 1933’s The Vampire Bat delivers another tale of the blood-sucking undead - maybe. Set in the small European village of Kleinschloss, some locals mysteriously die from blood loss.

The town leaders fear this results from vampirism, but police inspector Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) views this with skepticism. Due to his fascination with bats, simple-minded Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye) becomes the prime object of suspicion. We follow the investigation and discover whether supernatural factors impact the deaths.

Going into Bat, I assumed it would offer a cut-rate rip-off of Dracula, but that doesn’t prove true. While the two obviously share basic subject matter, they don’t follow similar paths.

Much of this stems from their differing narratives, as Bat plays much more like a crime mystery than the firmly supernatural Dracula. While the latter clearly depicts vampires as reality, Bat straddles a much more vague line. It leaves open the door for mystical explanations but keeps its feet on the ground for most of its elements and usually maintains “real world” interpretations of events.

All of this creates a movie packed with potential intrigue, particularly in always-relevant themes of how frightened societies tend to pick on “outsiders”. The mentally impaired Herman fills that slot here, as the unusual man becomes the easy scapegoat for the wave of murders.

Unfortunately, Bat lacks the intelligence or insight to explore its underlying themes, and it probably doesn’t help that Frye plays Herman as such a complete freak. As usual, Frye creates an interesting oddball, but I think Herman would seem more effective if portrayed in a more low-key manner as a simple-minded but inoffensive sort.

In Frye’s hands, Herman seems like a psychopath. If the film wants to paint the character as the unfairly persecuted misfit, it’d work better with a less maniacal performance.

Bat would also benefit from more tension and suspense, but the film tends to ramble. Even at a spartan 63 minutes, the movie lacks a lot of focus, so it meanders without the focus it needs.

The character of “Aunt Gussie” (Maude Eburne) exemplifies this. We get stuck with seemingly endless scenes of her comedic neuroses, virtually none of which serve the story. These simply take us off-plot for sequences that damage any potential dramatic impact.

Not that the narrative allows for a lot of suspense, as Bat makes its culprit obvious pretty early. The story doesn’t give us a particularly logical mystery, as it barely attempts to obscure the identity of the killer.

This also eliminates the potential supernatural factor. While I appreciate the film’s more “real world” approach to the subject, I still think it would’ve been interesting if it left open the door for the presence of vampires. It doesn’t – beyond a smidgen of lip service, the movie refuses to indulge that attitude, an odd choice for a tale sold as part of the horror genre.

Created quickly and on the cheap, Bat tends to seem pretty amateurish as well. Take a scene in which Dr. von Niemann (Lionel Atwill) inspects a patient.

As the shot starts, Atwill simply stands inactive, as if no one yelled “action” yet. Eventually he performs the examination, but not until we watch him do nothing for 15 seconds or so. This is one of a mix of odd choices that lend a less than professional air to the proceedings.

Bat isn’t a total loss, but its positives largely remain under the surface. This becomes a film with potential to work well that just doesn’t dig deep enough to succeed.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C-/ Bonus C-

The Vampire Bat appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Even for a movie from 1933, this image seemed problematic.

One major concern resulted from print flaws, as those abounded. Throughout the movie, I saw specks, scratches, blotches and other issues. These varied in intensity but remained a frequent distraction.

Sharpness seemed up and down as well but still turned into one of the better aspects of the image. While occasional soft spots occurred, much of the movie exhibited reasonably good accuracy. I saw no signs of jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent.

Blacks tended to be inky and wan, and low-light shots usually looked too bright. For a movie that needed an atmospheric feel, this one failed to exhibit a good sense of that in its many darker scenes. All of this left the image as a disappointment.

Though better, the movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack also had issues, and some of these connected to background noise, or the lack thereof. Although one would think an absence of clicks, pops and hiss would be a positive, the audio seemed so quiet that it could become a distraction.

The main problem stemmed from the choice to completely mute the audio at times. If nothing obvious occurred in terms of sound, the track would go totally silent, and that created a disconnect from the rest of the mix’s feel.

We’d go from a light sense of ambience – if just via natural movement on the set – to no sound at all, and this didn’t work. Rather than hide the deficiencies of the source, the muted track seemed awkward and distracting.

This choice also felt unnecessary because the mix usually remained largely free from source problems anyway. The track clearly got a lot of “denoising” work, as it largely came free from background issues, so the decision to opt for complete silence at times made little sense.

Beyond these odd choices, the track appeared fine for its age. Speech tended to sound brittle and metallic, but within the standards of its era, the lines seemed intelligible and well-rendered.

Effects lacked much presence, but they were clean enough and without real distortion. Though the occasional splashes of music could be a little harsh, the score generally displayed passable clarity. If the disc’s producers let the audio remain more true to its source, it’d sound better, but with the heavy-handed attempts to remove noise, it lost points.

Two extras appear here, and we begin with an audio commentary from film historian Sam Sherman. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion of cast/crew as well as elements related to the production.

More specifically, Sherman tends to talk around movie domains. While he touches on topics that connect to Bat, he rarely chats about much that actually tells us about the production or its participants.

This makes the commentary more than a little frustrating. For instance, rather than cover the careers of those involved in detail, he focuses on the times he chatted with them. Rather than talk about the movie’s release and its creation, we find out that it ran on TV a lot in the 1960s.

And so it goes. This becomes an oddly elliptical chat that gives us tangential information without much real substance. That makes it less than useful.

Becoming the Son of Melvyn Douglas runs seven minutes, three seconds and features a chat with actor’s son Gregory Hesselberg. He chats about his relationship with Douglas. A few decent insights emerge.

Despite some potential for suspense, The Vampire Bat tends to feel cheap and unfocused. The movie doesn’t use its positives well and turns into a spotty effort. The Blu-ray presents flawed picture and audio as well as a less than informative commentary. Bat brings us a forgettable crime drama.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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