B-Movie Review: The Devil Bat

The Devil Bat

Released: December 13, 1940
Run Time: 68 minutes
Genre: Horror, Sci Fi
Production: Producers Releasing Corp
Country: US

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Paul Corruthers
Suzanne Kaaren as Mary Heath
Dave O’Brian as Johnny Layton
Guy Usher as Henry Morton
Yolande Donlan as Maxine
Donald Kerr as ‘One Shot’ McGuire
Edmund Mortimer as Martin Heath
Gene O’Donnell as Don Morton
Alan Baldwin as Tommy Heath
John Ellis as Roy Heath
Arthur Q. Bryan as Joe McGinty
Hal Price as Chief Wilkins
John Davidson as Professor Raines
Billy Griffith as Coroner
Wally Rairden as Walter King

Producers – Jack Gallagher, Guy V. Thayer Jr.
Cinematography – Arthur Martinalli
Editing – Holbrook N. Todd
Art Direction – Paul Palmentola
Production Management – Melville De Lay
Sound – Ferrol Redd
Music – David Chudnow
Writers – John T. Neville, George Bricker
Director – Jean Yarbrough

Synapsis: A popular doctor (Lugosi) feels he has been taken advantage of by his employers. He devises a convoluted, bizarre scheme, involving bats, to get back at them.

If it has Lugosi, you have to watch it…

Great B-movie horror film from 1940. With Bela Lugosi starring, and Jean Yarbourgh directing, this is classic cheesiness that is fun to watch and rewatch. The acting is fair, some is over the top, but who cares, we all want to see the ‘Devil Bat’ and we are not disappointed, well, not too much! Back in the day before DVR, DVD, VHS, OnDemand, if a movie was on TV that had Elvis, Jerry Lewis, W.C. Fields or Bela Lugosi in it, we stopped everything and watched it. So stop for a minute or two, and check out the mad scientist genre that overtook Hollywood horror films for your enjoyment.

The film begins with a short notice title, telling us all how much the town of Heathville loves its’ good doctor, Dr. Paul Corruthers, portrayed by Lugosi of course, but is he that nice doctor, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing? After we settle in, we see the good doctor working in a lab. He mixes a liquid in a bottle and puts the lid on all the while with that famous half grin of Belas’. What is in the bottle? We soon find out. He traverses through secret panels in the walls, up stairs to more secret halls and finally finds himself in another lab. The lab layout is quite impressive, all kinds of equipment with blinking lights and dials and switches to play around with.

He retrieves a bat he apparently has been saving, and hooks it up in yet another room that is separated from the lab by a door with a window. He hangs the bat from some sort of contraption and applies some wires to it. Of course the ‘bat’ is just a prop, it doesn’t move or anything until we see a close up (stock footage) of a bat’s head hanging upside down. It is then that we see it move, make noise and act like it wants to be anywhere but where it is at. The Dr. closes the door and puts on some clear safety googles, and then starts throwing switches and turning dials to somehow send electricity through the poor little bat who just hangs there, until we see the close up where he goes ‘bat shit crazy’. Why the Dr. needs the googles is lost on me, as he is protected by the heavy lab door, and he doesn’t need a tint from the flashes emitting from the equipment. He now has that evil grin as he tortures the poor creature. So now we deduce the ‘good’ Dr. may not be so good.

After the electro shock therapy is completed on the now really big bat, he takes a cotton ball and dips it into the bottle he mixed earlier, and with a hemostat places it near the bat’s nose for it to smell. Again the bat does nothing until the closeup of the stock footage and the bat goes nuts. Then the telephone is ringing and he answers the phone at the desk.

It is Martin Heath and Henry Morton calling from their nice home in Heathville. These two older gentlemen ask if Dr. Corruthers would please stop by the manor to visit later in the evening. The Dr. says he will try, then hangs up to play with his giant bat some more. Heath and Morton then talk together how they want the Dr. to come by so they can give him a check for $5,000, no small sum in 1940. Their discussion also revolves around Dr. Corruther’s relationship with them. The Dr. is the man who mixes the ingredients for cologne and after-shaves for the two to sell, and make huge profits from. Later in the evening we meet the Heath adult children, Roy, Tommy and the beautiful Mary. Also present at the fête is Henry Morton’s son, Don, who obviously is infatuated with Mary. The French maid (Maxine) stops in to drop off drinks and she is definitely a top notch, 1940’s looker.

When the men find out that the Dr. isn’t coming, they ask Roy Heath to deliver the check to Corruthers. He takes the check and heads out in a good mood to the Dr.’s house. When he arrives, he gives Corruthers the check and the Dr. persuades the young man to try out the new shaving lotion. Roy puts a splash on his neck with a bit of coaching from Dr. Corruthers. It seems that most people in this movie have an aversion to trying out new after-shave products, which is kinda strange. Before Roy leaves with the after-shave on his neck, Dr. Corruthers wishes him ‘good-bye’ in the most sinister way. After Roy leaves the house, the Dr. rushes to the giant bat and opens a window to allow the giant bat to fly out, along with smaller, ‘normal’ bats. While Don and Mary are snogging outside, they hear a terrific scream, and we are treated to what a giant bat attacking a human may look like, it looks fake and somewhat comical as the bat screams like a woman while flying through the air. Nevertheless, poor Roy lays unconscious. Someone summons Dr. Corruthers, and he pronounces Roy dead.

In the next scene we meet the other main character, the newspaper reporter Johnny Layton. His editor is sending him to Heathville to report on the murder of the Heath heir. Johnny is a ‘been there, done that’, wise talking, news guy and looks forward to the assignment. He is told to grab a photographer and check out the story. He arrives in Heathville and goes to the local police station, where he meets the chief of police, Chief Wilkins. Layton now has his comedy relief sidekick photographer with him, who is named ‘One Shot’ McGuire. The two newsmen talk to the chief for all of 10 seconds, when for some unexplained reason, the chief seems to turn all the investigative work over to Layton and McGuire. He explains the unusual bite marks on the neck of the victim, even sharing photos of the victim for the reporters to look at. And Layton has on the strangest tie in movie history, his tie is decorated with a large question mark, very odd. The chief shows Layton all the evidence and clues and sets him loose to find out what he can. The chief is the only cop you will see for the rest of the film.

Layton and McGuire head to the Heath residence to talk to Mary. The sexual tension between Johnny Layton and Mary, as well as McGuire and the hot maid, is acted out on the screen. Dr. Corruthers shows up for tea and tries to add his two cents into the investigation, of course trying to lead the newspapermen/investigators away from the truth. When the Dr. shows up, Mary reminds him that  he met Layton at the coroner inquest. Except we never see the coroner at all in the film, even though he is listed in the credits. And the funny thing is that even though Mary’s brother was killed in the most awful way, no one at the house really seems to care. McGuire the photographer/perv leads the maid outside to take provocative (1940’s style) pics of her as she sits with her legs crossed.

For some reason it is now Tommy Heath who heads over to the evil Dr.’s house. He seems happy as a lark (again, his brother Roy was killed gruesomely), and is eager to try the new lotion. When he tries to get the Dr. to splash some on, Corruthers backs away angrily, with a scowl that does Lugosi proud. As Tommy leaves, the Dr. RELEASES THE BATS in the same footage as before. The two newsmen wait outside in the Heath garden in the dark for the next victim, so they can solve the crimes. Mary joins the two outside in the garden area as Tommy walks into the scene, he chats for a second then makes his way to the house. Before he can make it inside, he is attacked by the giant bat. Layton, McGuire and Mary hear the screams and rush to help, Layton is now armed and takes a few shots at the giant bat, but misses. Now poor Tommy is dead.

Layton gets on the phone to his editor and explains that he just saw a giant ‘devil bat’ attack and kill the second Heath boy. The editor, McGinty, just laughs at him and doesn’t believe a word. Layton and McGuire are frustrated that no one believes he has seen a giant bat attack and kill someone, and it shows. McGinty finally says he will print the story, but it would be really helpful if the news guys could get a photo of the bat to go along with the story. After hanging up the phone, Layton and ‘One-Shot’ devise a plan to visit a local taxidermist and get a bat to photograph. Why they think doing this will be useful is beyond me. The next scene is the front page of newspapers telling the world of the horrible devil bat and the folks who are dying left and right from its’ attacks.

Don Morton, who we haven’t seen in a while, is shown getting done shaving in his bathroom. He pulls out the bottle of after shave lotion that I assume he got from Corruthers. He splashes it on his face and neck, and the next scene is more newspaper headlines telling us he was attacked and killed by the monster that is lurking Heathville. They filmmakers didn’t even bother to try to show us the bats getting released or Don’s horrifying death.

Next up in this idiotic film is ‘One-Shot’ setting up a giant bat that he got somewhere (we are to guess it was the taxidermist ? He has giant bats for sale ?). Helping him at the Heath estate is the hot maid in her maid costume. Also walking the grounds is the police chief Wilkins and someone else who isn’t introduced’ with a shotgun. When ‘One-Shot’ gives the signal, the maid pushes the bat down a wire to simulate flight, he snaps the photo while the police shoot the bat, only inches away from the maid and the perv photographer. ‘One-Shot’ is furious’ as is the police chief, and the chief hauls him down to the station for questioning.

So at this point, we are left scratching our heads at this ridiculous film. The Dr. is pissed because the Heath Corporation made millions off his cologne blend, yet he seems to live comfortably, and the Heaths are giving him what appears to be royalties (remember the $5,000?). If that is the case, why not just sell the lotion yourself and make a fortune. And as far as being a doctor, a doctor of what? So the doctor devises a plan to kill the Heaths and the Mortons for revenge, why not just sue them, or quit handing over any further colognes and after shaves for them to profit off of, or hire a lawyer to make a more lucrative deal? And why kill them in this outlandish manner. Just get a gun and shoot them, or put poison in the aftershave. And just exactly how long did it take the doctor to find the bats, capture them and train them to kill? And why bats? Why not turtles, or hummingbirds? Is it because the bats look kinda creepy, and vampires are bats, and Lugosi was a star in a vampire movie at one time? And why the name ‘The Devil Bat’ when the real villain is the doctor? He pretty much forced the bats to do his bidding through his electro shock torture methods, hell, the bats ought to be attacking him. Geez…

So the news guys are with the chief in his police chief room trying to explain their incredibly stupid bat setup. After about 20 seconds he lets ‘One-Shot’ go back to the hotel while Layton tells the chief all about the crime clues the chief is supposed to be investigating. The chief has a theory about a disgruntled employee (getting warmer), while Layton shows the chief the bottle of after shave he swiped from Morton’s bathroom (warmer still). He tells Chief Wilkins that he will continue to investigate the crime, it seems for the sole reason to get a scoop and to save poor Mary Heath from getting attacked. Wilkins agrees and goes back to collecting kickbacks and committing graft.

Back at the hotel, ‘One-Shot’ has his photo of the giant, monster, devil bat ready to publish, which the paper does. Later, as the whole town (or at least the whole remaining cast), listens to an expert professor on bats blabber on the radio. He explains that it is a fake picture because the bat has a tag when seen under great magnification that says, ‘Made in Japan’. This gets the two reporters fired, and even Mary is pissed off at her new squeeze.

Chief Wilkins has turned the aftershave lotion over to a police chemist, and the unseen chemist gives the report to the chief, who hands it over to Layton. Time to talk to the crazy doctor and get to the bottom of this… They still love good old Doc, and he has a ready explanation for their inquiries, he even tries to get the reporter and Chief to use the aftershave, giving each one a bottle. The chief and Layton leave with a few suspicions that are left unsaid. Carruthers tells them ‘Goodbye’ in that creepy tone he used before, as to tell us that’s the last we see of them.

Layton and ‘One-Shot’ are sitting in the Heath garden at night waiting to get another glimpse of the bat. Layton has put the lotion on himself to try to test his theory that the bat only attacks people wearing the stuff. RELEASE THE BATS !… As the giant bat comes in for the kill on Layton, he manages to get his gun out and kill it with several shots. The newspaper headlines are shown again announcing the giant bat, monster devil, whatever, is dead. The story says that ‘Henry Layton’ killed the bat, but we all know by now that his name is ‘Johnny Layton’. Who the eff is Henry?

The professor gets back on the radio and confirms that yes, indeed, it was a giant bat attacking people. Carruthers is listening, and gets busy getting another poor bat ready to do the dirty work. He starts the shock treatment and wears the useless goggles and the bat only moves in the close up scenes.

Layton and ‘One-Shot’ demand their jobs back from McGinty, the newspaper editor, and he caves in, even giving the two a raise. Mary shows up at the hotel just he hangs up the phone, and Mary tells Johnny she is sorry. ‘One-Shot’ gets his perv on again, and runs off to molest the maid. Doctor Carruthers is still tormenting the new bat and prepares another bottle of ‘bat attack juice’. He then heads over to talk to Henry Morton at his office at Heath Industries.. The villainous doctor listens to Morton wax on about how he followed his dreams and is now wealthy, and how the doctor isn’t. Carruthers gives him a bottle of the now famous ‘bat attack juice’, and foolishly, Morton wipes it all over his face and neck. Carruthers slips up and lets Morton know he may be behind the murders, and the bats. As the doctor leaves, Morton calls Heath at his home to warn him that Carruthers is on his way over, and he will meet him there soon, with new important details of the horrendous clues he has unearthed. Heath tells him the Chief is there, too. Morton gets in his car and drives to Heath’s house, not knowing that Carruthers is in front of him watching from his car.

Carruthers RELEASES THE BATS from the trunk of his car, and then rushes inside to feign ignorance at the phone call Morton made. Screams are heard which the police chief totally ignores, Morton gets it right in the neck and dies as he stumbles in the doorway. A scene is shown where Carruthers is putting some ‘bat attack juice’ in Mary’s perfume bottle. Now Carruthers, Heath, Layton, Mary and ‘One-Shot’ are gathered in the Heath parlor as Layton tells the group that the killings only seem to target the Heath and Morton families (Captain Obvious here), and he is staying to protect Mary. ‘One-Shot’ happily tells the group he and the maid are getting married. Mary tells the guys she will show them to their rooms, so I guess they ain’t staying at the hotel anymore. Carruthers leaves the place, too.

Mary is sitting at her make up table getting ready to put on perfume when she notices it smells different. She asks the maid if she has been fooling with her perfume and the maid says no. She goes ahead and puts on the perfume anyhow, and goes to bed. RELEASE THE BATS !!! The giant devil bat bangs at the bedroom window of Mary’s, but cannot get past the glass. Mary is terrified. Mr. Heath, Layton and ‘One-Shot’ talk to Mary and realize it is the perfume that is attracting the devil bat, and by God, Dr. Carruthers is probably behind it all. Layton devises a scheme to trap Dr. Carruthers once and for all.

Layton calls Carruthers and explains that Mary is in bad shape and needs help immediately, Carruthers goes to the Heath place to check out his latest victim. Meanwhile, Layton goes to the Dr.’s lab and snoops around and finds nothing. Carruthers returns and Layton watches as the evil doctor goes through the trap doors to his giant bat set up in his lab. Layton now sees it all exposed at last. Layton leaves unnoticed.  RELEASE THE BATS !!! Layton returns moments later, knocking on the Dr.’s door. Carruthers lets him in, Layton explains he wants the aftershave to put on himself, to attract the giant bat so he can solve the crime (Layton has this all figured out). Carruthers gives his best malevolent grin and agrees. Layton asks if the Dr. wants to come along and watch as he solves the crime, Carruthers says he is being foolish, but why not.

As Johnny Layton and Dr. Carruthers sit in the Heath garden, Layton tells the Dr. that he knows that he is the killer, and pulls out a gun while splashing the aftershave all over the doctor. Carruthers is now set in his own trap. There is a struggle for the gun as the giant bat approaches and the police chief shows up with his shotgun and fires off a round that misses. The bat returns as the doctor runs off, he sees Mary and forces her to join him on the path leading out of the garden. But it is too late, the bat makes one last dive and kills the crazy, lunatic doctor as Mary watches, and the police chief finally kills the bat. Layton and Mary hug and the movie ends…

Never explained is how the victims actually die. I don’t think a bat bite will kill you instantly, nor do they seem to get bitten on the jugular vein as there is no blood. And the scenes of the bats flying out the window, and returning later on, is always the same shot.

This film is so 1940’s in style and dialogue. Fast talking wise ass reporters, with innocent damsels in distress, a lazy ass cop along with the wonderful Bela Lugosi as the evil Dr. Carruthers. And of course the bat. It is obvious it was made on the cheap, but still a great deal of fun to watch. For a horror film, it is not really scary, as a drama, it is laughable, as a crime thriller, if you can’t figure out in about 10 minutes what is going to happen, then you haven’t seen to many of these stupid movies. The director, Jean Yarbrough, made quite a name for himself in the movie business, directing a lot of films and TV episodes. Arther Q. Bryan (who plays Joe McGinty, the newspaper editor) was the original voice of Elmer Fudd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *