Monster Blog: Batmania Edition!
Even though I find them fascinating, I fully understand why bats are to most a freaky, fanged, flying rat. If you can’t get past their looks, you can at least agree that bats have been, for storytellers, one of the most useful creatures nature has to offer. From vampires, to the devil himself, or to a certain crime-fighter that’s clogging up your twitter feed, you can find multitudes of ways bats have been used to add texture and imagery to art. While they work great as an allegory, how do they work as the actual focus of the story? Honestly, not that well. So for this week’s Monster Blog I hand picked some of the, not necessarily good, but interesting bat movies in continuing with the craziness that is Batmania here at Wag the Movie.
A normally peaceful herbivore species of bats are genetically altered to be super intelligent and highly carnivorous. They escape and start to spread a virus across Texas, infecting all the local species of non-super bats. This causes all the other bats to join in on the human-killing fun. But it gets worse for all the Texan locals when the military ends up being useless, leaving it to up to Lou Diamond Phillips and friends to save the day! What horrible luck.
- The screenplay was written by the talented John Logan (Hugo, The Aviator) and while the script has its few self-aware moments it’s mostly a clunky mess. I found it amusing to see a writer as good as Logan stuck with this trash only to be nominated for an Oscar the very next year for his work on Gladiator.
- The actor known simply as Leon plays the comical black sidekick, but he’s cranked up to eleven here. Practically every line he utters is some wisecrack and nearly all of them are about his dislike for bats. Keep in mind he works for, as Lou Diamond Phillips says, “a bat-ologist”. It makes no sense but sure is amusing (though probably not in the in the way intended).
- If you picture the super-bats as the bat-gremlin from Gremlins 2: The New Batch it ads a whole layer of greatness (actually the only level of greatness). This is more than easy to accomplish, thanks to the super-bats squawking sounding like maniacal laughing, and we all know how much Gremlins love a good chuckle.
The action’s beats are staged well enough to hold my attention, but there isn’t really anything that stands out. I like the mix of practical and CG , although there are way too many quick cuts and lens distortions for my taste. Story-wise there are constant logic gaps like one would expect, and the overall intention of the film’s “villain” is completely dumfounding. The bottom line is Bats never becomes scary enough to be taken seriously, and it’s not self-aware enough to actually be enjoyable, but if you ever wanted to see Lou Diamond Phillips up to his chest in a river of bat shit then here is a film for you.
THE BAT PEOPLE 1974
A newly wedded couple decides while on tour of a cave full of bats that it’s as good time as any to get frisky, but before they can start the no-pants dance, a bat shows up to ruin their fun. The husband is bitten in the process and it affects him in a very special way.
- Being personally obsessed with special make-up effects, I love seeing this early work by Stan Winston. Sadly, you only get a few brief glimpses of his “batman” (the creature hinted at by the title) and only during the last eight minutes or so.
- The film’s theme song is wretched in the best of ways. It honestly sounds like it belongs in a compilation of rejected songs from low budget spy movies.
While it is amusing the main character for most of the runtime basically has super rabies, the film is a real chore to sit through. It’s basically a long series of strung together scenes with the local sheriff suspecting the lead is behind a string of murders and us watching the evidence that he is. Thankfully the last 8 minutes or so throws all the punches it has, letting the film end on a somewhat high note.
THE DEVIL BAT 1940
Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is out to get even with his employers whom he believes have stiffed him. Unluckily for his employers, Dr Paul has two talents: making perfumes and breeding huge bats that attack whoever wears his special scented concoctions.
- Bela Lugosi is a delight here. To keep up appearances, half the film he parades around acting the part of the good Samaritan, and frankly I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bela smile so much in a single movie. Bela bringing the charm also works nicely to contrast the inevitably spooky side he’s known for.
- I can’t help but be amused by the albatross-sized rubber bats attacking people. In addition to the “actual” devil bat, there is a subplot involving a newspaper photographer making a rubber bat, hoping to make a scoop, and it’s no less convincing than the bat were suppose to believe is actually causing such havoc.
- The comedic paring of Dave O’Brien and Donald Kerr as the reporter duo who get wind of Bela’s intentions are a real joy, especially when they’re telling their boss off. Frequently.
This is probably the most enjoyable of the films mentioned here. It’s light, breezy fun and has all the little tropes I can never get enough of. Secret laboratories, rubber bats, and a horror icon hamming it up.
A medicine man on a Indian reservation in New Mexico, tells his surrogate son (also the reservation’s cop) that he’s cast a spell to end the world. The medicine man dies that very night, and suddenly a string of death and disease occurs that may or may not be vampire bat related.
- The reservation setting really is an interesting choice, and adds some notable themes of faith and fate, which you normally don’t get from you run of the mill animals gone bad movies. It’s also refreshing to see a Native American lead, and to get little glimpse of a culture outside of twenty-something white folks. Whether or not that culture is portrayed honestly is beyond me.
- David Warner plays a man whose life goal is to kill every vampire bat on the planet. If you don’t think that’s amazing, or don’t know who David Warner is, you’ve got twenty-four hours to fix that before your life becomes meaningless.
Nightwing wants to be more than a b-movie, but can’t sever its roots. The result is a mostly unexciting flick, with some commendable aspirations. I personally think it would make for a great double feature with The Manitou, another flawed but interesting Native American-centered horror flick.
So there you have it. Four flawed but interesting bat films for you, should you decide that The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t fill you bat-quota for the week.
Did I leave out your favorite bat film? If so tell us in the comments.
Posted on July 18, 2012, in Batmania, Monster Blog and tagged Aviator, Batmania, Bats, Bela Lugosi, Gladiator, Gremlins 2, Hugo, John Logan, Lou Diamond Phillips, Nightwing, The Bat People, The Dark Knight Rises, The Devil Bat, The Manitou. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.