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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

THE BAT -- DVD review by porfle

What if you grew up shivering to the spine-tingling antics of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?", but the cartoon just doesn't do it for you anymore now that you've reached adulthood?  Fear not (or rather, keep on fearing) because now you can keep your chill factor frosty with 1959's "old dark house" potboiler THE BAT. 

Newly-restored and given the HD treatment, Film Chest's DVD release of this moldy oldie from Allied Artists gives us two greats--Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price--in a stagey (based on a play) but suitably atmospheric black-and-white production that looks like a cross between HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL-era William Castle (but without the supernatural trappings) and an episode from some vintage TV suspense anthology. 

Directed by prolific HOUSE OF WAX co-scripter Crane Wilbur, THE BAT centers around a spooky old mansion called The Oaks which has been rented by murder-mystery author Cornelia van Gorder (Moorehead) as a place to get away from it all with her faithful companion Lizzie (Lenita Lane, Crane Wilbur's real-life wife at the time). 

But Cornelia's working vacation is interrupted by a mysterious masked murderer known locally as "The Bat" who seems to be after something hidden inside the house and will kill--with razor-sharp steel claws--anyone who gets in his way.  (There are various other plot elements floating around but you won't care about any of them.)

For anyone who managed to pass Logic 101 back in first grade, the most advisable thing for Ms. van Gorder to do would be to get the hell out of The Oaks.  Of course, she doesn't,  not even when the bodies (with their throats ripped out, no less) start to pile up.  (Shades of INVISIBLE GHOST!)  Moorehead, however, is talented enough to keep her character from coming off as a total dope, almost making us believe that Cornelia would keep hanging around the multiple murder scene as inspiration for a new story. 

The movie actually manages to generate a few genuine chills now and then, especially when the ladies first realize someone's creeping around the house and lock themselves in Cornelia's room.  Later, she hosts a couple of houseguests for the night, including a grown-up Darla Hood of "Our Gang" fame in her final movie role, and sure enough,  they find a dead body hanging in a hidden wall  panel.  Most of us would say "See ya later!" and be halfway back to town by then, but of course the houseguests remain, shivering behind locked doors, until a bump in the night draws them out for yet another deadly Bat-encounter.

Cornelia's eccentric demeanor and Lizzie's more down-to-earth reactions lend some of their scenes a tongue-in-cheek humor, while the film, for the most part, pretends to take itself seriously.  Vincent Price barely has to break a sweat to breathe life into his character of devious Dr. Malcolm Wells, who happens to be on hand every time a murder is committed at The Oaks.  His own scientific experiments with bats in his garage laboratory would seem to incriminate him...or is that too obvious? 

And what about Lt. Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon, barely recognizable here as the actor who played Lord Byron in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), the police detective who always arrives too late to stop the killer?  Or Cornelia's new chauffeur Warner (John Sutton, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS), who, it turns out, has a police record?  You'll be guessing who's behind The Bat's black pullover mask right up until the "Scooby-Doo" ending, and chances are you'll guess right.  ("And if it hadn't been for those meddling old ladies, I'd have gotten away with it, too!")

The DVD from Film Chest is in 16x9 widescreen with mono sound and a running time of 80 minutes.  There are no subtitles and no extras.  The print used isn't perfect but looks good for its age.   This new-and-improved version debuted on Turner Classic Movies October 24th, 2012 and hits DVD shelves on November 12th.

While a bit on the dull side at times, THE BAT is pleasantly old-school spook stuff that should keep you in a state of mild suspense and/or euphoria.  And if movies like THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN still scare you, this probably will, too. 

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