The Vampire Bat
Directed by Frank Strayer
Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Maude Eburne, Dwight Frye
Someone or something has been draining people of blood in a small German village. The village council and its Bürgermeister (played by Lionel Belmore) are convinced that there is something supernatural at foot including but not limited to vampires and giant vampire bats. Karl, the police inspector (Melvyn Douglas), is skeptical and laughs at such impossibly superstitious suggestions. All he wants to do is catch the criminal behind the murders. His love interest is Ruth Bertin (Fay Wray), assistant to local doctor/scientist, Dr. Otto von Niemann. They try to get intimate during every moment alone they can steal but Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburne) is always cockblocking. Things get even more tense in the village when local nutbar Herman (Dwight Frye) is seen behaving strangely and befriending bats.
Of course, Herman is totally innocent. His only crime is being a frickin' weirdo and all that necrophilia (not actually in this movie, I was just seeing if you were paying attention). While the ignorant townsfolk are busy murdering Herman, the mastermind behind all of this blood-draining madness, Dr. Otto, is free to continue his quest for blood. He needs the blood to feed his creation: a pulsating heart that he has created himself. Small town doctor just wasn't good enough for this guy, he just had to go for mad scientist status. Niemann has hypnotized one of his assistants, Emil (Robert Frazer), into running around town, acquiring blood for him. Shit gets real when Ruth eavesdrops on him giving orders to Emil who is out on the prowl for Karl's blood.
END OF SPOILERS
What a revelation The Vampire Bat was! Full disclosure: I am very negligent when it comes to horror films pre-1950. It's not just horror, I am a tad impatient with any film that old from any genre. I'm just impatient with the golden oldies but I'm trying to get better. Every time that I stop being a wuss and check out something like, oh let's say, The Mummy (1932), and I am kicking myself in the dick for not watching it sooner. Why was I more open-minded as a kid? So ANYWAY, I should probably talk about The Vampire Bat.
Melvyn Douglas is amazing. His character, Karl, doles out some seriously unthinkable sarcasm. Every line he utters in that first scene with the village council is just ludicrously acerbic. Fay Wray is instantly likeable onscreen and is incredibly cute. I liked Lionel Atwill quite a bit but man oh man, the screen is stolen by Dwight Frye. This guy is just electric as Herman, the town crazy doomed to be misunderstood and ultimately destroyed by dumb motherfuckers. He brought a smile to my face from his first lines and I was super bummed out when his character meets his end.
One thing this movie has is some "comic relief" in the form of Aunt Gussie. Think of Una O'Connor in Bride of Frankenstein only fucking stupider or more dumb. I don't know who's aunt she is but man oh man, she doesn't die quick enough for me. Also, she doesn't die in the movie so yeah, NOT QUICK ENOUGH! This jackass is a hypochondriac of the highest order and she only seems to like hanging out with Dr. Niemann and Ruth in case she needs some meds. The more I write about her, the more my hatred grows.
I am glad that my self-imposed ignorance of old movies is finally paying off in that I have decades of old horror films to catch up on. My incorrect perception of horror films, especially from the 1930s was that they were clunky in dialog and plotting (which they totally are but I totally dig now (totally)) and stuffy (which they usually aren't). The camera is suprisingly fluid in this film. Some dolly shots combined with clever cutting make for some excellent sequences that are really eye-opening given this film is over 80 years old. There is lots of spooky atmospherics to be found in this picture that horror fans will eat up plus the pseudoscience and the weirdness will make you nod knowingly or smile like a dang hyena (or maybe that's just me). Highly recommended if you haven't seen this one already (but your probably already have).
"Well, I don't mind admitting that I'm up a tree. Stumped!"