Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray would appear in a number of pictures together, one of them being The Vampire Bat from 1933, preceded by Doctor X and followed by Mystery of the Wax Museum. Also starring Melvyn Douglas and the criminally underrated Dwight Frye as a man obsessed with bats, the film would tackle the vampire genre once again, albeit in a slightly different way. Despite being made on the cheap by Majestic Pictures and recycling old sets to do so, the film turned out to be pretty good and fairly compelling. Much of it had to do with the actors present, talented individuals all, but director Frank R. Strayer also played a great deal of the part and the movie while not eliciting any real fright, was at the very least, quite a moody picture.
The film essentially deals with a small town called Kleinschloss which is host to a number of deaths and all of them by blood loss. Of course, being the superstitious lot that they are, it must be a vampire for there can be no other logical explanation. Enter Karl Breettschneider the hero of the piece, Fay Wray as Ruth Bertin – the damsel in distress and Dr. Otto von Niemann, a man who seems like he has something to hide, but always makes it look as if he is on the side of right. As things progress, with certain people being blamed for the deaths, the real villain is soon revealed and a showdown becomes a certainty.
While the townsfolk believe that a vampire is to blame for all the bodies of late, or even that of a giant bat, there is in fact no vampires present. That is all right too, as the film paints a picture of another responsible party and it does so quite well. There are a couple of moments where it gets to be a little over-the-top, but it can be chalked up to melodrama and a little over-acting. There are no scares to be had whatsoever in this movie and yet, it is very atmospheric and installs a sense of dread and tension throughout. With each successive body that turns up and with every stalled lead into the cause of the blood-drained victims, the suspense ratchets up higher and higher. Atwill is fantastic as the conniving Dr. von Niemann and while the character may never go down as one of moviedom’s greatest villains, the man does make the role memorable. Wray is as beautiful as ever and while she plays the part to the best of her ability, it was not as challenging as it could have been. Such is always the case though, the more interesting role always belonging to the villain rather than the hero or other leading characters. There is Frye of course, as crazy and manic as ever as the weirdest character in town and it is a bit of a shame that the man never really achieved true, leading man status.
Though The Vampire Bat may not be the greatest horror picture of all time, it is a fun little movie that features some of the greatest actors from Hollywood’s golden age and is a perfect example of making the most with what you have. It does tend to get a little silly towards the end, but overall, the film is definitely worth a watch.
3 out of 5