I’m not sure the 1940 ultra low-budget horror triviality The Devil Bat was on anyone’s most-wanted Blu-ray upgrade list, but here we are thanks to Kino and, in this case, its liberal application of its Kino Classics imprimatur. The B-film from Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation probably wouldn’t have a profile at all if it weren’t for the presence of Bela Lugosi in one of his many forays into slumming it. At only 68 minutes, The Devil Bat still feels padded out, the sinister, menacing charm of Lugosi the only thing keeping the proceedings afloat.
There’s certainly potential in the ridiculous premise of a giant mutant bat that kills those wearing a certain shaving lotion, but director Jean Yarbrough didn’t have the ambition or the budget to approach anything resembling camp, much less actual terror. Lugosi stars as Dr. Paul Carruthers, a gifted scientist who’s made his cosmetics magnate employers wealthy by virtue of his inventions, but who settled too early for a cash payout instead of any control of the company. Serenely dignified on the outside, Carruthers harbors a thirst for revenge, and naturally, he chooses giant bats as his method, sic’ing the creaky beasts on the family members of his employers.
For some reason, it’s a couple of journalists (Dave O’Brien, Donald Kerr) who end up investigating the growing body count instead of actual police, and in between jousting with their editor, cobbling together a fake creature to photograph for publicatio, and wooing the ladies (Suzanne Kaaren as the cosmetics heir and Yolande Donlan as a French maid, respectively), they find some time to look into the case.
The Devil Bat is thin, utilitarian entertainment, but if all you require are some knowingly diabolical laughs and sneaking through hidden passageways from Bela Lugosi, you could do worse. While his Dr. Carruthers is as flat as every other character on the screen, Lugosi had a way at communicating a deep inner pain with just his highly expressive eyes, and even in pap like this, he’s a magnetic screen presence.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Devil Bat is presented in 1080p high definition in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film is in the public domain and has been subject to plenty of cheapo releases. Kino’s Blu-ray, sourced from 35mm archival elements, save for one 9-minute 16mm section, is likely the new definitive release, even if the elements prevent it from being more than a serviceable transfer.
Kino’s hands-off technique ensures the movie generally looks like film, with a visible layer of grain and fairly stable contrast levels. The image is littered with speckling throughout, and splices, scratches and dirt mar the transfer here and there. Still, there’s a decent level of clarity and sharpness in most shots. It’s good for what it is.
The uncompressed mono soundtrack is afflicted with the usual hissing and cracking, but it never overwhelms the dialogue, which remains intelligibly clear.
Low-budget horror fans will appreciate the audio commentary from historian Richard Harland Smith. An image gallery and a trailer for Kino’s recent release of White Zombie round out the disc.
The Bottom Line
Hardly an essential title by any means, but Lugosi completists and B-horror fans should be happy with the improved transfer.