HMM Day 20 – The Devil Bat

Today for day twenty of my Horror Movie Marathon I would like to not only post another Golden Age classic horror film, but to make this post in honor of classic legend Bela Lugosi. Since today is Lugosi’s birthday and he is such an icon for the horror community, it only seems fitting to give him the respect and honor he is due.

Bela Lugosi was born as Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko in 1882 and at a young age started working in theater. After World War I, he traveled to the USA where he found minor roles and had to learn the lines phonetically. He was becoming well known for playing the “baddies” in many films and in 1929 would work in The Thirteenth Chair with director Tod Browning. Browning would later go on to direct 1931’s Dracula and help to get Lugosi the part.

This role would make Lugosi an instant star and also help push the Golden Age of horror into fruition. He would go on to star in many other greats like 1932’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Raven and The Black Cat. He would even star as the broken neck Ygor in Son of Frankenstein and eventually play the monster in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. However, as time went on giants like Boris Karloff would continue making great horror films while Lugosi… seemed to see a downward turn in his career. Lugosi would only dawn Draculas cape one more time in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, by which time the Universal horror movies would have lost their luster. Many people would say a great deal of Lugosi’s films, apart from the monster classics; become goofy. I don’t think he could ever get that dominating role like he did in Dracula or The Raven. The Raven is a movie where I believe Lugosi shines the best as Dr. Richard Vollin. He’s a sinister Doctor with the greatest evil laugh. Lugosi would go on to make other movies where he was a mad scientist. Though they aren’t on the same level as The Raven, I always felt Bela Lugosi was a perfect actor to play the mad scientist part. One example that I always get a kick out of and see a deep connection to Lugosi’s career is 1940’s The Devil Bat.

The Devil Bat is a 1940’s black and white film directed by Jean Yarborough and starring Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren, Dave O’Brien, Donald Kerr and Dave O’Brien. The film was produced and distributed as the first horror film by Producers Releasing Corporation. PRC was known as “poverty row” due to their films being low budget and located on a stretch of Gower Street in Hollywood that was lower class. The studios were known for not having their own studios and often had to rent them out. PRC would fold in 1947 with about 147 films being made.

The Devil Bat

Dr. Paul Carruthers is a brilliant doctor that makes colognes and compounds for a rich beauty product company in the town of Heathville. After receiving a measly five thousand dollar check from the owners of the company, Carruthers seeks out justice by releasing his genetically altered bat upon his enemies! As havoc falls upon the city of Heathville, who will stop this flying demon and uncover Carruthers plot of murder?

So yea, right off the back The Devil Bat isn’t the best horror movie in the “what should you watch” catalog of movies. But for anyone that is a true horror history searcher, this movie should mean more to us and the history of horror than any movie. So since I am a horror fanatic that loves these kinds of tidbits of horror history then this blows my mind. Let me explain.

Dr. Carruthers

Dr. Carruthers is a doctor working for this company owned by the Heath family. The company has made millions of dollars off of the work Carruthers has made for them. The guy is literally the Tom Brady to the Bill Belichick offense. He’s Eddie Van Halen to Van Halen! The Macho Man of all macho men! But instead of getting filthy rich Carruthers is having to live with the choices he made in the original contract. The Heaths are grateful to him but the deal was made baby! That’s what you negotiated for and we told you to ask more.

Why This Matters

Do you all see some sort of relevance to the real world? The Devil Bat is literally a movie that parallels Lugosi’s career! You see, it may surprise many people to know Lugosi never made a great deal of money for his films. He made about $3500 for Dracula! His character is the damn title of the movie! The movies budget was $340,000 to make! That’s about… one percent of the movies funds! The guy didn’t make anything for what is considered a historical monument to cinematic history. Who the hell is responsible for this?

Lugosi is Carruthers

Another thing is Dr. Carruthers is kind of a hermit and doesn’t change for anyone. This too is kind of like how Lugosi was. It’s also the reason Karloff probably rose to higher fame as well. Lugosi was actually in line to play the monster in Frankenstein but turned it down because the part didn’t have any lines and the makeup would have covered his face. The man was proud and this is on display through Dr. Carruthers!

I don’t know if any of this was done intentionally. But I for one can’t help but watch this movie and not take a certain notice to the character and Lugosi’s acting career. Also, is it not interesting that the monster in this movie is a giant vampire bat that attacks its victims by biting their necks? It’s like the writers from this cheap studio got together with Bela Lugosi and said “Hey man, we know Universal screwed you. So let’s make a movie that lets them know they did you wrong.” So they go on making a movie where a cheated out man gets his revenge on an extremely wealthy company! There is even a point in the film where Carruthers talks to the CEO of the company and there is this drawn out dialogue about how Carruthers didn’t make money because he failed to choose the better payment option. So while it does point fingers at Universal, it does make it obvious that Lugosi/Carruthers failed to represent himself.

Aside from all this stuff, The Devil Bat may not be the scariest film. In fact it’s kind of laughable. The giant bat is hilarious and the most terrifying thing about it is the high pitched scream it makes while making a kill. The thing hangs upside down and doesn’t move. The only time you can see its a bat is when they do close ups of an actual flying fox. Which is awesome because flying foxes are kind of gentle creatures and the face of this bat doesn’t seem to be “devilish.” But back then they didn’t have National Geographic and bats were probably wretched creatures everyone hated.

I can’t help but wonder if The Devil Bat is paid homage to in The Cabin In The Woods. While the bat in The Cabin In The Woods does look crazier and much more terrifying… it is a devil bat that hunts down people. Just like Dr. Carruthers devil bat does! So lets add that one to the list that movie pays homage to!

Lugosi as Carruthers is brilliant like usual and it is the redeeming quality about this film. I love his calm charismatic suave approach to his lines. Lugosi delivers everything with punctuality and flair. He was known for being an actor that uses his facial expressions as much as his awesome voice. My favorite thing about this movie is how tells each victim “Good bye.” Telling them good bye as in “good bye you’re gonna die.” He is the one determining factor in this movie for anyone watching. If you love Lugosi then you will love this.

The last thing I would like to mention is how The Devil Bat ends. While Carruthers claims more victims with his monstrous beast, he gives himself away and inevitably becomes the victim of his own creation. The devil bat is attracted to anyone wearing this shaving lotion and in the end Carruthers gets it on him and the bat kills him. To me, I see this as a symbol of Lugosi’s own acting career. He will forever be Dracula (the bat) and it will be by the bat he will die. I don’t know, it just seems kind of deep to me and one reason why I love Bela Lugosi. I actually think Dr. Carruthers carrying the devil bat would make an awesome Halloween costume! I’m sure I can pull this off and pay homage to this awesome corny movie. Either way, its a fun film and one I am proud to include in my Horror Movie Marathon!

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