The Vampire Bat (1933)
A small German town is being plagued by murders. The victims are being found with small puncture wounds in their neck, completely drained of blood. Is the local nutter who likes to play with bats a vampire, or could the killer be a human being trying to disguise their crimes? It's up to the level headed law enforcement man (Melvyn Douglas), his lady scientist girlfriend (Fay Wray) and the somewhat sinister - he wears a god damn cape - town doctor (Lionel Atwill) to get to the bottom of the mysterious deaths before more occur.
This movie is actually a fairly decent mystery in the science vs. supernatural subgenre, which I ordinarily find somewhat tiring but this is old enough to get away with it. The 'tricks' they were using weren't stale cliches yet and the suspense held my interest pretty well. It didn't hurt that the movie was, in general, very well made (especially when compared to The Mad Monster and The Ape which I watched in the same evening).
The art direction is nice and gothic, and the cinematography was pretty good - it's nothing groundbreaking but it's a little bit above competant, as though somebody at some point made some kind of effort to make the movie not suck. The plot relies on a paranoid atmosphere rather than special effects, and there is a bonafide angry mob at one point so that was satisfying. The only real technical problem I had was that every transition from scene to scene was done with a diagonal wipe. I hate wipes (that would look really weird out of context), if you need to change the scene just change the fucking scene, you don't need to use some god damn effect to do it. Sometimes there were two wipes right in a row (again, without context that looks really bad). That's just uncalled for. But that's a pretty minor problem.
Moving on, the cast was good too - Lionel Atwill was sufficiently sinister and Dwight Frye was... well, he was Dwight Frye. You can't go wrong with Dwight Frye. Maude Eburne was good as the hypochondriac aunt (also the comic relief, I guess), and the rest of the villagers were appropriately crazy and excitable.
I actually didn't realize that the main dude was Melvyn Douglas. I always think of Melvyn Douglas as the reeeeeally old dude from Being There but he was kinda sexy in this movie. He had a good 'stache. And ya know, Fay Wray did a good job. I've only ever seen her in King Kong and found her unbelievably irritating in that movie, but she's good in this. Her character is surprisingly not sissy, either. She doesn't let the dudes walk all over her. There's one scene where Melvyn Douglas is trying to kiss her in the garden and she's all 'no, man, fuck off'. I think the actual line was "it's too early in the morning". There may be some kind of subtext there but I can't figure out what it is.
Anyway, I wouldn't call this a classic by any means but it's a fairly solid old-timey horror picture and definitely worth a gander if you're into that sort of thing.
Directed by: Frank R. Strayer. Written by: Edward T. Lowe. Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Maude Eburne, George E. Stone, Dwight Frye.
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