Friday, April 7, 2017

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: The Film Detective

Rating: Not Rated
Duration: 63 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Fullscreen (1.33:1) 
Cast: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Dwight Frye 
Director: Frank R Strayer

Directed by Frank R. Strayer (The Ghost Walks) and written by Edward T. Lowe (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula), pre-code horror film The Vampire Bat (1933) was a bit of a poverty row horror cash-grab made by  Majestic Pictures to capitalize on the 30's horror boom, using sets and actors from recent Universal Studios and Warner Bros films, we end up with a nice mash-up of mad science, Gothic horror and bloodsucking set in the small European village of Klineschloss, where the villagers are in a panic, terrified by the bloodless corpses which have been turning up around town with, what appears to be, bite marks on their necks. 

Investigating the spree of bizarre murders is police inspector Karl Brettschneider (played by the always handsome Melvyn Douglas, Ghost story) whom believes the crimes can be attributed to as of yet unidentified criminal mind, not an undead bloodsucker. However, local scientist Dr. Otto von Niemann (Lionel Atwill, Mystery of the Wax Museum) believes the corpses might be attributed to vampires, promoting the ideas to the local villagers, who then begin to suspect the village simpleton Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye, Frankenstein, Dracula), who has an abnormal love for the furry flying creatures, and was in proximity to each of the murders, might be the blood drinking culprit. 

The Vampire Bat has a lot going for it for fans of moody, atmospheric golden age horror, there's an old dark house, a mad science angle involving a strange, pulsating life form, telepathic mind control, and a cast of legendary Hollywood actors, including blond bombshell Fay Wray as Brettschneider's girlfriend, who honestly doesn't do a whole lot, but makes for a fun damsel in distress. I love Dwight Frye, he's is doing his usual creepy guy routine, a variation on Dracula's Renfield, as the creepy simpleton who loves bats, which makes him a target. 

I 'm about to spoil the movie here, so you might ant to skip past this paragraph if you're not familiar, but it turns out there's no bloodsucking vampire on the loose, just a mad scientist with the ability to bend others will to his own to abduct, kill, and drain victims of the blood, which he then feeds to a pulsating blob he keeps locked away in his basement lab, apparently some new lifeform he has created which requires human blood to grow, but that's about all we learn about the life form, which does not figure prominently into the story. The doc uses the local superstitions about vampyrism to influence the villagers to suspect Poor simpleton Herman, whom while creepy, turns out to be harmless, only to be chased t his death by a fearful mob with torches, which is deliciously evil. 

Melvyn Douglas and Lionel Atwill are terrific, with the latter sliding into the role of mad doc with such ease, having played many during is career. Melvyn Douglass is charming as the level-headed inspector, adding some humor to the role, but for me there are two bit players who steal the show for my money, Dwight Frye runs away with every scene he's in, and Maude Eburne as elder lady Gussie Schnappmann, a hypochondriac with great comic timing, her finest moment involving a dog faced Herman, which is a references a dream in Frankenstein, that one made me laugh quite a bit.

The golden-age era movie hold up quite well, the new restoration makes this one much easier to digest and enjoy on its own merits, instead of trying to see it through the muck and grime of poor past presentations, hopefully this will bring the vintage slice of Hollywood horror to a few new eyes. 

Audio/Video: The Vampire Bat(1933) arrives on a BD-R from The Film Detective in conjunction with the UCLA Film and Television Archive, a new restoration sourced from a 35mm composite acetate fine grain master and a 35mm nitrate print, which is vastly superior to all previous public domain presentations we've seen on countless budget DVD collections for years, this is phenomenal. The restoration looks wonderful, blacks are nice and deep, the grayscale is well represented, you can see actually some modest fine detail and the textures are nicely resolved. The source does show some white speckling and scratches, but this is by far the most definitive edition of the film to hit home video, ever. Also notable, UCLA’s restoration recreates the long-lost Gustav Brock color sequence, coloring the flame of the villagers torches during a chase scene,which has been unacknowledged and unseen since first run, it looks great. The audio chores are capably handled by an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track with optional English subtitles, sounding very good within the limitations of the source recordings, surprisingly there are no issues with snap, crackles an/or pops, very crisp and clean

Extras on the disc include a bitter/sweet remembrance of his father, Melvyn Douglass, by son Gregory Hesselberg. He speaks of his father leaving his mother for another woman when he was very young, but reuniting with him in his teens years when his mother fell ill, and how the change from average boy to Hollywood star's son was a bit of shocker. he also speaks of not appreciating his father's film work until much later in life. There's also a commentary from movie producer Sam Sherman, a legendary figure in his own right, who relays a load of information about producer Phil Goldstone, discussing the movies run on TV, and his own personal encounters with Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglass, it's a very good commentary. 

Special Features:

- “Becoming the Son of Melvyn Douglas” A Melvyn Douglas featurette with his son, Gregory Hesselberg (7 min)
- Audio Commentary by film historian/movie producer Sam Sherman.

I love seeing this pre-code horror get a new lease on life with a brand new restoration, The Film Detective and the UCLA Film and Television Archive have done an astounding job with The Vampire Bat (1933), it's simply never looked better on home video. I appreciated this on a whole new level, it really was like watching it for the first time. Fans of vintage Gothic horrors need this in their life, highly recommended for retro-horror fans. Some might find the fact that this does not come on a pressed Blu-ray disc off-putting, but the BD-R looks and sounds great, have no worries.