One of the many great things about the Kino-Lorber classics division is that it does not limit itself to top level A pictures, but takes care and pride in the restoration and distribution of the cheap, aggressive B movies that are often more entertaining than any pretentious epic.
"The Devil Bat" (1940) is a low budget cult classic from PRC studios featuring a whacked-out Bela Lugosi using his scientific madness to make bats grow to several times their size. He then creates a shaving lotion that attracts them and dupes small minded victims into smearing it "on the soft part of the neck."
Veteran B director Jean Yarbrough was already used to working within the limitations of a low budget, but he keeps the pace moving, while B movie stalwarts Dave O'Brien and Donald Kerr play a fast talking reporter and a wise cracking photographer on the case of the bat murders. This combination of director and actors is enough to make "The Devil Bat" a delightful experience, but the cast is further fleshed out by the always welcome Arthur Q. Bryan (the voice of Elmer Fudd) and the attractive Suzanne Kaaren (Dolores in The Three Stooges' "What's The Matador.")
The special effects are wonderfully phony, with giant rubber bats on visible strings attacking hapless victims. The set design is cheap, shots are frequently re-used, but the dedication of the actors to the material and their sense of fun is discernible in their performances. Dave O'Brien had a long track record in B movies, from westerns, to short comedies, to "Refer Madness." While he didn't quite have the charisma of James Cagney, he has a snappy, likable demeanor that is always appealing.
Kino's restoration is given the full blu ray treatment, which offers the sort of sharp picture and crisp, loud sound that is rare for public domain features. According to archivist and preservationist Bob Furmanek:
"Around 1990, I located a 35mm dupe nitrate picture negative and separate track negative. They were created in the late 1940s for a theatrical re-issue by Astor. The materials were in excellent shape but reel three of the picture negative was missing. I created a new composite, preservation 35mm wet gate positive print and utilized that element for a laser disc release through Lumivision. It was the first time that 35mm elements on the film had been utilized for any distribution since the late '40s theatrical re-issue. The dupe nitrate negative was created dry and had quite a bit of printed-in dirt and artifacts. Wet gate printing did not exist in the 1940's. For the Blu-ray, Kino did a 2K HD scan from my 35mm preservation materials. They also did a light dust-busting to remove some of the larger printed-in artifacts."
As with any older movie, "The Devil Bat" is a window to pop culture history. Sometimes the lower budget B movies are more accurate and effective representations of what audiences were enjoying at the movies. Neighborhood theaters were filled with movies of this sort, and reports from distributors indicate that even something as cheap as "The Devil Bat" was enough to frighten and excite moviegoers of late 1940.
The restored blu ray of "The Devil Bat" is a must for any comprehensive film collection or library. It is a piece of B movie history that has lasting significance.