Made in 1940, The Devil Bat stars the great Bela Lugosi (Dracula) and the comic team of Dave O’Brien and Donald Kerr in a bare-bones story about a chemist (Lugosi) who uses his skills to create giant bats to kill those he feels have wronged him. Billed as a horror-comedy, The Devil Bat has few laughs and few sequences of horror. It is considered one of Lugosi’s “Poverty Row Pictures” (pictures produced quickly and cheaply).
The storyline is bare, although the film itself drags along in many places. Lugosi plays Dr. Paul Carruthers, a chemist who once produced a mega-selling product for a pair of men who have since become millionaires in the cosmetics industry. Sadly, Carruthers signed a deal for a one-time payment of $10,000. Although the company rewards him with a $5,000 bonus, Lugosi feels slighted and wishes to exact horrible revenge. To do so, he uses his chemistry prowess to create giant bats. He then teaches the bats to attack when they smell a certain scent—it is a scent he then puts into his latest product, an after-shave lotion that can also function as a perfume or cologne.
Carruthers convinces several members of the Heath and Morton families to try the experimental after-shave lotion. Carruthers then sends out a giant bat, which then zeroes in on the smell and attacks the poor victim’s neck. Police Chief Wilkins (Hal Price) is soon on the snoop, as are reporter Henry Layden (Dave O’Brien) and photographer “One-Shot” McGuire (Donald Kerr). Layden finds the time to romance Mary Heath (Suzanne Kaaren) while McGuire makes goo-goos with the French maid Maxine (Yolande Donlan).
Layden manages to kill the first bat, but Carruthers soon fashions a second one. In a critical scene, Layden dumps some of the after-shave lotion on the good doctor, who is done in by his own creation. The reporter and photographer manage to get a raise/bonus out of it, and perhaps have even established a long-term thing with the ladies.
Director Jean Yarborough (King of the Zombies, The Creeper, and She-Wolf of London, among others) has little to work with, as sets are simple and special effects nonexistent. The Devil Bat itself is little more than a stuffed and stiff animal led around on a wire, with close-ups consisting of real-life vampire bats. As always, Lugosi puts in a solid performance, giving Carruthers a child-like quality that masks his anger. All the other actors do well, but the comedic duo are not very funny, their humor broad and unfocused. One of the best subtleties is pulled off by Lugosi. After partying ways with his chosen victim, the good doctor does not say “so long” or “see you later this evening.” Instead, he says “goodbye,” and sure enough, that night, The Devil Bat attacks.
Although not a stellar film, The Devil Bat is worth watching for fans who enjoy early horror movies, fans of the great Bela Lugosi, and for those who have a taste in the weird and offbeat. I found myself rather enjoying the film, particularly all the scenes in which Lugosi appears, so for me The Devil Bat was worth watching and owning. I will always wonder about that after-shave lotion my wife bought me just because she wanted me to smell good. . . .