By Steve D. Stones
The lovely Fay Wray stars in this poverty row, slowly paced horror film from 1932, produced by Majestic Pictures. This was her third film alongside British actor Lionel Atwill. The film is a strange mixture of vampirism and science-fiction. It tries hard to look like many Universal Studios horror films produced in the same era, such as Dracula and Frankenstein, both from 1931. In fact, the film was made on the Universal lot, borrowing sets from that studio’s films. One set is borrowed from director James Whale’s “The Old Dark House” from 1932.
Wray is perfect as the damsel in distress, although her appearance in the film seems short and meant as window dressing to attract the male viewer. Atwill is also perfectly cast as the mad scientist Dr. Otto von Neimann, who conducts strange experiments in his laboratory. Dwight Frye is cast as a babbling village henchman, acting similar to his Reinfield character in Dracula.
The village of Kleinschloss in Central Europe is struck by a series of violent murders. Villagers are found dead in their beds and drained of blood. While the town is being overrun by giant bats, the local police inspector believes the cause of the murders to be human. Even von Neimann insists that vampires exist and could be the source of the murders.
Meanwhile, von Neimann sends his lab assistant out for victims to nourish his bizarre experiment of human tissue that looks like a giant brain. Victims are found with puncture wounds to the neck. Von Neimann insists that the murders are a result of vampire bats. The villagers accuse Herman, a village wanderer, played by Dwight Frye, and chase him to his death as he falls off a cliff.
To steer a police detective off his scent, von Neimann administers poison sleeping pills to the detective. The detective is smart enough not to take the pills, and hides in the mad scientist’s lab to arrest him for the village murders, but also to rescue Fay Wray, who is tied up in the lab.
The Vampire Bat is now considered a public domain film that can be found in many DVD box sets with other public domain films. The best print I’ve seen of the film is issued by Navarre Corporation on a triple bill with King of The Zombies (1941) and Dr. Syn (1937). The Vampire Bat is a fun treat to watch back to back with King of The Zombies and Revolt of The Zombies (1936). Happy viewing!!