If you've been paying attention to the Movie Queue section of my sidebar you may have noticed that I've been watching a lot of Bela Lugosi movies lately. I started around Halloween and I'm just now getting a bit burnt out, so The Devil Bat will be the last one for a while. But it was a good one to finish the marathon with.
I'm going back and forth about whether or not I like the story. It's easy for me to divorce the story from the cheesy effects and some of the B-level acting, but even then I'm not sure. The story goes that Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is the most beloved man in the small town where he lives. He's kind and friendly and apparently a good physician. What people don't know is that he's actually conducting bizarre experiments in a hidden laboratory in his home. He's turning ordinary bats into giant monsters and sending them out to kill.
In addition to being the local physician, Carruthers is also under contract to a local, but powerful company that makes health and beauty aids. The company is owned by two families who made their fortunes off a skin cream formula that Carruthers invented, so it's no coincidence that all the bats' victims are members of those families. Carruthers has just invented a new aftershave lotion that he asks his victims to try out before it goes on the market. Once each person puts it on, the giant bat hones in on it and attacks the scent on the victim's kneck.
It's a clever way to commit murder and the elements of freakishly large bats and hidden labs are awesome. My problem is that I never really got Carruthers' motives. We learn that he wasn't cheated out of the skin cream money, but rather that the families had wanted to profit share with him and he'd demanded ten grand in cash. Now, he's angry enough to want revenge and the only explanation we have is that he's completely insane. That's all good, I guess, except that he's so convincing as the kindly doctor and we're supposed to believe that he's been that convincing for years. I had a hard time buying that someone crazy enough to raise giant bats and send them murdering innocent people for a mistake he brought on himself would be able to put up a convincing front for very long.
There's a scene towards the end of the movie though where Lugosi kind of sells it. He finally cracks in front of someone and you can just sort of see that it's been a struggle for him to remain so friendly all these years. It doesn't make the whole thing suddenly plausible, but it makes an effort. And really, I'm glad that they didn't make the families out to be evil barons who intentionally screwed poor, old, kindly Dr. Carruthers. You really feel bad for them and want to see Carruthers get what's coming to him.
Okay, I've just convinced myself that I like the story.
This isn't Lugosi's best work. (I'd call that The Invisible Ray and maybe The Black Cat. I like him better as a good guy because it's so against type for him.) But it's definitely an above average role for Lugosi. He switches personalities flawlessly and you completely buy that he's a well-masked madman, even if you don't get how he's doing it.