Good night, Doctor.
Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) to Roy Heath, unsuspecting victim-to-be
Ah, who can forget those lines? They come from The Devil Bat, a dirt cheap horror film quickly made and released in 1940 starring the legendary Bela Lugosi. When I was young, my father purchased a bargain basement EP-recorded VHS copy of this oft-released film, and I can remember watching it several times, always smiling at the great actors campy malevolence. While The Devil Bat definitely shows its age and budget, Lugosi makes the best of it and plays one of his best mad scientist roles [of course, werent all scientists in 1940s films a bit mad?]. Here, his character has created large killer bats who are attracted to a peculiar scent he adds to a shaving lotion. Its all part of an elaborately ridiculous scheme to wreak vengeance on the Heath family who has made a fortune off of his work. He offers his new scent to members of this family to try out. Once theyve generously placed some of the lotion on their necks, they bid farewell to the seemingly kind old doctor. Good. . .bye is what he replies in classic Lugosi fashion before unleashing his killer bats, who follow the scent and rip out the throats of their preordained victims. As a life-long fan of Bela Lugosi, I must admit that this is one of my all-time favorite Lugosi lines. His sinister Good . . . bye is up there with I dont drink . . . wine and other lines from Universals Dracula, and its part of what really makes The Devil Bat so fun.
Many regular readers of MonsterZine are probably familiar with The Devil Bat, so I wont go into great detail about the storyline here. [If you havent seen it, you definitely want to check out the version Im going to review here!] The Devil Bat appeared on VHS through numerous different companies in the 1980s and1990s. I dont recall the company that released the copy my family owned, but it was of distinctly poor quality, much as the majority of releases probably were. Its proliferation on DVD [Ive seen at least four companies release the movie on DVD] suggests to me that the film is probably in the public domain, and thus its presentation has frequently left much to be desired. Until now. Id like to alert Lugosi fans to a terrific presentation of this movie from the Navarre Corporation. Its actually the first disc of a series under the umbrella Bela Lugosi Presents, and boy do I hope this is a long-lived series! Of course, the Bela Lugosi referenced in this series is Bela Lugosi Jr., the great actors son, and the series is authorized by the estate of Bela Lugosi.
The copy of The Devil Bat presented on this disc is the best Ive ever seen it, and probably the best that a low budget horror film from 1940 is going to look. The image is surprisingly sharp and clear, and the sound is comparatively clean and crisp. This alone would make the inaugural Bela Lugosi Presents release a stand-out. However, despite its relatively low price, the DVD is as loaded with extras as the initial eight DVD collection of the Universal Monsters series. Theres an introduction with Bela Lugosi Jr., promising that the series will later include films never released before on video, and rare interviews and home movies. Theres an interesting commentary track done by both Bela Lugosi Jr. and film historian Ted Newsom. There are theatrical trailers for the Lugosi films The Human Monster and Scared to Death. Theres a gallery of photos and posters. On top of that, theres a complete radio drama called The Doctor Prescribed Death that originally aired on February 2, 1943 as part of the long-running Suspense series (a cool feature, of course, but as an old time radio enthusiast, Ive grown accustomed to hearing the show with its original sponsor ads, which seem to have been edited out here).
All of these features are very welcomed. Even the menu system is rather nifty for a film that has countless cheap editions on DVD. For the most part, the features are top-notch. Its nice to see Bela Lugosi Jr. take an active role in preserving his fathers work and presenting them in such an admirable fashion. The commentary track, perhaps the most notable feature, is rich with personal remembrances of Bela Lugosi by his son. It is very fun to hear Lugosi Jr. comment on the movie as well. Ted Newsom is along for the ride and discusses some of the historical aspects of the movie, its distribution company PRC, and Lugosis biography. While he too was interesting to listen to, I couldnt help but feel that a little more research could have gone into the commentary on his end. While Newsom had some great information about some of the actors appearing in The Devil Bat, I was very surprised that he didnt talk about Arthur Q. Bryan, who has a small role as a newspaper editor. Old time radio enthusiasts know Bryan, of course, as Dick Gamble in the popular Fibber Mcgee and Molly Show and Floyd the Barber in its spin-off series The Great Gildersleeve. Hes perhaps best known, however, as the original voice of and inspiration for Elmer Fudd in the Looney Tunes cartoons. I suppose this is really only a minor quibble. The commentary track is, overall, quite fun to listen to.
As I mentioned before, The Devil Bat is the first disc of a series under the Bela Lugosi Presents banner. There is a second disc that has been releasedBowery at Midnightbut I have yet had the time to sit down and watch it. If its anywhere near the quality of The Devil Bat, though, I am sure it will be a treat. After a cursory search on the Internet, I didnt find any information that would suggest more movies will soon be released in this series. Lets hope that more are indeed in the works! Its unusual for us monster fans to be treated to such an elaborate DVD release for a non-Universal black and white Lugosi film [only the Roan Groups White Zombie comes to mind].
Good...bye...Faithful MonsterZine readers.