"All Heathville loved Paul Carruthers, their kindly village doctor. No-one suspected that in his home laboratory on a hillside overlooking the magnificent estate of Martin Heath, the doctor found time to conduct certain private experiments – weird, terrifying experiments…." Forward to THE DEVIL BAT.
For those who have watched PRC's 1940 horror/mystery, THE DEVIL BAT, who can forget the ostensibly - and repeatedly characterized by critics as "kindly" - Dr. Carruthers (played by Bela Lugosi) who reveals himself to be an insane, homicidal manic by film's end? This nifty little thriller happens to be one of my earliest memories of watching late-night monster movies on TV. As corny as it looked, when that big hunk of wire and papier mache was released into the night from Dr. Carruthers' mad lab, seeking the blood of the one who was unfortunate enough to try an after shave that contained a "devil bat homing device" in its scent, well, it was scary, darn it!
The film has been labeled as a "horror comedy" by some, but personally I wouldn't plant it firmly in that category. While there is an ongoing schtick by a couple of bumbling reporters, the horror elements are not at all played for laughs, despite even the pitiful titular creature's attempts at being terrifying. Even the tough-as-nails Tom Weaver has commented that THE DEVIL BAT is one of the best movies ever to come off the well-worn sidwalks of Poverty Row.
Founded in 1939, Producer's Releasing Corporation (PRC) has become infamous as one of the low-budget production companies situated in what is known as the aforementioned "Poverty Row". It has been reported that PRC never spent over $100,000 on a movie, and who would argue with that after watching a few of them? Results varied from lousy to pretty good. THE DEVIL BAT is historically significant to Monsterologists for PRC recognizing the self-imposed moratorium on horror films in the late 1930's by the off-Poverty Row studios such as Universal, and doing their best to capitalize on it by re-infusing the genre with their albeit meager fare.
Released on December 13th 1940, THE DEVIL BAT was PRC's first horror production. Bela Lugosi signed on for a ride, since he was in need of any kind of work. That the PRC executive team of Brooklyn-born brothers Sigmund Neufeld and Sam Newfield were Hungarian by descent might have also influenced the deal. Even after his command performance as Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Lugosi found himself cast adrift by his benefactors at Universal. On his way to drug addiction and near-obscurity, he had nothing left in the tank except for a few more noteworthy appearances such as Ygor again in GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, Armand Tesla in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, and a brief moment as the cursed gypsy who put the bite on Lon Chaney, Jr. in THE WOLF MAN.
The experiment must have failed, because PRC didn't make another monster movie until 1942's THE MAD MONSTER. The company stumbled along until 1947, when it evolved into Eagle-Lion Films in 1950, and then again into United Artists in 1955.
Nonetheless, we are left with a legacy of monster movies both quaint and curious, and with sometimes even a diamond in the rough here and there that, in the sunlight, could be called a minor horror film classic.
Following is a set of lobby cards from THE DEVIL BAT. I have also included an article on the movie that appeared in FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #50 (July 1968).