When it comes to ghoulishly creepy horror films and thrillers, no one does it better than Vincent Price starring in the 1959 chiller, The Bat. Agnes Moorehead costars with Gavin Gordon, and Lenita Lane for a classic spooky whodunit involving a deranged serial killer, a million dollars in missing cash, and a mysterious mansion. The Bat scores a welcome Blu-ray release from The Film Detective with a respectable A/V presentation and a nice assortment of bonus features. Recommended
On a chilly autumn night, famed mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead) and her assistant/friend Lizzie Allen (Lenita Lane) have rented the old Oaks estate - the site of a horrible murder by a terrifying serial killer called “The Bat.” Now a shadowy clawed figure lurks outside the house terrifying the women inside. Lieutenant Anderson (Gavin Gordon) and Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price) are called to the aid of the vacationing women only to find themselves embroiled in a terrifying mystery involving the sensational headline-making killer and one million dollars in missing cash.
Based on the classic play from Mary Roberts Reinhart, 1959’s The Bat takes the classic elements of a “whodunit” and "if only" style mystery and spins it into a chiller of a thriller. Unfortunately largely banks on the star power of Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead with some comedic horror bits rather than delivering a genuine mystery. There are plenty of excellent red herrings peppered throughout that would have held power if the film wasn’t so busy telegraphing the identity of the eponymous “Bat.” Pay close attention early and director Crane Wilbur and the writers practically stick a blinking neon sign on the killer’s forehead reading “This Is The Killer.”
The film works best when Agnes Moorehead and Lenita Lane share the screen together. Their interplay of who gets to be comically scared or dutifully rational carries a lot of the weight of the film. While they’re often quite funny together, their antics thankfully don’t drift into Abbott and Costello territory as seen in something like Hold That Ghost. A parade of character actors comes and goes to give you some tactical misdirection but Moorehead and Lane are the brightest stars of this adventure. But that doesn’t mean genre favorite Vincent Price doesn’t get his time to shine in the shadows. He’s very much front and center but I fear discussing him too much will give away some important plot tidbits. While he didn’t think too highly of the script and the final film, that didn’t stop him from delivering his true-to-form charismatic stately man of suspense.
I hadn’t seen The Bat in many years so it felt like a fresh experience. My memories of it were that it was fun, and this is an entertaining film. Probably not as good as one would hope considering Mary Roberts Reinhart’s original serialized story, but it’s fun. If you haven’t read the original story The Circular Staircase (not to be confused with 1946’s The Spiral Staircase although they’re kind of similar) it’s well worth the read. This is the nice kind of film to pop on during these colder blustery fall evenings where you turn out all the lights, grab a warm blanket, and snuggle in for an entertaining spooky flick.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Bat takes flight on Blu-ray for the second time from The Film Detective in a new Special Edition Blu-ray. Pressed on a Region Free BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a sturdy snapper case and comes with a booklet with an essay by Jason A Ney. The disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
The Bat was previously released by The Film Detective in 2015. I didn’t pick that disc up at the time so I don’t have it for a reference point against this transfer. The only info I have is that this transfer was sourced from original 35mm archive elements. I don’t know if that was 2K, 4K etc., but overall this is a fine-looking presentation for a film of this vintage. My lone complaint is that it does appear that some measure of smoothing was employed as grain can be virtually absent or so fine it's barely perceptible. This would make sense if the source elements were of such a varying condition that it was employed to make the image more uniform looking, but it still has a little bit of an artificial feel. Now on the plus side of things, even with smoothing or DNR, details are strong so whatever was done to the image was at least done judiciously and carefully. Fine facial details, clothing and the film’s production design all come through nicely. People’s faces never appear overly waxy or distracting in that regard. The film’s grayscale is also terrific offering some deep inky shadows, bright whites, and all the shades in between. Without knowing more about what was done to restore this film to its current condition, I do have to give this release some deserved praise.
As a fun little “bump in the night” thriller, The Bat earns a nicely supportive DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. This is largely a dialog-heavy film and that comes through perfectly crystal clear. Sound effects and music are more supportive for mood. A crash of lighting here, a bumping window shutter, and some slow ominous notes from composer Louis Forbes keep the ambiance suitably tense and unnerving. Overall this mix covers the bases nicely and is in fine shape without distracting hiss, pops, breaks, or other age-related anomalies.
In addition to the booklet, The Film Detective has assembled a fine assortment of bonus features to pick through. Essayist Jason A. Ney returns for an interesting audio commentary that’s worth checking out and there’s a nice featurette about director Crane Wilbur narrated by filmmaker Larry Blamire. But the real get for this release is an excellent collection of various spooky radio show productions featuring Vincent Price! These are a real treat played against a background of an animated bat flipping around.
Of Vincent Price’s long catalog of classic spooky tales, The Bat is a nice fun addition. It’s not the best version of the story and the film’s tone may be a bit all over while the central mystery is over-simplified; it’s still a good fun film. It’s the right kind of easy-on-the-brain and eyes entertainment for a cold fall night. The Film Detective delivers a nice new Special Edition release of The Bat to Blu-ray. The image transfer shows some signs of a little extra work but it's still an overall nice presentation with clean audio to match. Bonus features are interesting and informative including an excellent collection of Vincent Price’s radio show appearances. If you’re a Price fan, it’s time to add The Bat to the collection. Recommended.