Review Date: January 3, 2001
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 6/11/2000
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
We begin at The Oaks, a gloomy old mansion in the country. Cornelia Van Gorder (Agnes Moorhead
), an Agatha Christie-type writer of murder mysteries, has just rented the house for the summer, but already her servants dislike working in the place. Cornelia’s devoted maid Lizzie (Lenita Lane
) explains that the house staff has been hearing about "The Bat", a vicious murderer who had terrorized the countryside over the past winter. Now there are rumors that the killer might be back, and there’s even a rumor that the criminal may have released actual, rabid bats in the area. Cornelia dismisses it as nonsense.
On a visit to the local bank, Cornelia strikes up a conversation with the vice president and cashier of the establishment, Vic Bailey, his wife, and Lt. Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon
), a police detective. Bailey is called to see a client, but comes back a few minutes later in a state of shock - someone just came in to pick up several hundred thousand dollars in bonds that were being held in the bank’s vault. He’s just checked the vault, and not only are the bonds gone, but someone has looted the vault of other negotiable securities. All in all, the bank has been robbed of over a million dollars!
Meanwhile, in a cabin deep in the wilderness, we meet Bailey’s boss, John Fleming, president of the bank, who’s on a hunting trip with his physician Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price
). Fleming suddenly asks a strange question - what would the good doctor do for half a million dollars? It turns out that Fleming is the one who robbed the bank, and now he would like Wells’ help to get away with it, in return for a good share of the cash. The crook outlines his plan - suppose they killed their guide and smashed the body up to make it look like it had been in an accident? He’s fairly sure that Vic Bailey will be charged with the robbery, but this way will protect him from prosecution just in case a jury acquits him. Then he’ll be free to start a new life and Wells will be rich. The doctor is understandably skeptical of the plan, but Fleming, brandishing a handgun, informs him that he has no choice but to cooperate. However, at that moment both men smell smoke. Fleming goes to the door and spots a forest fire coming towards the cabin. Wells pulls a hunting rifle off the wall and shoots him dead. Later, back in civilization, Wells reports that Fleming was simply killed by the forest fire, and Vic Bailey is indicted for embezzling the money.
Later, strange things begin happening at The Oaks, which was owned by the dead man. Strange noises are heard, and one of Cornelia’s servants encounters a prowler. It seems that the rumors were correct - The Bat is up to his old tricks! This time the masked maniac isn’t just killing for the hell of it, he’s looking for something - the missing million, which some believe may be hidden in the house. As the body count rises, and with numerous suspects, Cornelia sets out to use her knowledge of the criminal mind to catch the killer and reveal his identity.
is based on a play by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rineheart, which had been filmed three times in preceding decades, once in 1926 and twice in 1930 (two versions, one in full-frame, the other in an experimental widescreen process, both with the same cast). Although I have not seen the earlier versions, they reportedly both featured many more elements of fantasy, even giving The Bat the ability to fly. It’s likely that those concepts were jettisoned from this version for budgetary reasons, but even with those fantastic elements gone, the story still is pretty hard to swallow. The plot is simply too convoluted and drawn out, and there’s a lot of illogical points that are never explained. The horror and suspense sequences are rather effective, but they’re broken up by a lot of boring dialogue and characters speculating about who The Bat is. The identity of the killer is also fairly easy to guess.
A lot of fans may also be disappointed by the surprisingly small for Vincent Price. As Dr. Wells, Price is pretty much just another red-herring. The real star of this movie is the great Agnes Moorhead as Cornelia. It must have taken a lot of courage to use an older woman in the role (Moorhead was in her late 50’s), since younger, more attractive heroines were (and still are) the standard for horror films. Moorhead is very good and witty, and is definitely an asset to the film. I just wish that Vincent could have gotten some more screentime. If you’re in the mood for another House on Haunted Hill
or The Tingler
, then you should look elsewhere.
is presented full-frame at 1.33:1. There has been some controversy over whether this ratio was correct, since both the Roan laserdisc and DVD versions were letterboxed. To clear up the confusion, The Bat
is not a widescreen film, but it was intended to be "matted" (artificial black bars placed at the top and bottom of the image). There were no hanging boom mikes or other gaffes that are sometimes visible with unmatted presentations, although the top and bottom of the frame contained quite a bit of dead space that could have been painlessly lost.
As far as the image quality itself goes, Anchor Bay has done an excellent job with this title. The black and white transfer was struck from an almost flawless print, with only a few splices, vertical lines and nicks visible. Speckling was kept to a minimum, and grain was almost non-existent. The transfer boasts a great level of detail, with perfectly balanced grayscales and a deep, rich black level. There were a few minor problems, such as blemishes and a few soft-looking shots here and there, but make no mistake about it, Anchor Bay did a great job on this title.
The sound is in Dolby Digital Mono 2.0, and is free of any background noise. Dialogue is clear and intelligible. The music score sounds a bit flat at times, but this is to be expected from a 40-year old Mono recording. There are no subtitles provided.
The only extra is a theatrical trailer narrated by Vincent Price.
Anchor Bay has done a very good job on the audio/video presentation of this disc, and the film looks better than ever. The Bat
may be a keeper for your collection, but if you haven’t seen it before you should probably either rent the tape or see if you can catch it on late-night TV before you plop $25 down. If you enjoy the movie, then you certainly won’t regret picking this DVD up.
Movie – B-
Image Quality – A-
Sound – B
Supplements – C
- Running Time - 1 hour 20 minutes
- 1 Disc
- 20 Chapter Stops
- Dolby Mono