Newly Restored THE VAMPIRE BAT Lands on Blu-ray with a Splash of Color

The Vampire Bat arrives on MOD Blu-ray from The Film Detective on April 25.

Public domain status is a lovely concept in theory; older creative works become part of our cultural commons for all to share and enjoy. But where films are concerned, the practical problem that arises out of this situation is the devaluation of these works, and therewith the erosion of incentivization to properly archive, restore, and invest in these treasures.

As is often the case with such titles, 1933’s The Vampire Bat has languished in the DVD purgatory of cheap, poor quality releases, but we can thank distributor The Film Detective and UCLA’s Film & Television Archive for doing the Lord’s work and giving it a stunning new restoration and Blu-ray release.

The Vampire Bat is a very enjoyable mystery-horror film — and at only 63 minutes, a quite short one. It’s a “Poverty Row” studio effort that’s in the vein of Universal’s horror of the era (screenwriter Edward Lowe also wrote House Of Frankenstein and House Of Dracula), and features an impressive cast starring Lionel Atwell, Fay Wray, and Melvyn Douglas.

Fear grips the denizens of a European village as a wave of murders occurs, leaving behind withered bodies drained of blood. The superstitious townsfolk are quick to deduce that the clues are consistent with the work of a vampire, but the skeptical police inspector (Douglas) and town doctor (Atwell) seek a more rational explanation.

They are joined by Wray as Inspector Brettschneider’s love interest, but for me the highlight of the cast is a manic performance from horror icon Dwight Frye (most famous as Dracula’s Renfield, and the inspiration of one of Alice Cooper’s most enduring ballads). His Herman, the village idiot, soon becomes the top suspect. And while our more rational protagonists don’t believe he’s a vampire, it does seem possible he’s the killer. The clues fit — he’s neurotic, nocturnal, and obsessed with bats.

As with any 30s horror film, the angry townsfolk grab their torches and pitchforks to confront the monster, but I was shocked to see that The Vampire Bat did this in a novel way. Although the film is black and white, the flames of the torches are vividly colored. I was very taken by this and did some research to discover that although this was technically a digital enhancement, it’s true to the film’s intent — a recreation of the striking original hand-colored effect.

The Vampire Bat is breezy and cheesy, and while it does have some darker moments, on the other hand there’s a lot of (too much) levity provided by “Aunt Gussie”, a comic relief character whose silliness feels a bit at odds with the film’s overall tone.

The film keeps the audience guessing whether or not there’s a greater supernatural evil at work, and has a fun (if not wholly unexpected) twist behind its nefarious vampire.

The Package

The Vampire Bat comes to Blu-ray this week from The Film Detective. Despite being an MOD/BD-R title, it’s a solid release that feels more academic than commercial in its presentation (kudos to TFD for including subtitles, which are never guaranteed in lower budgeted releases like this).

Special Features and Extras

Becoming The Son Of Melvyn Douglas (7:03)
Interview with Gregory Hasselberg, son of Melvyn Douglas, who describes his (rather distant sounding) relationship with his busy father.

Audio Commentary by film historian Sam Sherman


This presentation is beautiful and I can’t imagine it ever looking better. What’s less clear is whether the film itself is worth your while — it’s not particularly well regarded, and some may feel a bit disappointed by its short runtime (personally I actually liked this aspect of it). If you’re already a fan of the film, then buy without hesitation.

If you generally like this genre and era, you’ll probably dig it as well. The film is both public domain and streaming on Amazon, so it’s easy enough to check out, though those PD versions won’t look remotely this good. If you like it, grab the Blu-ray to support a terrific release and own the film in a pristine presentation with the spectacular color sequence intact.

That’s a wrap.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
The Vampire Bat – [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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