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  Vampire Bat, The See Ya, Sucker!
Year: 1933
Director: Frank R. Strayer
Stars: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Maude Eburne, George E. Stone, Dwight Frye, Robert Frazer, Rita Carlyle, Lionel Belmore, William V. Mong, Stella Adams, Harrison Greene
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In this Middle European town, the locals are close to panicking, frightened to walk the streets at night for fear of encountering the supposed vampire bats that take flight and have been preying on the citizens. But some of those citizens go further and claim there is an honest to goodness vampire in their midst, with the Burgermeister calling a meeting of the heads of the community to decide what should be done about this menace, for it is accurate to say certain people have been turning up dead, drained of their blood. The doctor, Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas), scoffs at any idea something supernatural is abroad in the land, but the others at the meeting have their doubts too, and are seeking someone to blame...

The Vampire Bat was one of those Pre-Code chillers that star Fay Wray made, cementing her in the minds of the audience from those days to this as the cinema's first scream queen. Naturally, it was not the most celebrated of those, but when your biggest movie is King Kong and you were playing the object of the big lug's affection, it fair enough that you will be remembered for screaming your pretty head off at being picked up in a giant gorilla hand. Make no mistake, as many have observed, if she hadn't been typecast as the heroine of those horrors she would likely have been very famous anyway, such was her beauty, but after you appear in one of the most iconic fantasy movies of all time, there's really no coming back from it, you are now and forever King Kong's girlfriend.

If an actress makes that kind of impact in a horror picture now, a scream queen status will not necessarily follow since, if they have decent enough opportunities they can demonstrate a fair degree of range, but with Wray, those early nineteen-thirties efforts she made, often on low budgets, were inescapable. Her personal favourite role had been in Erich Von Stroheim's silent epic The Wedding March, and that's the sort of thing she would have preferred to pursue, but when you're co-starring with Lionel Atwill, which she did more than once, a horror celebrity you will be. Atwill was here too, playing, guess what, a mad scientist, and though we don't know he is mad when we first meet him, the fact he has his own lab where he had grown a heart of his own synthetic formula should be sufficient hint he is up to no good.

But Atwill was not pegged as the scapegoat, as there was a theme of not allowing superstition and prejudice to cloud your judgement which meant Dwight Frye was the object of suspicion, the local village idiot, not that they call him that. Frye was another reluctant horror star - he would have preferred to be a comedy star - but his wild-eyed and furtive demeanour made him ideal for parts like Herman, who just about everyone in the town believes is the vampire who mostly appears to prey on little old ladies. The trouble with that is, he's entirely innocent, he's just a little touched, but try telling that to a baying, torch-wielding mob who have made up their mind and will not see sense, and poor Herman meets an unfortunate fate just as the killings commence once more. Douglas, who was never typed in these films, was the rational hero, and scientist's assistant Wray was his romantic partner, two beacons of reason in what might have been a cliched location for a thirties shocker, but despite how creaky it all was had a certain crusading feel about it that lifted it a shade above its Poverty Row origins.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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