Archive for November 13th, 2019

“The Bat” (1959)

by Jamie Uhler
Another year down, but I’m not stopping. I say that every year and generally do get to most, if not all. This year though, I do want to eventually complete all and do all my write-ups, even if I have to go into 2020 to do it (so long as you guys don’t mind your inboxes getting occasionally bombarded). As such, I did two recently with a sad fact ringing true: this was the first year in decades that on the actual day of Halloween—October 31—I didn’t watch a Horror movie. I had a late one from work and I came home from the office in a mood. Oh well, I hang my head in shame and vow to complete my list (and start the ‘Horror recents’ list I’ve been collecting) as retribution. A mea culpa to the Halloween Horror gods if you will.
Arena (P. Manoogian… 1989)

I’m really at a loss how this steaming piece of trash and I crossed paths. What would have prompted me to add this to my list this year? It’s not Horror in the slightest, more something of a Bloodsport meets the Star Wars Cantina sequence, but made on the budget of three 1980’s Battlestar Galactica episodes. That’s pretty much it, it’s a hellish world set in the year 4038 depicting the intergalactic arena fighting of alien beasts, some of which wear metal robot suits. The hellishness is implied, mob money runs (and ruins) the sport, making it so that no human can really hope to compete and succeed, with the previous human fighter being some 50 years prior. The only problem though is that the ‘hellishness’ is only if you think what this world should be, we don’t actually see it on screen, instead we see cheap sets and B-acting, and a lightness of the PG-13 rating, no doubt heavily indebted to the George Lucas train of thought that if you make sci-fi dumb enough, the children will pack the seats and it’ll do gang-busters in toy sales, but no sensible adult will want to be caught dead within 50 feet of a screen playing it. Oh well, ones that are screening it show the tale of lanky pretty boy Steve (he’s like a blond Christopher Reeve right down to the nearly identical voice!) who does eventually get to fight in the arena because he needs money to pay off a debt or he and his little 4 armed buddy get killed. He eventually wins, just as you expect he would, and you get all fuzzy inside (or is that nausea?).
This is the worst one I’ve watched this year—a shame as I’d started to assume that moniker was safely in the hands of Spookies—but that made me laugh heartily several times. This–thanks PG-13—had nothing for us weirdos. Epic pass. In fact, burn all the surviving copies.
The Bat (C. Wilber… 1959)

This one is pretty fondly remembered in classic Horror circles as an effective, low-budget chiller, and it’s easy to see why. It boosts two good, quirky central performances from real pros—Agnes Moorehead as successful mystery writer Cornelia, and Horror legend Vincent Price as small town doctor Malcolm Wells. It’s no doubt Price’s inclusion that’s made the film last in the minds of aficionados (well that and the fact it’s now in public domain, making it easy to see in nice prints) and it’s an odd duck of a movie, almost worthy of watching as a curious oddity, even if the results on screen pack little actual wallop.
Today’s audiences would think the title implies a masked avenger in comic book fare, while older ones no doubt would have envisioned a blood-sucking romantic from Romania. It’s weird then that both are wrong, but only slightly so—The Bat is a man who dresses in a costume to lurk about at night (his costume design is certainly the real highlight of the film) and does prey on young women, but he’s really just your garden-variety serial killing creep who just so happens to have a bit of panache in glovewear. So once we realize he’s not sucking anyone’s blood and from an early kill we’re actually thrust into a whodunnit mystery, where we’re supposed to guess who is The Bat from a grouping of likely candidates, we settle in for light entertainment of a Horror trope. Bodies start mounting up in and around Cornelia’s annual vacation stay in local banker John Fleming’s family estate, but you see he’s recently embezzled a cool million from the bank on the idea that him and Dr. Wells can posit a body in his place on a hunting trip so he can fake his death. Fleming reveals he’s totally fine if the body is Wells’ if push comes to shove, a fact Wells responds in kind by killing him (in apparent self-defense). When Wells doesn’t alert authorities, we begin wondering if he’s The Bat in search of the loot stashed somewhere in the old Fleming home now inhabited by Cornelia and her three girlfriends and a suddenly suspicious (to us) new chauffeur from Chicago (via England apparently by his accent).
The horror is light, but the movie’s a breeze at 80 minutes. Price’s inclusion alone probably warrants the slightest of recommends, but it is fun, so long as you don’t think too hard about the whodunnit plot they try hard to maintain. You solve the mystery quickly and gape at the plot holes wide enough for semi’s to pass through. What do you want though, it made me laugh. If this scared ‘em in ’59 I’d have loved to be around then, seems like heaven.


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