Initial release January 10th 1933
Director Frank R Strayer
Produced by Phil Goldstone & Larry Darmour
Screenplay by Edward T Lowe Jr
Cinematography by Ira H Morgan
Music by Charles Dunworth
Released by Majestic Pictures
Run Time 63 minutes
Lionel Atwill Dr. Otto von Niemann
Fay Wray Ruth Bertin
Melvyn Douglas Karl Brettschneider
Maude Eburne Gussie Schnappmann
George E. Stone Kringen
Dwight Frye Herman Gleib
Robert Frazer Emil Borst
Rita Carlisle Martha Mueller
Lionel Belmore Bürgermeister Gustave Schoen
William V. Mong Sauer
Stella Adams Georgiana
Paul Weigel Dr. Holdstadt
Harrison Greene Weingarten
William Humphrey Dr. Haupt
Ferm Emmett Gertrude
Carl Stockdale Schmidt
Paul Panzer Townsman
The Vampire Bat opens on a dark street in the hamlet of Kleinschloss as Kringen, the watchman (George E. Stone), lights the gas streetlights and notices the many bats hanging from the trees . We hear screaming. The villagers of Kleinschloss are dying of blood loss.
At the office of the Bűrgermeister he is meeting with his council and the police detective Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas). The Bűrgermeister ( Lionel Belmore) and the town fathers suspect a resurgence of vampirism. He is heard stating that friends, neighbours, people they have known for years have been found drained of their life’s blood, dead in bed. Lifeless skeletons of skin and bone. Karl Breettschneider remains sceptical. He dismisses the tails of vampires and says they are in the same class as all other peasant superstitions such as werewolf’s. He quizzes the village committee as they put forward evidence from the town archives of an incident in 1643 which saw giant bats and an outbreak of vampirism. According to the historical document , when the villagers executed the suspected vampire by hanging him in the public square , the deaths ended and the bats departed. He also had a stake thrust through his heart and his head cut off with a grave-diggers shovel.
The current victims were all drained of blood, had two punctures at the jugular vein, and there was a blood clot eight inches from the wounds “the mark of the fiend” . Our inspector is in no mood to listen and continues to ridicule saying that whilst the villagers are looking for a vampire, he is looking for a human being, a murderer. On a more serious note our policeman tells them that he is on the case, ‘every hour, every day, every night , since this thing started’ We then hear a howling noise. He does however leave them with the flippant remark ‘don’t let the Vampires get you’.
Our inspector is next seen visiting Ruth Bertin (Fay Wray) who is also the love interest in our movie. She is the lab assistant to Dr. Otto von Niemann (Lionel Atwill) and lives in his castle along with her Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburn). Aunt Gussie serves as chaperon for her niece as well as being a hypochondriac . Ruth enquires how her mastermind is that evening, but the reply is that he is not so good. He tells her he cannot shake off the belief that the Bűrgermeister and his grand council have that the happenings are all the fault of vampires. He says that Ruth and von Niemann are the only sane people left in the village. He is worried that the murders are being committed right under his nose and he cannot come up with a single clue. He is beginning to think he is as blind as the bats themselves. They are joined at this moment by Aunt Gussie who arrives with refreshments and a whole host of moans. Karl try’s to frighten the aunt with his stories of vampires, but she will have none of it and says she does not believe in them.
The next scene shows Dr. Otto von Niemann visiting Martha (Rita Carlisle), the old apple seller. She is very poorly. We also meet Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye), a simpleton, who has just brought her a flower and is adamant that bats are not really bad. Our doctor leaves convinced that a good nights sleep is all she needs, but talk of bats still seems to frighten her. She asks for her cross. On leaving the house he meets Kringen, the watchman who again warns of the bats menace and Herman appears again still uttering ‘bats good, they not hurt Herman’. The watchman tells von Niemann that Herman plays with bats and makes pets of them. It is suggested that as Herman wanders the streets at all times of the night that he could be the vampire? Von Niemann departs in his carriage leaving the watchman, who we see has the look of fear on his face. We see Herman befriending a bat whilst the villagers look on and then approaching them with the intent of frightening them. He moves on laughing hysterically.
We next move back to Martha’s flat with her housekeeper and see she is still afraid. The windows are closed and she tries to settle down for the night. Von Niemann arrives home and immediately visits his lab, cordially greeting Ruth and Karl. They discuss the vampires and their host says that he feels the happenings are beyond the comprehension of the human mind to which Karl asks him if he has a theory. Von Niemann says he would be happy to discuss his theory, but not at that time, as he has more important work to do. When asked he dismisses Martha’s case as just a bout of nerves.
We see him move across the laboratory take out a key and go through a locked door. The tension has just moved upwards with another unknown.
We quickly switch to Martha, see her scream and yes, poor Martha is the next victim. In the morgue her body shows the usual marks of the vampire. The villagers seem to be in no doubt and suspect Herman of being the vampire. Von Niemann and our inspector arrive at the morgue and move to examine the body. The townsfolk then witness a discussion where Niemann , and another doctor again try and convince our inspector that blood sucking bats do exist and that human vampires are a real possibility. He admits that he is stumped and welcomes the literature that Von Niemann says he has on the subject .
Herman is seen lurking around, but on being told to go, lifts the shroud . On seeing Martha’s body he screams and runs away. Our watchman insists that Herman is arrested and then becomes hysterical, shouting that he is doomed and will be the next victim, as Herman will kill him.
Herman is now lurking around the castle garden where Karl is visiting Ruth. The Aunt arrives on the scene complaining about her apparent heart problem, but is not taken seriously. Our lovers slide away while they can leaving the aunt to her own devices. Ruth remarks that she thinks her Aunt has the heart of a steam engine.
The aunt hears a cat meow and goes to investigate, but on returning to the garden, catches Herman taking an apple. Poor Herman has cut himself and the Aunt takes pity on him saying she will treat his cut and let him keep the apple. She has no idea at this stage who he is. She goes to into the house where Von Niemann, Ruth and Karl are reviewing the literature on the human vampires. The Aunt dismisses it all as rubbish and says she is more interested in sorting out her prospective patients cut to prevent infection. She asks the von Niemann for his advice.
The Bűrgermeister Kringen now arrives announcing the watchman has been found dead with two punctures in his neck and not a drop of blood in his body. Herman has also gone missing. As the Aunt returns to the garden to treat her patient , the penny finally drops as she realises that he is in fact Herman. He offers her a bat taken from his inside pocket in payment for the apple and our aunt faints. Herman runs off.
At the doctors house we see Georgiana handing Martha’s crucifix to von Niemann as she has found it in Emil’s room. She is putting forward a case for him to be the murderer. The doctor heads her off by claiming he cannot believe it. He asks that it be left with him. She is not to say anything. He asks for Emil to be sent to him. Suspicious?
Karl Brettschneider now gives permission for the townsfolk to bring in Herman. He makes it very clear that they are to bring him in for questioning only and that he is not to be harmed. He must stand trial in the normal way. The torch-bearing mob go on the rampage . Having tracked him down, they finally chase Herman into a cave and corner him. They want him to go back to the village with them . The poor terrified man leaps to his death , his body landing on a ledge fifty foot down. The villagers are not happy to leave it there and to finish things off put a stake through his heart.
But what of Georgiana and her suspicions? Emil, on the orders of von Niemann, now enters a bedroom and kills her . We see the body being carried down to the laboratory and see von Niemann drain the blood from it. The body is then returned , the doctor leaving Martha’s crucifix by the bed in the hope of implicating Herman. He is obviously not aware of his demise.
Karl and Ruth with the aunt in tow, now arrive at the castle to catch up with the doctor. They again engage in more vampire discussions. The Aunt on her way to bed meanwhile discovers the body of Georgina , screams and faints. They all rush to her aid. On examining the body it is discovered that it is a murder like all the rest. Karl is convinced that Herman is the killer when they find the crucifix. Karl tells Ruth that she and her aunt are to keep their room locked as he suspects that Herman is now the likely killer. The aunt is not convinced.
At that moment Emil tells them that the Bűrgermeister has arrived with word that Herman is dead, having fallen into the Devils Well at the caves. We now catch up with our plot, as we now know for certain he had died before the last murder happened! Our detective now suggests that Herman at least deserves a decent burial and that his body should be brought back from the caves. The look on von Niemann’s face on hearing the news and timing is a treat.
Karl is now at a complete loss for suspects and can only think that some sadistic human must be responsible. Our detective is now see telling the doctor of his plight and the stress we can see is getting to him. He cannot work out why someone would want that amount of blood. His decided course of action is that because the last murder happened in the house, he is going to examine every inch of it. There has to be some clue in the house as to the real murderer. Like Georgiana, is he now signing his own death warrant?
To help ease the detectives torment, von Niemann kindly prescribes some sleeping tablets, but we see the bottle he takes from his drawer is marked ‘Poison’ In order to get a good night’s sleep and clear his mind, he accepts the pills. We next see Karl in his bedroom with Emil the servant lurking in the shadows outside his window. The doctor is in his lab, in a trance and speaking telepathically to Emil , the actual murderer, be it on the commands of the doctor. Emil is told if the light is on he must wait. Karl turns out his light and goes to sleep. Emil is seen approaching the bed ready to claim another victim.
Unfortunately for Ruth, she happens to overhear the doctor giving instructions to Emil and realises that he is responsible for the murders. She confronts him in his laboratory and we are then treated to the standard mad scientist rant about how important his work is, more important than a few useless lives. He has lifted the veil, he has created life. He is obviously completely mad.
Ruth is gagged and tied to a chair.Von Niemann now goes over to a table to examine what he thinks is our detective’s body, only to discover when he raises the sheet that it is Emil instead on the slab . Karl had only pretended to take the sleeping tablets and has knocked Emil out. The penny finally dropped. He confronts our villain with a gun. Emil begins to stir. Von Niemann now tries to disassociate himself from the murders claiming it was Emil.
We now get to our fight to the death sequence as Karl moves to release Ruth. Emil has now come around and grabs the gun which has fallen to the floor He tells Karl to get Ruth out of the lab while he takes care of von Niemann. We see them both starring at one another whilst our two captives run from the laboratory. We hear shots, two gunshots. Karl returns to discover both Emil and von Niemann dead.
Aunt Gussie shows up one more time looking for Doctor von Niemann. She is told by Ruth that he cannot be disturbed. He had apparently prescribed ‘hydrous magnesium sulfate’ for her and it is affecting her ‘most peculiarly’. One burp and one ‘you will please excuse me’ later and Gussie is scurrying up the stairs. Karl then translates ‘hydrous magnesium sultate’ as ‘epsom salts’. It’s a laxative! Aunt Gussie is making tracks and it is no secret where she is heading ?
This is a great offering when you consider it originated from Majestic Pictures, one of Hollywood’s Poverty Row studios. The first 15 minutes is pure vintage horror so you can forgive the production values and some of the editing. Some consider it to be clumsy and hurried and that sometimes it spoils the excellent direction. Ok, accepted, some cuts are often not matched, and these can distract, but overall we need to forgive. This basic style you could argue adds to the eerie atmosphere. I read that one reviewer had likened it to being caught up in a bad dream , but surely this is what all our cult horror films are about. At least on these occasions we remember the dream and can relive it any time we want.
Worth a mention is the storyline. It has an interesting twist and revolves around the conundrum of is it a vampire committing the murders or a man ? We all see strange marks on the victim’s necks and that all their blood has been drained out. We just have to wait to find out why and how ?
It does rank along with some of the Universal productions around at the time and I put this down to the use of some known cast members which added some quality in the acting department. We can rely on Fay Wray as the romantic interest Ruth Bertin to give a good performance. This was just months away from the release of the film that was to make her the love interest of all love interests, namely, King Kong. Lionel Atwill as Dr Otto Von Niemann also gives the film some added substance. Dwight Frye also adds to the show as the foolish young man Herman Glieb, who becomes the number one suspect after he reveals his love for bats and the fact that he makes them his friends. The evitable comedy touch, necessary in all good films of the era, is provided by Maude Eburne as Aunt Gussie. Watch and then tell me you are not hooked ?
On the director front, Frank Strayer does a good job in shooting the film. Its creepiness along with lots of camera movement also take it out of the budget mode. It proves that money is not everything if you have an abundance of creativity.
The Vampire Bat is one of those underrated horror films of the early 1930’s that like good wine improves with age.
The film is probably the best known product of Majestic. Of no interest really, but Majestic in the UK is a retail provider of fine wines! Whether this was due to its frequent airings on television dating back to the 1950’s or its obvious charm doesn’t really matter, as it is firmly fixed in my mind as simply great entertainment.
Karl visits Ruth in Von Niemann’s laboratory
The Night-watchman expresses his fears
Herman discovers that Martha is dead
Doubt is cast on the Vampire theory
Auntie Gussie discovers who Herman is
These atrocities’ are murders, Doctor
Ruth discovers the real murderer
Karl to the rescue
Auntie Gussie discovers she has been prescribed Epsom Salts !