The Bat, starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead (Endora from Bewitched), is the third film version of a 1920 Broadway play. Moorehead plays Cornelia van Gorder, a renowned mystery author (reminiscent of Agatha Christie) who has rented a mansion in the small town of Zenith for the summer. Van Gorder has moved into the mansion with her maid, Lizzie (Lenita Lane), but quickly loses most of her staff due to them walking out after hearing about the goings-on in town the past winter. The mystery author has found herself in the middle of a mystery; there is a serial killer in town known only as “The Bat” who appears to be at large once again.
Like any good mystery writer, Cornelia instinctively knows the group cower later popularized by Scooby Doo.
When it seems like the Bat is poking around in van Gorder’s rented mansion, she makes a telephone call to the local police. Lt. Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon) arrives on the case, and quickly agrees with their suspicions, noting a circle cut out of the window near the front door, enabling access to the mansion. Also called in is Dr. Malcolm Wells (Price), to treat a bite wound Lizzie received from a bat that had gotten into the house, and it is noted that rumors had abounded that the Bat was responsible for letting loose the large number of rabid bats in the area. Anderson is immediately suspicious of everyone around the case, from van Gorder’s butler Warner (John Sutton) to, of course, Dr. Wells. The audience is already on Anderson’s side on this latter suspicion, having witnessed Dr. Wells shooting the owner of the mansion, who had embezzled a million dollars and hidden it somewhere on the premises. In fact, this has one of the shortest Price-to-Murder times of any film I’ve seen yet, with only a few minutes between Vincent Price’s first appearance and him killing somebody.
Oh, don’t look so surprised.
Of course, this being a mystery, the other characters aren’t privy to what the audience has seen, and the Bat does not shoot most of his victims. Instead, he skulks around, in a simple, yet effective costume, concealed by a suit, fedora, and a mask which covers his entire face. And on his left hand he wears a glove with talons sewn into the tips of the fingers, with which he tears out the throats of his victims.
I have to say, it’d be an effective but simple Halloween costume.
Although The Bat is often categorized as a classic horror film, it’s more accurate to call it a mystery film with a bit of a horror motif. There’s not much of an attempt to scare the audience here, and it’s not as though there’s anything unearthly about the Bat. Still, with the killings he commits, his unusual M.O., and his attempt to cut off his victims from the outside world by eliminating telephone access to the house, it’s very easy to see the Bat as an early forefather to the slasher horror villains of the 70s and 80s.
Some descendents are more obvious than others.
The Bat is an entertaining film, if with a few predictable plot twists. All the actors turn in solid performances, and the plot — as evidenced by the number of times it’s been adapted — holds up well. The modern audience may find it a bit lacking in the creep factor, since it doesn’t build up the suspense much on the Bat’s attacks, but it’s definitely a worthwhile way to spend 75 minutes.