Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Bat People (1974): or, Echolocation Nation

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 29!

Scientist Dr. John Beck (Stewart Moss) really loves bats--so much that he's devoted his life and his ski vacation in northern New Mexico to his avid chiropterology. His beautiful wife Cathy (Marianne McAndrew) tries to make the best of things, inviting her hubby for a frolic off the tourist paths in some beautiful caves beneath the mountains. Unfortunately the amorous pair tumble immediately into a hole filled with beetles and are soon after attacked by a very frightening rubber bat replica! After their rescue, Johnny suffers a pair of hilarious seizures, which makes his wife and ski-bum physician Dr. Kipling (Paul Carr, moustache fancier extraordinaire) fear John has contracted the rubber rabies. After a bad reaction to his first rabies treatment, Paul is hospitalized.

The first night, Paul awakens from a dream of murderous bats to find himself transformed, Kafka-esque, into a Man-Bat! Half-man, half-bat, all murdery, Paul offs a nurse and later a dope-smokin', fornicatin' teen...or does he? The doctor believes his transformations and rampages are all in his head, but local cop Sgt. Ward (Michael Pataki, Mad Movie veteran of The Baby and Grave of the Vampire) is not convinced--and the pair of bodies cooling in the morgue don't help Kipling's case either. In a fit of animalistic rage, Paul escapes the hospital, steals an ambulance, and tears out of there like a bat out of hell! (So to speak.) Fleeing back to the cave where his troubles began, Paul descends into either madness or bat-itude, while Cathy and the increasingly unhinged Ward try to track him down. Can they get to him before he kills again?

Spoiler: nope.

A mad mad mad mad movie if ever there was one, The Bat People (1974) is really something special. Sure, director Jerry Jameson's film has pacing problems, and relies too heavily on poorly matched stock footage of bats in nature, but the several things about this flick had me grinning idiot-wise throughout:
  • Any movie gets bonus points from me when it opens with a plaintive, 70s theme song. This one has "Angel of Fear," and it's a stunner.
  • Some of the "attacking bats" shown in closeup are clearly being held by their wingtips directly in front of the camera and are struggling mightily against the injustice. This is both slightly cruel and deeply hilarious.
"I am not an animal! I...oh, wait. Fuck."
  • A late scene where John transforms while making love to his oblivious, orgasming wife is also Naschy-esque (q.v. Curse of the Devil [1973]). 
  • An early bat-creature attack scene is scored with the most incongruously toe-tapping free jazz you can imagine. The Naschy parallels have pretty much got to be intentional at this point (q.v., Vengeance of the Zombies [1973])
  • Stewart Moss's eye-rolling, face-twitching seizures should have won him an award. Also, awesomely named Arthur Space has a show-stealing scene as a philosophical hobo. 
  • There's an odd kneecapping of our sympathy/admiration for the shrewd, no-nonsense Sgt. Kelly when out of nowhere he gets all rapey on Cathy in her hotel room! WTF, lawman?
  • The final "bat-attack" scene, which also explains the plural form of the noun used in the title, is simply fantastic.
I'm not going to say The Bat People is a great film, or even one that most viewers would like--it's stupid, cheap, and takes a while getting to the bat-action (though some would count that as a strength, leaving viewers to ponder whether John is actually transforming or just rabid and hallucinating). But as a fan of all things cheap and cheesy, I thought it was great. If you feel the same, Bat People is a fun time. 2.5 thumbs.

And many thanks to the beautiful and deadly Jenn of Cavalcade of Perversions, whose love for this flick is what caused me to seek it out in the first place!

"Look, I'm getting used to the sweater, but if you say 'Good Grief!' to me one more time, so help me..."


    J. Astro said...

    i have this one on the MGM Midnite Movies double feature (with THE BEAST WITHIN, a flick I like much better) - I can never seem to take BAT PEOPLE seriously after having first seen it on MST3K.

    The Vicar of VHS said...

    @Formerly J. Astro--I haven't seen the MST3K version, but it's MAD enough without it! THE BEAST WITHIN is great too!

    Jenn said...

    I have seen this and loved this and written about it, singing its strange praises. I did NOT however make the Naschy connection and now I am doing just that. Let me go pick up my MIND from the other side of the room because you can consider it BLOWN. Not in that way.

    Franco Macabro said...

    You are invited to my special Halloween Monster Blog Post on 21 Supernatural Horror Films From Around the World! 4 Bloggers suggest 21 films on films of this nature. It's a pretty cool Halloween post, I think you'll enjoy it:

    jmcozzoli said...

    Here's the pressbook for the movie:

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