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The Bat People
(1974)

Director: Jerry Jameson
Cast:
Stewart Moss, Marianne McAndrew, Michael Pataki


Boy, I sure like genre cinema. If you are a film buff like I am, you've got to love all the different kinds of movies that are out there, including those that may not have been made with high artistic intentions in mind. I would like to talk about one particular kind of movie that I enjoy greatly, one that you may be a little surprised to learn exactly why I enjoy it a lot. And that particular genre is horror. Of course, I love horror movies because quite often they have a good excuse to show off blood and gore, though why I enjoy the sight of stuff that would be considered disgusting to a number of other people is something I must confess I don't have an answer to. (Maybe it's due to the fact that in my private life I am kind of a meek person, and onscreen horror is a great release for my restrained feelings.) I also like horror movies because quite often they are imaginative, coming up with various kind of horrors that you don't come across very often (or at all) in real life. Probably right now you are thinking, "Well, you must also love horror movies because you like to be scared." You may be surprised to learn that it's here I must shatter your assumptions. Let me explain. After so many years of watching horror movies, I have become so desensitized to various kinds of onscreen carnage that your average horror movie does not scare me. Another reason is that I have long matured. For example, maybe back to when I was a child, a movie about a vampire (or any kind of monster) might have freaked me out. But I have long learned that there aren't any vampires... ghosts... zombies... or any other kind of monsters out there. So when I nowadays see monsters on my television screen, there's always a voice in the back of my mind telling me, "That's not real, and it couldn't become real."

Before you become dismayed, let me say it again - even though I have been desensitized to onscreen horror to a great degree, and many onscreen horrors like monsters no longer freak me out, I do enjoy watching horror movies. Though I'm usually not scared when I watch them, they can be all the same interesting and entertaining. My use of the word "usually" in the last sentence may have got you curious enough to ask me, "Well, what kind of horror movies do spook or scare you?" While there is more than one kind of movie horror that does creep me out, I want to talk in depth about one particular kind. It's the kind of horror that I can personally relate to what scares me in real life. That being trapped in a bad situation where I can do little to nothing about fixing. These particular horror movies tend to be more realistic than most horror movies, or at the very least have some angle that I can identify with. For example, a number of years ago I reviewed the horror movie Confessions Of A Serial Killer, which I thought was extremely effective at what it did in part because it showed very believable characters and situations. The Paperboy was another horror movie that effectively disturbed me, because the title figure was portrayed in a fashion much more multi-dimensional than your average screen psycho. It actually got a small part of me to feel sympathy for this troubled and murderous teenager. To any filmmakers out there who are preparing to make a horror movie, take note: Making your human characters believable is a key to making successful screen horror.

But there are also other kinds of horror movies with an angle I can identify with that often spook me. Let me give you another example. In my lifetime, I have had several bad brushes with my health. A few times it got so bad that I was quite scared that I might not get better at all. It was in The Bat Peopleeffect a kind of real life horror I seemingly could do nothing about. I did eventually get better every time, but it resulted with horror movies that involve people being struck with some kind of affliction having more impact on me than the average person. Even those horror movies where the affliction is obvious one that could not happen in real life. When I got in my possession a DVD copy of The Bat People, I knew before watching it that what I would see could not possibly happen in real life. But at the same time, remembering the afflictions I have personally had in my life, I was slightly uneasy about the movie's promise of showing its own affliction on a character. Let me explain by telling you the movie's plot. At the start of the movie, we are introduced to a newly married couple, a doctor named John (Moss, Raise The Titanic) and his wife Cathy (McAndrew, The Seven Minutes). They are traveling across the country for a vacation, and one of their stops happens to be a cave that's open to public tours. John and Cathy decide during their tour to slip away from their group and guide in order to explore other parts of the cavern. They happen to fall into a pit, and while they wait to get rescued, John is bitten by a bat. After they are rescued, John insists that he's fine despite being bitten, but not long after leaving the area to continue their vacation, John soon starts to show mysterious symptoms. To make a long story short, the effects of the bat bite soon make John transform every night into a half bat/half human creature that attacks various townspeople. Cathy seems clueless about this despite the rising body count, but local police officer Ward (Pataki, The Baby) soon starts to suspect that John may be connected to all of these recent murders.

My pre-viewing research on The Bat People revealed that the movie was chosen to receive the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment on one episode of that show. So I had an idea that the movie would probably be bad, though I wasn't sure if my admittedly razor sharp wit would be sufficient enough to find enough in the movie to laugh at, especially since there was still that aforementioned part of me a little uneasy at the movie's premise. Anyway, as it turned out, I didn't find much to laugh at with The Bat People. I'm not saying that it is a good movie, however - I'm certainly not recommending it. What I'm saying is that the movie lacks that certain spark in its ineptness to provoke unintentional amusement. For example, take the lighting of the movie. A large number of scenes (both indoor and outdoor) are lit (if you could call it that) in a way that quite often it's hard to tell what is happening in these scenes. Now tell me, what is funny about that? Nothing particular, if you ask me. This particular inept touch proves just to be somewhat annoying instead. Another example, that being that aforementioned sequence in the movie where John and Cathy fall into the pit in the cave. It doesn't take long for the two of them to hear searchers calling out for them, and they call back to identify where they are. They then hear that they will be pulled out of the pit in short notice, and a few seconds later the movie cuts to them out of the cave and in the middle of a road journey in their car. No seeing them get pulled out of the pit, and no mention of their momentary peril in the recent past as they are driving. While I suppose a few viewers might get a (very) feeble chuckle from this moment in the movie, I personally didn't laugh at all - I just saw it as simple ineptness by the filmmakers.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, The Bat People lacks that certain spark to transform ineptness into hilarity. The missteps the movie makes simply come across as bad and/or misguided decisions, nothing more or less. This includes the movie's stabs at horror. When it comes to creature effects, the movie cheapens out. Although the makeup effects are provided by a pre-fame Stan Winston, this movie isn't a good showcase for his talents. Until near the end of the movie, all we get to see of the character of John when he has transformed into the "batman" are a few close-up shots of his hairy and webbed hand. And when we finally get to see a full-on shot of a transformed John, director Jerry Jameson (Airport '77) not only chooses this moment to yet be another in near complete darkness, he has John run around so frantically that you don't get a clear idea of what he looks like. It probably comes as no surprise that Jameson is equally inept earlier in the movie with directing the scenes where John as the bat creature attacks innocent human victims. Most of these attack sequences end almost as soon as they begin, and it certainly doesn't help that these scenes as well are shot in near total darkness that makes it difficult at times to tell what is exactly happening. Actually, as it turns out, Jameson seems more interested when it comes to horror to showing the personal torment John is going through between his murders. This could have worked, but once again it is ineptly handled. John suffers multiple seizures, and every time it seems exactly the same as the seizure he had prior to the particular one we are seeing now. It doesn't help that these seizures often look more staged than convincing.

But there are other reasons why John's torment does not come across all that disturbing. To put it bluntly, I did not care about this guy at all at any time in the movie. He's introduced in what feels like midstream, in the middle of his honeymoon. And we learn practically nothing about him subsequently. When he starts getting the effects of the bat bite, he comes off more mean-spirited than really suffering, lashing out at people around him. Had he shown a level of inner torment that at the same time suggested he was a real and sympathetic person, maybe I would have felt uneasiness, horror, or something other than a blasť attitude. As it turns out, none of the other characters in The Bat People grab enough interest or sympathy as well. The weakest character is John's wife Cathy. She is given practically nothing to do except to be a kind of Greek chorus when observing the torment her husband goes through. It would not take all that much rewriting to eliminate this character completely. Ward, the police officer keeping an eye on John, is really inconsistently written. He starts off by being kind of jokey and sympathetic, but in the second half suddenly becomes somewhat of a menace (not just to John), perhaps because the screenwriter realized that the monster horror angle of the movie was simply inefficient by itself. He would have done better to punch up the horror angle. Incidentally, almost all of the screenwriter's other credits are for made for television productions, which is the same for director Jameson. In fact, the whole enterprise more often than not has that 1970s made for television feel to it despite being made for the drive-in market. It probably would have been best to have made the movie for television, because not only would it have been more at home there, it would almost certainly have been completely forgotten about in subsequent years and never would have been released on home video and crossed my path.

(Posted December 1, 2018)

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See also: Dog Soldiers, Nightmare At Noon, Night Of The Creeps

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