“If half of what I suspect is true, it’s the most diabolical plot a mad man ever concocted.”
Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is a research scientist for the Heath-Morton Cosmetics Company in Heathville. In his spare time, he works in his secret laboratory. He has two new inventions. A new cologne and a giant bat. By electrically charging the bat he has managed to make it huge. As we all know, electricity can do anything. (Look a Frankenstein’s monster.) He has trained the bat to hate the smell of the cologne and to attack anyone who is wearing it and kill them. (And as we know, you can teach a bat anything.)
Carruthers is a bitter man. He feels betrayed by his employers, Martin Heath (Edward Mortimer) and Henry Morton (Guy Usher). They got rich off a product that he developed. He sold his ownership share of it to them. Then they gave him a bonus of a check for five thousand dollars. Carruthers thinks of the check as a slap in the face. Whether he has a legitimate gripe or not is debatable. It doesn’t matter. Carruthers thinks he does and that’s all that matters to him.
When Martin Heath’s son Roy (John Ellis) presents Carruthers with the check, the doctor has him try on the new cologne he’s working on. After Roy leaves, Carruthers lets his giant bat go. It finds Roy and kills him. As the doctor in town Carruthers is then called to the scene to find out what happened to Roy. Carruthers says it looks like an animal killed the young man. But there is no clue as to what animal.
Johnny Layton (David O’Brien) is a reporter for the Chicago Register. He and his photographer “One Shot” McGuire are sent to Heathville to get a story. The only clues are the victim's neck wounds that look like they were made by the beak and talons of a bird, a peculiar faint odor about the wounds, and some mouse or bat hairs. Layton interviews Carruthers and Martin's daughter Mary (Suzanne Kaaren).
The next victim is Tommy Heath (Alan Baldwin). Layton sees the bat when it flies away. After that the bat attacks and kills Don Morton (Gene O’Donnell), the son of Henry Morton. Layton begins to get suspicious when he finds a bottle of after shave lotion in Don’s bathroom. He notes that it smells like the scent found on the other victims.
“The Devil Bat” was released in 1940 and was directed by Jean Yarborough. This is a PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) movie. They were one of the low budget Poverty Row film producers. This was their first horror film, and their most successful. Poverty Row movies get a bad rap a lot. But for a lot of us it’s the stuff we grew up on. At first on Saturday afternoons when we were kids and then on late night TV when we were teenagers pulling all nighters. If it wasn’t for movies like this, how deprived my childhood would have been. Now in the public domain this little gem is available everywhere.
The bats in the film, except for the occasional stock close up footage, are of course rubber. And they are charmingly stupid. When Lugosi is experimenting with the bats that he enlarges, he carries them around on what looks like a clothes hanger. It’s the closest to adorable a bat has ever gotten.