Film/Blu-ray: THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933, directed by Frank Strayer, restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive)

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by Tony Frankel on November 7, 2020



Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from a 35mm composite acetate fine grain master and a 35mm nitrate print, here’s your chance to see the American Pre-Code horror film The Vampire Bat (1933). Director Frank R. Strayer spins a thrilling tale from Hugo nominated screenwriter Edward T. Lowe (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula) and will have you craving more films from the first golden age of horror.

The Vampire Bat restoration is also available on a special-edition Blu-ray with Special Bonus Features, a new Melvyn Douglas Featurette with his son, Gregory Hesselberg, and Audio Commentary by Film Historian Sam Sherman. The limited streaming run at Cinema UCLA has a post-screening Q&A with author Victoria Riskin, daughter of Fay Wray and author of Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir.

The Vampire Bat was shot by Ira S. Morgan, who would later serve as Charlie Chaplin’s cinematographer on Modern Times. It’s a macabre tale of vampire attacks in a small village. Does a troubled man-child with an affection for bats have something to do with it? Or is it a local scientist who appears to know quite a bit about vampirism?  But everybody loves Dr. von Niemann, clueless that his tales of medieval vampirism are a cover to murder the local proletariat to feed the artificial being he has created.

Capitalizing on the moment’s spooky movie craze, Poverty Row producer Phil Goldstone packed the cast with genre luminaries — Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas — and staged them on cast-off sets from The Old Dark House and Frankenstein. It’s foolish fun that plays like a midnight matinee from the old Shock Theater TV package. The restoration also recreates the sensational Gustav Brock color sequence, unacknowledged and unseen since its first run.

B/w & color, 63 min. Director: Frank Strayer. Screenwriter: Edward T. Lowe, Jr. Cast: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas,  Maude Eburne, George E. Stone.

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