[Reviewer's Note: Six years ago, I reviewed a different DVD release of The Devil Bat for Monsterzine. Portions of this new review regarding the film itself are carried over from that 2002 review.]
"Good night, Doctor."
Ah, who can forget those lines? They come from The Devil Bat, a dirt cheap horror film quickly made and released in 1940 starring the legendary Bela Lugosi.
When I was young, my father purchased a bargain basement EP-recorded VHS copy of this oft-released film, and I can remember watching it several times, always smiling at the great actor's campy malevolence. While The Devil Bat definitely shows its age and budget, Lugosi makes the best of it and plays one of his best "mad scientist" roles [of course, weren't all scientists in 1940s films a bit mad?]. Here, his character has created large killer bats who are attracted to a peculiar scent he adds to a shaving lotion. It's all part of an elaborately ridiculous scheme to wreak vengeance on the Heath family who has made a fortune off of his work. He offers his new "scent" to members of this family to try out. Once they've generously placed some of the lotion on their necks, they bid farewell to the seemingly kind old doctor. "Good. . .bye" is what he replies in classic Lugosi fashion before unleashing his killer bats, who follow the scent and rip out the throats of their preordained victims. As a life-long fan of Bela Lugosi, I must admit that this is one of my all-time favorite Lugosi lines. His sinister "Good . . . bye" is up there with "I don't drink . . . wine" and other lines from Universal's Dracula and it's part of what really makes The Devil Bat so fun.
Many horror film fans here at DVD Talk are probably familiar with The Devil Bat. It appeared on VHS through numerous different companies in the 1980s and 1990s. I don't recall the company that released the copy my family owned, but it was of distinctly poor quality, much as the majority of releases probably were. Its proliferation on DVD suggests to me that the film is likely in the public domain, and thus its presentation has frequently left much to be desired.
There was one release of The Devil Bat that was collector-worthy, however. It was released under the umbrella "Bela Lugosi Presents" back in 2002. The print was in comparatively great shape, and the disc had several extras, including a commentary track with Bela Lugosi's son and an original old-time radio program starring Lugosi.
Does Legend Films' 2008 release stack up to the "Bela Lugosi Presents" release from 2002?
In terms of video and audio quality, they look and sound fairly comparable. Otherwise, not really. I confess that I am not a fan of colorization. I've always preferred watching classic films in their original black and white, so to me, Legend's new color version of The Devil Bat holds zero interest. I will talk more about this in the Video section of the review, however. Thankfully, Legend includes a black and white version.
Otherwise, the only other thing that Legend's release has over the "Bela Lugosi Presents" release is its availability, as the latter is now out-of-print. Collectors, though, may be able to find it used from online sellers, and that's the route I would encourage. The extras are near non-existent on this new release, but it's definitely the second best version I've seen of this Lugosi Poverty Row "classic." Recommended.
As mentioned above, Legend Films offers two versions of The Devil Bat: the original black and white, and a colorized effort. Both are in a full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The black and white version is certainly an improvement over most other public domain editions of this movie. Details are much sharper. There's a slight shimmering to the image, though, and speckling, dirt, and other imperfections are noticeable. A random sampling of the colorized version suggests it's about what one expects from such an endeavor. Colors don't look quite real, with unnatural hues of brown and blue dominating the palette. It appears competently done, though, and about in line with previous colorized films I've experienced.
Both versions of The Devil Bat sport a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track. The sound is limited and tinny, but strong. Hiss and scratchiness are evident but do not impede the dialogue and music. Given the dubious quality of previous public domain releases of The Devil Bat, I found that the audio here was serviceable and acceptable, but far from exemplary.
No subtitle options appear available.
The only extra on this disc is a Legend Films Trailers gallery sporting ads for the colorized versions of Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Living Dead, Reefer Madness, House on Haunted Hill, Carnival of Souls, and Little Shop of Horrors. Yawn.
Despite my antipathy toward colorization, I think it would have been nice to have a featurette on the colorization process utilized here. It's something that would be interesting to learn about.
The Devil Bat is one of my favorite horror films from the early 1940s. Bela Lugosi is terrific in this pure camp fantasy involving a series of murders committed via large screeching bats. Legend's release of this movie ranks among the best on DVD in terms of video quality (and, if you absolutely must see a black and white film colorized, then this is the one to get). However, this new Legend release still doesn't beat the extras-heavy "Bela Lugosi Presents" DVD version released in 2002, and though out of print, that's the one I would still recommend the most to Lugosi fans.