B&W, 1959, 80m.
Directed by Crane Wilbur
Starring Vincent Price, Agnes moorehead, Gavin Gordon, John Sutton, Lenita Lane, Darla Hood
The Film Detective (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), The Film Chest (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), The Roan Group (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Waterfall (UK R2 PAL)
Based on the Mary Roberts Rinehart gothic novel adapted as a play by Avery Hopwood, The Bat is a funhouse version of the familiar killer stalking a country household routine. Though previously filmed (with far more style) in 1926 as a silent film and in 1930 as The Bat Whispers (in 70mm!), this version does have the trump card of Vincent Price, who’s always fun to watch even if his part is way, way too small to justify his top billing. As Dr. Malcolm Wells, Price lends a wry twist to every line, and of course the presence of Agnes Moorehead (post Orson Welles but pre-Bewitched) as mystery writer Cordelia van Gorder doesn’t hurt, either.
Our spooky tale begins when Cordelia rents out a quaint house in the country called the Oaks, the former stomping grounds of a claw-gloved maniac called the Bat (pretty much the same as The Cat and the Canary). As it turns out, there's also a stash of money hidden in the house and a rapidly accumulating cast of characters around the premises all connected to the owner, a shifty bank president who's swiped funds from work and hidden them somewhere within the shadowy walls. As it turns out, the thief has been killed in self defense by a neighbor, Dr. Wells (Price), who shows up with a few clues of his own. Now it seems the Bat has returned and is out for blood, but of course, all is not as it seems.
Creaky but very enjoyable as the kind of thing you can throw on late on a chilly night, this isn't the best choice for Price fans but exactly the kind of thing if you're in the mood for a murder mystery with some surprising proto-slasher elements thrown in. A couple of attack scenes in the second half still pack a bit of a jolt with a slight similarity to the ones in Blood and Black Lace, which might explain how this also inspired the most unlikely episode of the podcast Giallo Ciao Ciao.
Long lapsed into the public domain, The Bat has been a familiar guest in many box sets and single releases from a variety of bargain companies with only three noteworthy DVD editions: a fairly sharp but damaged transfer from the Roan Group (framed at non-anamorphic 1.66:1) paired up with William Castle's House on Haunted Hill, a slightly cropped full frame transfer as a standalone release from Anchor Bay (which also features the original trailer, a familiar sight on my compilations over the years as well), and an anamorphic release from Film Chest.
However, the one to go for is easily the 2015 HD transfer released by The Film Detective (as a BD-R), which looks shockingly good. Black levels are nice and deep, and detail is superior to any prior releases. The original element damage is minor but does result in some specks and fleeting thing scratches here and there, which is still far preferable to the havoc wreaked on other PD titles on Blu-ray by other companies like The Red House, The Stranger, and most egregiously, Dementia-13. The DTS-HD mono audio sounds great, with optional (yellow) English subtitles. Definitely chalk this one up as a pleasant surprise.