Synopsis: Dr. Larry Forbes (Shepperd Strudwick) arrives in a remote French village to see his fiance, Madelon Renault (Lynne Roberts) and to meet her uncle, the renowned scientist Dr. Robert Renault (George Zucco). Forbes stops at an inn near the village, where he is supposed to meet someone who will take him to the Renault house. But he learns that they will have to cross over a bridge that has been washed out; and as a result he is stranded in the town overnight. He meets Renault’s gardener Rogell (Mike Mazursky) and another of Dr. Renault’s servants, a strange taciturn man named Noel (J. Carrol Naish).
Noel says he is from Java, and he seems gentle and sensitive, but also uncomfortable, apologizing repeatedly for his behavior, even when he’s done nothing wrong. But he becomes enraged when a drunk inn patron makes a remark that Noel sees as insulting to Madelon. Noel grabs the man and seems ready to attack him. But Larry calms him down and the situation is defused.
When he goes up to retire that night Larry finds the drunk has stumbled into his room by mistake and is snoring away on the bed. Larry, amused, goes to sleep in the drunk’s unoccupied room next door. But in the morning the drunk is found murdered, strangled by a very powerful assailant. The police question everyone closely, particularly Rogell, who has a criminal record, as well as Noel, who was seen to argue with the murder victim a few hours before the crime.
The police are unsure of whether the intended victim was the drunk or Larry himself, who was after all sleeping in the wrong room. Nevertheless, Larry, Rogell and Noel head out to the Renault estate. Noel drives, and as the car reaches a bend in the road, he abruptly slows the car down to a crawl. To Larry’s astonishment, as they proceed around the curve they see a dog crossing the road. Had Noel not slowed down he would have hit it. But how did he know it was there?
Larry seems to find a kindred spirit in Dr. Renault, who has a keen and curious mind. But something bothers Larry about Noel, and he can’t put his finger on what it is. Noel seems gentle and kind, extremely loyal to Madelon, but can fly into a murderous rage if provoked. Animals don’t seem to like him, and he doesn’t seem to like them. He has enormous strength — more than any one man ought to have. He has senses much keener than any human. And it comforts him greatly when the barber in town gives him a good close shave….
Synopsis: Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is a brilliant chemist who works for a cosmetics company. Years ago the company had given him a choice: he could be compensated with a share in the profits, or with a straight salary. He chose the latter. Unfortunately for him, the company went on to become a huge player in the cosmetics industry, and it’s clear that the percentage deal would have made him extremely wealthy. As it is, he’s well-compensated, but he missed out on a fortune that he himself helped to build. The Heath family, which owns the company, is aware of how much they owe Dr. Carruthers. As far as they know, he’s as happy as a clam in his laboratory.
The Heath family decides to throw a party in Dr. Carruthers’ honor – and they also secretly plan to award him a bonus check of $5,000. But the good doctor is late to his own party. He’s busy working. You see, behind a secret passage in his laboratory is another lab — and in this one he is breeding giant carnivorous bats! And that’s not all — he has created a scent that drives the bats wild with rage.
After Carruthers fails to show up at his own party, young Roy Heath (John Ellis) decides to drop by and give Dr. Carruthers the check in person. When he finds Carruthers the scientist seems delighted by the check, and he gives Roy something in return – a bottle of experimental shaving lotion. “Be sure to put some on the tender part of the neck,” Carruthers advises, and Roy, gamely, does so. But he doesn’t walk more than fifty or so yard out in the open before a giant bat swoops out of the sky, killing him.
At the offices of the Chicago Daily Register, smart-alec reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) is sent out to cover the story. Chief Wilkins of the Heathville police tells Layton that Roy was attacked by some kind of animal; moreover, there were hairs found on the victim that seemed to be those of a mouse. Layton wonders if the hairs might be from a bat — as bats and mice are quite similar — and asks if he can “do some sleuthing around” on the case, and the police chief says it’s fine by him.
At the Heath estate, Johnny interviews Mary Heath (Suzanne Kaaren), and it’s clear that a mutual attraction is brewing. Dr. Carruthers agrees that Roy was attacked by an animal, and that night Layton and his sidekick / photographer “One-Shot” McGuire (Donald Kerr) wait out at the edge of the Heath grounds hoping the creature will show up. Mary comes out to keep Layton company, and before long they are joined by Heath sibling Tommy (Alan Baldwin), who’s just been to visit Dr. Carruthers and who has also received a bottle of the special shaving lotion. After Tommy scoffs at the idea of an animal killing Roy, he strides off toward the mansion. But soon the others hear him calling for help — and arrive just in time to see Tommy attacked by a giant bat!
Now it’s a big story — the Daily Register is running banner headlines about the “Devil Bat” — but Layton’s editor isn’t satisfied. They need a picture of the bat, and Layton gets an idea: One-Shot can get the local taxidermist to create a fake Devil Bat, take a picture of it, and fool the editor. Unfortunately, a “Made In Japan” tag gives away the ruse, and both Layton and One-Shot are fired. Now they have two tasks: find out the truth about the Devil Bat, and find a way to get their old jobs back….
Comments: As I’ve noted a number of times on this site, Universal responded to Bela Lugosi’s success as the star of Dracula with an ambivalent strategy: they relegated him to minor roles, while at the same time playing up his name in the marketing materials. Slowly but surely they edged Lugosi right off the lot.
But in the poverty-row houses Lugosi was never anything less than a genuine star, and he won the lion’s share of screen time even when the scripts were poor and budgets were meager — which was approximately always. Probably the best of these Lugosi programmers was PRC’s The Devil Bat, a film that attacks –with great relish — a premise that one might describe as, erm, “batshit crazy”.
Indeed, the craziest thing about Dr. Carruther’s revenge plot isn‘t that he breeds huge carnivorous bats and unleashes them to kill his enemies. It’s that his plot actually works. No sooner do his intended victims step out the front door than a bat swoops in and rips out their jugular veins. If Carruthers was interested in getting rich, he should have just patented his process and sold it to the military — imagine entire Panzer divisions scattering in terror as clouds of huge, bloodthirsty bats descend from the skies!
Now that we’re thinking about it, why would Dr. Carruthers use a bat at all? Most bats eat insects or fruit (vampire bats drink blood, of course, but they’re pretty dainty about it; they nibble through skin with their teeth and lap up whatever small amount of blood comes out. Getting killed by one of them would take quite a while).
Hence stage one in Dr. Carruther’s plan: using electricity (or something) to make his bats super-sized. Stage two: conditioning the bat to react with rage at a specific smell (e.g., Old Spice aftershave). Then, stage three: get his unlucky victim to slap on some lotion while inside his house, usher them out the door, run down to the basement, pull the lever releasing the killer bat, and hope for the best.
Sorry, but this seems like an awful lot of work. I get that using a .38 would rob you of the poetic justice of killing the Heaths with their own products, but really. If you’re so determined to outsource your murders to an animal, why not condition a mountain lion or a bear to go after your quarry? At least they’ve been known to kill people.*
I guess this is why they call them “mad scientists” and not simply “unreasonably angry but nonetheless practical scientists”. The Devil Mountain Lion wouldn’t have looked right on a movie marquee either. Still, I can’t imagine pitching this story to any film studio. Even Universal — which released plenty of dogs from its cinematic kennel over the years — wouldn’t have touched this one with a ten-foot pole. But all things were possible at PRC, and even stupid ideas could get greenlighted, provided they were lurid and exciting enough. And this one was both.
*If it were me, I’d breed skunks to react with rage at the smell of the lotion; it wouldn’t kill the Heaths, but it would sure be entertaining.