Friday, July 15, 1972: Devil Bat’s Daughter (1946)

 

Synopsis: A young woman (Rosemary LaPlanche) is found lying facedown on the highway late at night, and a passing good Samaritan stops and takes her to the Sheriff’s office.  She is conscious but in a catatonic state. A local cabbie identifies her as the fare he picked up earlier that evening.  She’d wanted to go to the “old Carruthers place”.  When the cabbie told her the place has  been deserted for years, she reacted with a shocked expression.  Nevertheless it is at the Carruthers place that the cabbie leaves her.

Surmising that the woman’s missing bag must still be at the house, the county Sheriff (Ed Cassidy) and local physician Dr. Eliot (Nolan Leary) go there in hopes of finding a clue to the woman’s identity.  In the woman’s bag they discover a passport that identifies her as Nina MacCarron, the daughter of the late mad scientist Paul Carruthers, who had terrorized many people with his giant mutated bats some years earlier.


Believing that Nina is suffering from some sort of psychological shock, Dr. Eliot places Nina under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Clifton Morris (Michael Hale). Over a number of weeks, Dr. Morris helps Nina reconstruct her broken memory: she had been living in England for most of her life. Dr. Carruthers had left her family when Nina was only four years old.  Traumatized by the recent death of her mother and by the stress of the London blitz, she travels to America to find her father, only to find that he had died under the accusation of terrible crimes.

During this intensive therapy Nina stays at the Morris household, and we get a view of the respected psychiatrist’s home. There is growing friction between Morris and his wife, the wealthy Ellen Masters Morris. Ellen has a weak heart, and a son from a previous marriage, who is expected home soon from the war.  For his part, Morris is keeping a mistress on the side named Myra (Monica Mars), who wants a commitment.  Even though Morris explains that he would lose out financially if he divorced Ellen, Myra won’t relent.  Don’t call me, Myra warns Morris, until you’re ready to get Ellen out of your life.

Soon Ted Masters arrives home from the war; he and Nina quickly fall in love.  But Nina is troubled by strange dreams — of giant bats that are trying to control her. One night Nina awakens from one such dream to discover that she has killed the Morris family dog with a pair of scissors. Dr. Morris suggests she be moved to a sanitarium for the family’s safety, but the kind-hearted Ellen disagrees, and Nina stays.

But a few nights later, after another disturbing dream, Nina awakens to find herself lying in the hallway holding a pair of bloody scissors.  And nearby lies the body of Ellen Masters Morris….

Comments: We’ve seen The Devil Bat a few times on Horror Incorporated, and it is in every way a fun and zany little movie. In that opus, Bela Lugosi is an unhinged chemist who gets revenge on his victims through a remarkable m.o.: he gives out bottles of special shaving lotion which, when applied to the neck, attract giant mutated bats that — quite literally — go for the jugular.

The Devil Bat was silly and lurid. But as it was the biggest hit PRC ever produced, it was only natural for PRC to greenlight a sequel.  But it turned out to be a sequel in name only. What they really did was to make a low-budget knockoff of two popular films of the era, Cat People (1942) and Gaslight (1944). From Cat People comes the family curse and the conniving psychiatrist; from Gaslight comes the device of a powerful man convincing a vulnerable young woman that she’s going mad.

As we previously noted, Cat People and Gaslight also clearly inspired She Wolf of London, a Universal thriller also released in 1946and a movie with a very similar plot to this one.

Oddly enough, the screenwriters felt it necessary to rehabilitate Dr. Carruthers’ reputation at the end of this movie.  We’re told in the final minutes that Carruthers was actually a wonderful man whose important experiments with giant bats were misunderstood by a fearful and superstitious public, after a few of his experimental animals got loose and attacked people.  This seems extremely unlikely, since we all remember Lugosi chuckling with glee as he sent his devil bats off to rip innocent people’s throats out in the first movie.  Audiences had no doubt forgotten some of the plot points from The Devil Bat by the time the sequel arrived.   But the presence of a  homicidal bat-obsessed maniac probably wasn’t one of them.

I’m still not sure why Dr. Carruthers had to be rehabilitated; I suspect that it’s because audiences at the time might not have accepted a heroine whose father was a vicious murderer. In order for her to be pure, her bloodline has to be pure; or something like that.

Aside from these obvious shortcomings, Devil Bat’s Daughter telegraphs how disappointing it’s going to be from the start. A potentially dramatic opening — Nina discovered in a catatonic state on the side of the road on a windswept night — is squandered in favor of the local sheriff and doctor discussing it after the fact. This is a low-budget movie, sure — but it isn’t a stage play, and there’s no reason to tell when you can show. And throughout the movie we have any number of static scenes, as in She Wolf of London and The Woman Who Came Back, in which we’re given evidence that she is the culprit — all to be explained away, of course, in the final minutes.

Rosemary LaPlanche was a former Miss America whose crown had won her a contract with RKO, where she wound up with nothing more than a handful of bit parts. She found her greatest success at PRC, on this film and the delightfully-titled Strangler of the Swamp the same year. She isn’t outstanding in this film, but she is likable enough, certainly not outshone by the lackluster actors who surround her.

All in all, Devil Bat’s Daughter follows the bait-and-switch pattern of horror films of the time — routine murder mysteries with explained-away endings and lurid marketing. A better movie could have been made with Nina chuckling gleefully and releasing giant bats in order to avenge her late father’s unappreciated genius. How could they have lost money with that idea? But for some reason, PRC didn’t consult with me on the screenplay. Well, their loss.

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2 comments

  1. Haven’t seen this one in over 40 years, never appeared on Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater. The PRC titles, a ubiquitous television presence since 1950, pre-Vampira, were mostly absent, except for BLUEBEARD and STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP.

    Like

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