Are Vampire Bats Killing People?

     The Vampire Bat (1933) is a genre bending film starring Lionel Atwill. Ostensibly, it is a horror film but is actually more of a mystery. It would fall into the “B” movie category, a short film meant to be the appetizer for the main film on a double bill.

     Majestic Pictures produced the film, which was directed by Frank R. Strayer. Strayer mainly uses mis-en-scene to create the atmosphere for the film. The film begins with a town watchman walking through the lamp lit streets. The watchman looks up in a tree, which is inhabited by bats. A scream is heard from a nearby street causing the bats to scatter.

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Still from The Vampire Bat (1933)

     Strayer then cuts to the office of Burgermeister Gustave Schoen, where town leaders are discussing the recent murders.  Schoen, played by Lionel Belmore, reads from a 1643 town record about the hanging of a man convicted of vampirism. The record also states all bats were caught and killed. The Chief of Police dismisses the record and tells them strongly they are looking for a human being not a vampire or bat.

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Still from the Vampire Bat (1933)

     The Chief of Police Karl Brettschnieder,played by Melvyn Douglas, is aided in his investigation by Dr. Otto Von Nieman, portrayed by Lionel Atwill. Von Nieman does not know what to think about the murders but believes people can transform into strange apparitions due to evil or illness. Von Nieman’s assistant Ruth, played by Fay Wray, is Karl’s love interest. She would be King Kong’s love interest in the movie King Kong (1933) released in the same year as The Vampire Bat.

    The townspeople suspect Herman Glieb, played by Dwight Frye.  Glieb keeps the bats as pets but Brettschnieder doubts Herman could hurt anyone.  Glieb reinforces this impression, when he runs away screaming after the latest victim is found.

     Despite it’s status as a “B” film, Strayer’s use of mise-en-scene to recreate the atmosphere of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) makes this film a classic 1930s horror film.  The acting of Lionel Atwill also helped.  The film runs about 65 minutes.

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