Entertainment Magazine

The Bat People

Posted on the 11 June 2022 by Christopher Saunders
The Bat PeopleThe Bat People (1974) is notorious both for its confusing plethora of titles (It Lives By Night, Winged Death, Angel of Fear, etc.) and its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, where it served Mike and the Bots material for a million guano jokes. Which is probably the fate it deserves. An underachieving creature feature that makes little use of its premise, this one won't appeal to anyone outside of die hard horror fans. 

Newlyweds John and Cathy Beck (Stewart Moss and Marianne McAndrew) take a honeymoon detour to visit a local cave, where they become separated from their guide and John is bitten by a ravenous bat. John brushes off the encounter, but Cathy's alarmed when he starts showing alarming reactions like seizures and bouts of irritability - symptoms a local doctor (Paul Carr) attributes to rabies. It's something far more dreadful than that; at night John turns into some kind of bloodsucking man-bat who preys on humans, drawing the attention of Police Sergeant Ward (Michael Pataki).

Credit The Bat People for at least trying a different spin on the familiar werewolf tale. The first half of the movie almost resembles a psychological thriller more than a monster movie, as John struggles to understand what's happening to him. His erratic behavior alarms Cathy, even as the flagrantly irresponsible Dr. Kipling advises him to ignore his symptoms and go skiing. There's a sense less of physical than mental deterioration, as John's confessional monolog relates. He accepts that he's becoming a bat and views it as a weird return to nature, abandoning civilization for his crudest impulses.

On the one hand, John's dilemma is standard to the werewolf/human transformation genre. But it's also not out of keeping with other '70s dramas like Straw Dogs, which views Man as an innately violent animal with a sheen of civilization. And since the tribunes of civilization we meet are either inept (Dr. Kipling, who literally throws a table full of pills at John to cure his "nightmares") or corrupt (Sergeant Ward, who attempts to rape Cathy at one point), who's to say being a bat isn't the way to go? Of course, Man never was a bat in the first place, which rather muddles the metaphor. 

Which is probably giving Bat People too much credit. After the serviceable opening the movie turns to monster movie cliches, artlessly executed by Jerry Jameson (whose other notable credit was Raise the Titanic): young women in peril, torn throats and incredulous authorities. John's transformation is handled by Stan Winston in one of his earlier efforts, but his makeup is laughable, consisting of a webbed hand and some facial make-up that makes John look like a cranky gorilla. The movie delivers some gruesome sights, like an army of bats that arrives at the climax to dispatch a supporting character, but few surprises and no real scares. 

Stewart Moss, a reliable stage and TV actor, never seems like leading man material. He plays John as crabbed and smug even before his transformation, making it hard to sympathize with his plight and harder still to feel pity when he starts murdering people. Marianne McAndrew (Moss's real-life wife) does what she can make Cathy likable, but the script undercuts a workmanlike performance. It's up to veteran B Movie sleaze Michael Pataki to carry much of the picture: Sergeant Ward is as cliched as everything else, but at least Pataki knows how to make this character work.

Ultimately, The Bat People comes exactly as advertised. There are bats, there are people, there is at least one bat person, bloody shenanigans ensue. Even if you tease out the thematic subtext above, it's not even interestingly or creatively bad like a lot of MST3K features. It's undistinguished fodder for drive-ins or late-night cable. 

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog