The movie The Devil Bat (1940) is a black-and-white American horror film produced by Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) and directed by Jean Yarborough. The film stars Bela Lugosi along with Suzanne Kaaren, Guy Usher, Yolande Mallott and the comic team of Dave O’Brien and Donald Kerr as the protagonists¹.
Dr. Paul Carruthers, portrayed by Bela Lugosi, is a respected chemist and physician residing in the quaint town of Heathville. Despite his significant contributions to his company, he is given a meager bonus of $5,000, a stark contrast to the million dollars the company earned from his work. His employers justify this by stating that he opted for a buyout early in the company’s history instead of retaining his partnership stake. Feeling slighted and insulted, Dr. Carruthers plots his revenge.
He devises a method to enlarge ordinary bats to an enormous size and trains them to be attracted to a unique, strong-smelling aftershave he is developing. Ingeniously, he distributes this aftershave to his adversaries as a “test” product.
Once they apply the lotion, Dr. Carruthers releases his Devil Bats into the night, targeting the families of his employers. The bats successfully attack and kill one of the owners and two of his sons. Meanwhile, a savvy reporter from the Chicago Register, Johnny Layton, played by Dave O’Brien, is assigned by his editor to cover and help solve the mysterious murders. Along with his clumsy photographer “One-Shot” McGuire, portrayed by Donald Kerr, they begin to unravel the mystery, providing some comic relief along the way.
In the climactic closing scene, Layton cleverly applies a sample of the aftershave on Dr. Carruthers, causing the bat to attack and kill its own master. Mary, the last surviving member of her family, rushes into Johnny’s arms, marking the end of the ordeal.
- Bela Lugosi as Dr. Paul Carruthers
- Suzanne Kaaren as Mary Heath
- Dave O’Brien as Johnny Layton
- Guy Usher as Henry Morton
- Yolande Donlan as Maxine
- Donald Kerr as ‘One-Shot’ McGuire
- Edmund Mortimer as Martin Heath
- Gene O’Donnell as Don Morton
- Alan Baldwin as Tommy Heath
- John Ellis as Roy Heath
- Arthur Q. Bryan as Joe McGinty
- Hal Price as Chief Wilkins
This low-budget thriller, boosted by Bela Lugosi, was one of the biggest successes for the poverty row Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) .
After the war, the studio tried to recapture this success by producing an in-name-only sequel, Devil Bat’s Daughter (1946), and a virtual shot-by-shot remake, The Flying Serpent (1946) .
One review from moviesanddrinks.com states: “Watching this again after not having seen it for a few years, aside from Lugosi, of course, what I appreciated most about The Devil Bat was how everyone just got on with it all. These “Poverty Row” specials, to put it mildly, may not have had the best scripting or production values—although neither in The Devil Bat are too shabby—but they didn’t bore you, either. We jump right in, and the story moves for a quick 68 minutes, and it’s out. No big message. No fancy-schmancy visual statements. Just some thrills and some laughs hanging on a no-frills framework.” 
Another review from codysfilmandtvblog.blogspot.com states: “The Devil Bat may have been a big hit for PRC back in 1940 but nowadays, it’s fallen into obscurity, known by only the most hardcore horror fans; however, I cannot say it’s a forgotten classic. Its low-budget, Poverty Row origins are very clear, as the cinematography, art direction, music score, and the actual direction of the movie are all by-the-numbers, the leading lady is absolutely bland and superfluous, some of the characters don’t act the way they should, given the circumstances, the Devil Bat itself is just laughable, and there’s no mood, energy, or thrills to be found. ”