Tuesday, August 6, 2013

THE BAT WHISPERS (1930)

Newfangled sound is only one of the innovations that greet us in THE BAT WHISPERS.  The opening scenes, with a camera diving and swooping over what I assume is a meticulously-crafted miniature, shout that we've entered a whole new era.  There are lots of changes to enjoy or abhor and we'll talk them all out.


This kicks off like an action movie, with the mentioned roller-coaster camerawork.  We learn that a master criminal called The Bat has committed a string of artful robberies.  But he'll never pull off this one: a robbery of the highest room of a higher building with police on the ground and out in the hallway.  When you hear "you'll never!" in the first scenes of a crime film, you know what's coming.  It's the forerunner of "I ain't racist, but—" 


Dat ass.  Such a humiliating way for a rich man to meet death.


The early scenes hook you, so you totally buy into this exciting, rapidly-paced horror-thriller.  Then the movie decides to be a jerk and travel to a spooky old house, where maids are comically afraid and make faces like this & sounds like spooked foxes.  We get a ton of characters and much more commonplace static camerawork.  It's a poor trade.


At times, the film returns to its high-flying early photography, but mostly these interior shots are about two things, comedy and loud noises.  Sometimes, the comedy works ("I've seen you through socialism, Fletcherism, and rheumatism, but when it comes to spookism, I'm through!"), but frequently it gets grating and annoying, since it's pretty insistently shoved in your face after the fashion of most of these hybrids.  There's nothing more excruciating than fun that tries too hard.   HEY GUISE HOW BOUT THIS WEATHER COULD IT GET ANY COLDER COLD ENOUGH FOR YOU LOL. The other element on display is LOUD NOISE.  This movie was an early talkie and exploits the novelty by making sure that every footstep, thunderstorm, and bowling ball thrown down the stairs is right up front for you to enjoy.  Not until the first House of Pain album would white America again be so concerned with bass. 


It's cool to see more adventurous camera techniques and hear booms and bats and all that, but THE BAT WHISPERS also reminds us that we're leaving something behind.  The experiments and risks of the silent era and especially Euro expressionism are giving way to Hollywood-produced light entertainment.  There are no angular sets here, no quick flashes of bared breast or bestial monsters.  Instead, we get mundane mystery influences and comedy mini-skits, all of which would quickly become part of the standard repertoire for scary movies.


PS I hate the term "scary movie".  It's like calling CASABLANCA a "kissy film".  If it fits anywhere, though, it fits here, since THE BAT WHISPERS is all about proto-jump scares, at least for the scenes that are scary.  Horror content is honestly pretty minimal and takes second place to comedy, noise, and thriller characteristics.  Bookended by a seriously strong beginning and ending, but what's in the middle isn't totally satisfying.  


Since THE CAT CREEPS is a lost film and I have no idea about INAGI's status, THE BAT WHISPERS is both the best and worst genre film of 1930!  Congratulations!

RATING: 5/10

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