Oh, THE VAMPIRE BAT, you naughty bitch. Look at you, tantalizing us with that cast. Boasting about LIONEL ATWILL and FAY WRAY and poor slighted DWIGHT FRYE, forever a malcom in the middle.
But the cast is the best thing about this rather mundane and by-the-numbers frightster. The plot appears to have been written based on a rubric of Mandatory Elements: a bürgermeister (just like FRANKENSTEIN), a series of mysterious murders and victims with blood stolen (DRACULA), and many prominent shots of beakers and other science equipment (MOM AND DAD). You know you're in trouble when a horror movie opens with real-time scenes of town meetings.
The actors are all pretty game, but they're working with a script that's dead on the slab. We don't care about Dr. Otto von Niemann's science lab romance with Ruth Bertin, and we care only a little more about his conviction that these murders are not the work of a vampire.
Another strike against the film is its obvious poverty. The sets are spartan and you can tell where the budget went because it's pushed into the front of every scene. This beaker is the Angelina Jolie of 1933.
I'm a pretty big Dwight Frye fan and he gives his usual excellent wacko performance here as Herman, the town's creepy, bat-loving simpleton. Maybe if the movie had utilized him more often, it would have been stronger. But, by 1933, people weren't interested in character actors skitzing out and such.
They wanted to see laboratory equipment and lots of it!
I'm maybe most disappointed that I still haven't seen an A+ Fay Wray performance. She gets to do a bit more acting here compared to the shrieking thrashing of KING KONG or the breast-centric BLACK MOON, but I'm still not sold on her abilities. The cast is, as said, fine, but not great enough to overcome VAMPIRE BAT's many flaws. Not terrible, but nothing special either.