The Vampire Bat (1933) is on one level a cheap way to pass the time. On another level, it's a classic in its own right, showcasing one of Dwight Frye's more intriguingly maniacal characters and a story that surpasses many for its time.
Set in a small village called Kleinschloss in Bavaria, the plot revolves around numerous murders that have been occurring. The unfortunate twist to these murders? Each victim is found blood-drained with the cliche bite marks on their neck. The superstitious town is petrified and insists that it is vampirism spreading this horror about. But investigator Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) is skeptical. He would rather pursue the matter from a more scientific standpoint. Dr. Otto von Niemann (Lionel Atwill) is the town doctor, and is torn between the two sides, not sure what should be done. And then, of course, we have Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye). The unfortunate man who everyone's pointing their finger at. You see, the mentally handicapped Gleib has a fascination with bats. Couple that with his eccentric and at times creepy personality and the poor guy never had a chance. The townsfolk focus their fear on him -- eventually chasing down Herman, leading to his death. They drive a stake through his heart just to be sure. But wouldn't you know it, the killing continues. Faced with a mystery that threatens to go on and on if the true source of this depravity is not uncovered, the story then kicks into the next gear, ultimately winding down to its ending.
I bought The Vampire Bat DVD for really one reason: Dwight Frye. Most recognized for his portayal of Renfield in 1931's Dracula, he's been known by horror fans for his ability to bring insanity to the screen (even though in all actuality he was much more versatile in his acting ability). I was indeed impressed with his part in The Vampire Bat. Sure, his role could've been given a tiny bit more screen time, but for what it's worth, I'm left satisfied. Yet the real kicker was the surprise hit with the film in general. It's nowhere near a masterpiece, but it's definitely more than the average B flick to pop out of the 30s. I think anyone who enjoys that era of horror will certainly enjoy this.
The DVD, however, isn't anything to really write home about. The DVD edition I own (Studio: CiniVu, Production Company: Majestic Pictures Inc., DVD cover: orange movie title with Atwill's hypnotic face in gray) doesn't have very nice picture or sound, but one can only assume that because of the film's age just about every transfer will be this way. The menu is no more than the scene selection page and a "Play Feature" button. So I'd say when it comes to choosing which edition, just go for the cheapest. I've yet to hear of any DVD with extra features or a spectacular transfer. So, in other words, my four stars are for the film itself!