The Devil Bat, 1940, Jean Yarbrough

Double Feature

Sh! The Octopus (1937)

Studio: WB; Regie: William C. McGann; Drehbuch: George Bricker nach Theaterstücken von Ralph Spence, Ralph Murphy und Donald Gallaher; Kamera: Arthur L. Todd; Musik: Heinz Roemheld; Darsteller: Hugh Herbert, Allen Jenkins, Marcia Ralston, John Eldredge, George Rosener, Brandon Tynan, Eric Stanley. 16mm (von 35mm), sw, 60 min*

The Devil Bat (1940)

Studio: PRC; Regie: Jean Yarbrough; Drehbuch: John T. Neville, George Bricker; Kamera: Arthur Martinelli; Darsteller: Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren, Dave O'Brien, Guy Usher, Yolande Donlan, Donald Kerr, Edmund Mortimer. 16mm (von 35mm), sw, 69 min
Eine der unvergleichlichen Leistungen des Weltkinos ist William McGanns Horror-Komödie Sh! The Octopus: Hugh Herbert und Allen Jenkins wurden furchtlos mit Hauptrollen betraut, in der Überzeugung, dass sie einen Film ebenso tragen können wie James Cagney oder Errol Flynn. Als Set dient ein klaustrophobisches Leuchtturm-Interieur und McGanns kühnster Schritt ist es, die sinistre Bedrohung die meiste Zeit im Off zu halten, was von vergleichsweise vernachlässigbaren Filmen wie Cat People oder The Thing imitiert wurde. Die Kritik zeigte leider Unverständnis für McGanns einzigartige Vision. Variety empfahl, das Studio möge ab nun freiwillig seine Produktion einstellen. In The Devil Bat lässt die Dummheit der Figuren den Rachefeldzug von Bela Lugosi völlig gerechtfertigt erscheinen. Er spielt den Chemiker eines Kosmetik-Konzerns, der um seine Anteile gebracht wird und daraufhin Riesenfledermäuse züchtet, die er trainiert, Menschen zu töten, die ein bestimmtes Aftershave tragen (das er als Probeexemplar an seine Feinde verschickt). Der einstige Star von Dracula agiert dabei zwar oft wenig glaub-, aber doch auf seine Art würdig – am schönsten sind die Szenen, wenn er oder seine mutierten Fledermäuse über die Leinwand irren. (M. S./C. F.)
*Print courtesy of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research – UW-Madison

Aus dem Katalog zur Retrospektive:

Standing foursquare among the towering achievements of world cinema, Sh! The Octopus transcends mere words. Director William C. McGann shows his inventiveness from the start, daring to place Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins into starring roles, fully confident they can carry a feature as easily as Cagney or Flynn. Next, he boldly confines most of the action to a single, cramped set – a lighthouse interior – compelling his cast to make dynamic acting choices in the most restrictive of conditions. His most audacious move is to keep the Octopus off-screen much of the time – a touch famously ripped off by such later, inferior films as Cat People and The Thing. Finally, he brings it all in at a taut 54 minutes, insuring there won't even be the slightest whiff of padding; it can scarcely be summarized here, but it involves a pair of cops, a mystery woman, a corpse, and of course an Irish police commissioner. Released as a huge Christmas present to an America still rising from the Depression, it was hailed by Variety as "so feeble even the actors look ashamed of themselves ... the studio should be willing to call it quits after this." If motion pictures are indeed the world's greatest art form, then Sh! The Octopus is truly the pinnacle; after seeing it, you'll stagger out of the theatre, secure in the belief you have reached out and touched the face of God. (Michael Schlesinger)

Almost hard to watch except when mad doctor Bela Lugosi or his mutant bats are on screen, and padded to an unforgivable extent by scenes in which amateur detectives and potential victims stand around the set wondering about mysteries whose answers have been known to the viewer from the beginning, The Devil Bat is at once less effective than it should be as a low-grade horror film and more effective than any film needs to be as an absurdist condemnation of human fatuousness. The stupidity of the characters is so total, and the characters themselves so irritating, that Lugosi and his campaign of revenge seem completely justified. The contribution of Jean Yarbrough, here making his second feature film as director, is not very distinguished, but more committed or more imaginative direction would hardly have made a difference to the film. (In his most worthwhile work, The Abbott and Costello Show, one of the glories of American television, Yarbrough seemed to function more as stage manager than as director.) The Devil Bat belongs to, and exists solely for and because of, Lugosi. On a downward career spiral from which he would never manage to rebound, the former star of Dracula compensates himself for the ignominy of appearing in this pathetic little production by wringing each of his scenes by the neck and acting everyone else off the screen. (Chris Fujiwara)

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