THE BAT PEOPLE (1974) Blu-ray
Director: Jerry Jameson
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

A rather unusual hybrid of traditional werewolf and vampire motifs, THE BAT PEOPLE is one of those 1970s horror movies with a really bad reputation and seemingly more haters than actual fans. The ingredients are all there to make for an entertaining and surprisingly bloody PG-rated monster flick, even if the end results are not entirely satisfying. But if the groovy thrills of THE BAT PEOPLE are considered a guilty pleasure, Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is surely cause for revaluation—and for some—celebration!

John (Stewart Moss, DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS) and Cathy Beck (Marianne McAndrew, THE SEVEN MINUTES) are enjoying an outdoor picnic when their causal lunch is interrupted by an unwanted visitor crawling across their flannel blanket; a bat. Cathy finds the winged mammal repulsive, while John, being an immunologist, is fascinated with the creature. After John shoos the bat away, Cathy suggests that they alter their itinerary and head straight for the ski slopes, bypassing their scheduled tour of the local caves. John reluctantly agrees, as their time together is supposed to be their long overdue honeymoon, but Cathy, aware of how much John was looking forward to visiting the caves, relents and the couple make their way to the caverns. Once inside, Cathy begins to feel frisky, so the two break away from the group and stray from the tour path to find a comfortable stalagmite to fornicate on. Before their petting gets very heavy, the two slide down a rock wall into a small enclave, whose floor is covered in bugs and various other creepy crawlies. The two scream for help, but their tour group has already proceeded on. As the couple try and figure a way out of their predicament they are attacked from above by a rather aggressive bat. John swats the creature away from Cathy but in the process is bitten on the forehead. Terrified, Cathy kicks the bat off a cliff, deeper into the cave only to later regret her action, as the bat would have been necessary to check for rabies.

The two are eventually heard and pulled to safety. Not letting a little thing like being bitten on the face by a flying rodent slow them down, the happy couple stays on schedule and makes their way to the ski slopes. However, halfway up the mountain, John’s eyes roll back into is head and he has visions of his running from and being attacked by bats. John comes to, before the gondola reaches the mountain’s peak, but the incident leads Cathy to insist that John start treatment for rabies immediately. Under the care of a friendly doctor (Paul Carr, THE DIRT GANG) who desires spending more time as a “ski bum”, John recieves some rabies treatments that lead to a violent allergic reaction and worries Cathy into believing that something else might be wrong. Her concerns are not unfounded as John’s behavior becomes more unpredictable and the local police sergeant (Michael Pataki, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE) favors him as his lead suspect in a series of grisly murders.

Independently produced and shot largely on location in New Mexico in 1973, THE BAT PEOPLE was distributed by American International Pictures (AIP) who simultaneously played it under another title: IT LIVES BY NIGHT (obviously to try and cash in on the recent success of Larry Cohen’s IT’S ALIVE). It hung around the drive-ins (in various double and triple bills) for a while, but it must have been the quickest movie AIP sold to television, as it premiered on “The CBS Late Movie” in February, 1975 at a time when it was still getting ample coverage in magazines like Monsters of the Movies. To enjoy THE BAT PEOPLE for what it is, you’ll have to excuse the occasional use of batty stock footage, the laughable dream sequences, the plot inconsistencies, the continuity errors (look for the same cavern tour in two totally different parts of the movie) and of course the ambiguous, unsatisfying ending. As far as a monster movie goes, you don’t really see his face until the very end, with John’s transformations into a Bat-like creature conveyed by Moss rolling his eyes way back into his forehead to convey the inner conflict. Moss and McAndrew are a real-life married couple and do have some on-screen chemistry, and although she is rather easy on the eyes, she does little but looked confused throughout the film. Moss, an extremely busy TV actor at the time that this was shot, does manage to elicit some sympathy, but within the context of THE BAT PEOPLE, he often comes off like a poor man’s Bradford Dillman. The great Michael Pataki is a treat to watch as a kind of sleazy version of TV’s “McCloud”, lusting after Cathy and on the trail of John with little disregard for his suspect's well-being. Spoiler: Pataki’s death sequence—ambushed by bloodthirsty bats in his car after a number of them splatter all over his windshield—is marvelous, and the best scene in the movie. Veteran character actor Arthur Space (who you’ve seen in numerous B movies such as TARGET EARTH and PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO) appears as a wino encountered by John after he’s escaped from the hospital (and before he turns back into a bat monster).

When the monster face is finally revealed (after a series of blinking eye close-ups or just showing his transformed bat-claw), it marks one of the first make-up effects jobs for legendary special effects artist Stan Winston. The make-up is kind of cool but rather disappointing at the same time, as he looks more like a gorilla than a bat (think of a really ugly simian in one of the original “Planet of the Apes” entries), but it does illustrate just how far Winston's skill and craftsmanship would grow over the subsequent years before his untimely death in 2008. Director Jerry Jameson was a rather prolific television director, having worked on “Hawaii Five-O”, “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “Magnum, P.I.”, “Dynasty” and “Murder She Wrote” to name a few. THE BAT PEOPLE is one of his few theatrical outings, which also include AIRPORT 77 and RAISE THE TITANIC (both featured Moss again in supporting roles). Producer/writer Lou Shaw too worked extensively in television (almost exclusively) but he has another 1970s horror movie to his credit, having done the same honors for the American version of HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (aka CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD).

THE BAT PEOPLE made its DVD debut in 2007 as part of MGM’s “Midnite Movies” line (paired with THE BEAST WITHIN) and more recently, Shout! Factory licensed the film from MGM and it showed up on a single-disc “Movies 4 U” package (though economy label Timeless Media) along with THE VAMPIRE (1957), THE SCREAMING SKULL and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. Shout!’s Scream Factory arm listened to fan requests (I being one of them) for a Blu-ray release of THE BAT PEOPLE, so a new HD master was thankfully created and here we are! The film is presented in 1080p in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Grain has been retained throughout, leading to outstanding detail levels. Colors are distinct and bold, skin tones appear natural and darker scenes are easy to make out. Black levels are also strong, giving a solidness to the depth of the overall image, and there are hardly any blemishes to be found on the print source. The sound is provided in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which well mixes the dialogue, the squeaking bat sound effects and the score by Artie Kane (THE EYES OF LAURA MARS) to good effect. Optional English subtitles are included.

Included as an extra is a standard definition 10th season episode (from 1999) of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” airing the film under the IT LIVES BY NIGHT title. For fans of the show, the film offers plenty of material for Mike, Crow and Tom to mock such as Marianne McAndrew’s passing resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore and her “Charlie Brown” sweater, among numerous other causes for rib. I got the biggest chuckles when they referenced the cover of Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Band on the Run” LP (during a scene where John is breaking away from the hospital). And for those movie geeks only judging the film from this MST3000 airing, note that it’s a heavily truncated version missing much of the meat and potatoes, including most of the sheriff’s bloody death scene. Two short original theatrical trailers are included together (one as THE BAT PEOPLE and one as IT LIVES BY NIGHT, but both with voiceover referring to the latter title) as well as a still gallery. (George R. Reis)