Friday, November 27, 2015

015. The Bat and 016. Death in the Shadows

Jump to Death in the Shadows (1985)

015. The Bat (1959)
Director: Crane Wilbur
Writers: Crane Wilbur from a play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

A mystery writer starts being menaced by a serial killer known as "The Bat" after renting a house with a million dollars hidden in its walls.

In some ways a by-the-numbers studio suspense piece that, as a commenter on archive.org notes, was done in several versions. This version is pretty strong, though, with nice performances by Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead.

Vincent Price is the town doctor on a hunting trip with the local bank president. The president tells Price that he’s embezzled a million dollars from the bank and hidden it somewhere in his mansion. He expects the vice president of the bank will take the fall, but, to simplify things, wants Price to help the president fake his death. Price instead kills the bank president.

Meanwhile, Agnes Moorehead is a mystery writer who has rented the bank president’s mansion in the countryside for her vacation. The staff is worried because they’ve been hearing tales from town about a serial killer known as “The Bat.” The movie then follows the three plots—the Bat, Price looking for the money, and the effort to exonerate the bank’s vice president—to a satisfying conclusion.

There’s nothing radical about this film, but it handles its twists and misdirections well. I hesitate to say more because I think that would ruin the fun of watching this. The movie doesn’t have any Shyamalan-level twists, but it does a nice job of being aware of and then subverting expectations.

I actually watched this years ago as part of the pd project Horror Collection and had completely forgotten what it was about. I was confusing it with Man in the Attic, a movie about Jack the Ripper starring Jack Palance. The Bat was good, though, even a second time through. Highly recommend for anyone who likes that 50’s aesthetic or if you’re programming a spooky movie marathon for your kid’s slumber party. It has the right tone, doesn’t have any objectionable content, and moves along at a nice pace.

I have no idea why this is on the Sci-Fi Invasion set as opposed to any of the others.

I added an MPEG2 of this movie to the Internet Archive 7 years ago (holy cow. I was just getting ready to move to Philly). You can find it here.


016. Death in the Shadows aka De Prooi (1985)
Director: Vivian Pieters
Writers: Vivian Pieters and Ton Ruys based on Cahterine Arid’s novel Henrietta Who?
From: Pure Terror

Valerie finds out after her mother’s death in a hit-and-run that her mother never had children and wasn’t really her parent. Now Valerie has to sort out the details of her identity before whoever killed her mother kills her as well.

This is a dubbed Dutch film and I worry some of it got lost in translation. The tone’s nice and there are some interesting possibilities presented in how people respond to Valerie trying to uncover her mother’s past, but they don’t relate to the conclusion so the film feels like it takes several unnecessary turns toward the sordid.

And when I say “sordid,” I don’t mean gratuitous nudity, although there is that. Valerie undressing to take a shower or go to bed will make you roll your eyes: it’s not part of the plot, there aren’t other characters there so it’s not about showing a relationship, it’s just obvious pandering.

The sordid elements, though, stem from the neighbor. She’s played up as a suspicious figure and Valerie eventually follows her into town to find out what she does. Turns out the neighbor works as a dancer in a peep show club. All this does is make you ask why it’s there. That’s not a plot point and not something that comes up again. If it were part of the story, if that’s where things were going and Valerie was going to find out some unpleasant truths about her mother’s past, great. The story doesn’t go there, though, so it’s just a moment where the character descends into this leery space just so the movie can indulge in it. Honestly, if you’re going to try to be seedy, commit and tell a seedy story.

The plot itself—basically the revelation at the end and the inciting incident—is solid and compelling on its own. The movie just never feels like it locks into that. I might return to this movie in case I missed something while watching, but I don’t think so.

This is listed in Film Chest’s archives, but that seems unlikely since it’s from 1985 and my copy appears to have a copyright notice in the closing credits (although the print is blurry and it's hard to make out).

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