A horrific commingling of bats and aftershave

Released 13 December 1940, The Devil Bat was the very first horror film made by then-new Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (which went on to make many quality films which earned high praise). This film was also part of Béla Lugosi’s comeback after his career had gone into decline (due to new Universal management and the U.K.’s ban on horror films).

Dr. Paul Carruthers (Lugosi) of Heathville is a beloved citizen and respected research scientist for Heath-Morton Cosmetics, Ltd. Little do the villagers know what dark, twisted secrets are lurking in his hidden lab overlooking Martin Heath’s impressive estate.

Dr. Carruthers is keeping a bat whom he greatly increased in size, and training it to attack anyone wearing his Oriental aftershave.

Dr. Carruthers is invited to a party at the Heath estate, but begs off attending because he’s working so hard on a new formula. Everyone is disappointed he’s a no-show, since they planned to surprise him with a $5,000 bonus check.

Roy Heath visits him to deliver the check in person, and is talked into trying out the new aftershave. Dr. Carruthers tells him goodbye instead of goodnight when he takes his leave.

Instead of seeing that check as a generous gift, Dr. Carruthers feels insulted. He’s worked so hard for that company and helped to make them rich, while they expect him to be grateful with peanuts in return. Enraged, he sends his bat into the night.

The bat swoops from the sky to attack Roy when he arrives home, as his sister Mary (Suzanne Kaaren) and her friend Don Morton (the co-founder’s son) look on in horror. Dr. Carruthers is called to the scene and pronounces it a hopeless case.

The local newspaper immediately jumps on this mysterious unsolved murder, with young reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and cameraman One Shot McGuire (Donald Kerr) leading the investigation. Despite their boss Joe’s natural skepticism, they believe Dr. Carruthers’s theory that the culprit was a bat.

Tommy Heath tests the aftershave next, and once again Dr. Carruthers tells him goodbye instead of goodnight before releasing the giant bat. In full view of a horrified Mary, Johnny, and McGuire, Tommy is attacked and killed.

All of Heathville now lives in terror of the Devil Bat. This fear increases when the bat attacks a third victim, Don Morton.

All three victims had the same aftershave, leading to suspicions that a disgruntled factory employee is the one offing people in the Heath and Morton families.

Johnny and McGuire are fired when it comes out the Devil Bat they photographed was made in Japan, but that doesn’t deter them in the least. They continue the investigation on their own.

Dr. Carruthers cordially cooperates with the police chief and Johnny when they question him about the ingredients of his aftershave and why the three victims were wearing it. The chief begs off trying the aftershave, for fear his wife would suspect another woman, but Johnny takes a sample to use later. Yet again, Dr. Carruthers says goodbye instead of goodnight.

While Johnny and McGuire are waiting for the bat that night, their big chance arrives. They shoot it dead, a  development which is immediately the subject of many news stories.

Not one to be deterred easily, Dr. Carruthers gets another bat. His next victim, co-founder Henry Morton, takes more convincing than the others to put the aftershave on his face then and there instead of waiting till morning.

Dr. Carruthers is enraged when Henry reminds him he sold his first formula for only $10,000 and gave up his partnership stake, while the company has made over a million dollars. He once more says goodbye instead of goodnight.

With the second Devil Bat on the loose, Heathville once again lives in terror. Now Johnny, who’s been rehired, makes his move to prove once and for all who’s really behind these attacks.

Caught in a testament of evil

The eighth screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s famous book The Picture of Dorian Gray was the first sound version, and the first time it had been adapted since 1918. It was released 1 June 1945 and earned $1,399,000 in North America ($20,229,540 today) and $1,576,000 in the rest of the world ($22,788,960 today). MGM took a fairly small loss of $26,000 ($375,960 today).

Dorian Gray was nominated for three Academies in 1946, one of which it won (Harry Stradling for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White). This was a rare win for a horror film, a genre which isn’t very respected at the Academies.

Angela Lansbury won a 1946 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1996, the film won a Retro-Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and in 2009, it was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best DVD Classic Film Release.

Artist Henrique Medina painted the picture of Dorian seen at the start of the film, Portrait of Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. It sold at auctions in 1970, 1997, and 2015. Today, it’s believed to belong to a private collector.

The grotesquely transformed later portrait, which becomes more and more monstrous as Dorian grows in his evil, was painted by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, known as “The Master of the Macabre.” The Art Institute of Chicago currently owns it.

Both paintings appear in Technicolor the first time they’re shown.

In 1886 London, young Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) lives in the lap of luxury but doesn’t quite have his head screwed on straight. Like all youth, he thinks he knows so much more than he really does, and overestimates his own maturity.

Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) pays a visit while he’s sitting for a painting by Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore), and convinces Dorian of the superiority of youth and hedonism. Youth only comes this way once, and then never again, so why not milk it for all it’s worth while it’s with us?

Towards this end, Dorian wishes he could stay frozen in time while only his painting ages. This wish is uttered in the presence of an Ancient Egyptian cat goddess statue who’s also in the painting.

Dorian soon visits a tavern, where he falls in instalove with pretty young singer Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury, who just turned 95). Though Sibyl never gets friendly with any of her fans, she’s so taken with Dorian she makes an exception.

They’re soon courting, despite the disapproval of Sibyl’s brother James. Sibyl’s mother meanwhile is thrilled at such a rich suitor.

Henry once again plays the busybody and convinces Dorian to test Sibyl’s worth by asking her to spend the night at his home. Sibyl is initially scandalized by the request and leaves, but quickly returns because she loves Dorian so.

Dorian writes her a cruel letter soon afterwards, claiming she killed his love and that she can never see him again. Sibyl is heartbroken to receive this letter. Insult is added to injury when a compensation check is enclosed.

Dorian notices new, cruel lines in his face in the painting, and is overcome with shame and regret. He immediately sets to work writing a most profuse apology and reconciliation letter.

Soon after Dorian seals and addresses the envelope, Henry visits again with very bad news making the resumption of that relationship impossible. This is all the catalyst Dorian needs to fall deeper and deeper into a cruel, hedonistic lifestyle encouraged by Henry.

Though Dorian is now firmly committed to a selfish, hedonistic lifestyle, he’s so disturbed by the changes in his portrait, he hides it in his old schoolroom on the top floor of his house and covers it with a cloth. Prior, he kept it covered by screens, and refused to let Basil display it with other artwork.

The schoolroom is locked, and only Dorian has a key. No one has a reason to go up there, and he regularly fires and replaces his servants, so he believes his secret is safe.

Every time Dorian steals a look at the hidden painting, he’s more and more horrified. He barely recognizes himself anymore, so monstrous has he become. His hands are also stained with blood.

Then Basil drops by shortly before he’s due to leave on a trip to Paris, and Dorian’s life of evil deeds becomes even more out of control.

As is so often the case, the taste of sin is so sweet in the beginning, but eventually becomes very bitter. One who’s so used to sinning has an uphill battle to defeat that evil inclination.

And to make matters even more complicated, Dorian’s misdeeds start catching up with him in the form of several people seeking revenge.

Quintuple horror in a creepy cottage

Dead of Night, a British anthology film, premièred 9 September 1945 at London’s Gaumont Haymarket theatre, and did very well commercially. Many modern critics continue to praise it as a classic horror film, with special praise for the final story about the ventriloquist.

Though horror films had long been common in the U.S., they weren’t so common in Britain in this era; indeed, they’d been banned during WWII. Dead of Night began to change all that.

The film was made at Ealing Studios in West London, which began business in 1902 and is the world’s oldest continually-operating film production studio.

Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at a Tudor-style cottage in the country which seems oddly familiar. His sense of déjà vu increases even more when his host, Eliot Foley (Roland Culver), shows him inside. Though Walter has never met any of the guests, he’s dreamt about them all many times.

Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk) has a ready scientific answer for everything, including the stories the other guests tell about eerie events from their own lives, but as the night wears on, his skepticism gradually starts waning.

First up is Hugh Grainger (Antony Baird), who tells the story of how he was almost killed in a racecar accident in “The Hearse Driver.” During the end of his hospital stay, he looks out the window and has a horrifying vision of a horse-drawn hearse. His nurse Joyce thinks he imagined it, but he can’t shake his terror.

Upon his discharge, Grainger goes to catch a bus, but he’s filled with foreboding when the driver looks exactly like the hearse driver and says there’s only room for one. Grainger immediately steps back and lets the bus take off without him.

Almost immediately, the bus goes off the road and crashes down a steep hill. Grainger’s premonition saved his life.

Next up is “The Christmas Party,” the story of teenage Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes, now age 90). While playing hide-and-seek, Sally stumbles upon a hallway leading to a staircase leading to secret passageways and a playroom.

In the playroom, she encounters a little boy, Francis, who says his older sister Constance is very mean to him and wants to kill him. Sally treats him very tenderly and tucks him into bed before being found by her friends.

Sally is freaked out when she learns there are no children spending the night and that Francis is the unfortunate boy her buddy Jimmy told her about when they were hiding together earlier, a boy who was killed by his sister in that house a long time ago.

The middle story is “The Haunted Mirror,” the story that creeped me out most. Joan (Googie Withers) buys her fiancé Peter Cortland (Ralph Michael) a mirror from an antiques store to replace the basic one his uncle bought him awhile ago. Peter is happy with the gift at first, but soon lives in terror of it.

Every time he looks in the mirror, he sees a very Gothic-type room that looks like it’s in a mansion, with a burning fireplace, candles, and a fancy four-poster bed with carved grapes on top. He also can’t see Joyce in the mirror when she stands beside him.

Peter wants to push out their wedding date because he fears he’s losing his mind, but he manages to summon the willpower to see his normal room behind him in the mirror again, and Joyce beside him.

Everything seems to be going most swimmingly after they marry and move into a new house, but then the visions return. Joyce learns the supernatural reason for this when she visits the store where she bought the mirror and sees a bed exactly like the one Peter described.

The mirror, the bed, and several other things in the shop belonged to a man who died in 1836, in a house which was sealed until very recently. The storekeeper tells Joyce the tragic, horrific story of the original owner and his wife, a story Peter begins re-enacting when Joyce comes home.

This intense, creepy mood is lifted by the penultimate story, “The Golfer’s Story,” which is comedy-horror.

Buddies George Parratt (Basil Radford) and Larry Potter (Naunton Wayne) are intense rivals on the golf course, but closer than brothers in all other arenas. That all changes, however, when they meet Mary Lee (Peggy Bryan).

Eventually they hit upon the idea of playing a golf game with Mary’s hand in marriage as the prize. George wades into the lake by the green after losing, and his ghost comes back to haunt Larry.

George tries to make Larry give up both Mary and golf forever, but Larry refuses this deal. He can give up Mary, but he’ll have no reason for living if he never golfs again. George accepts the compromise, and says he must always stay within six feet of Larry.

George’s presence quickly becomes impossible to bear, and George himself agrees this is really awkward. However, he’s unable to go back to the other world, since he came back to Earth without knowing that rather important detail of ghosting. The magic formula keeps eluding him.

Finally, we have “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” a story within a story within a story. Dr. van Straaten tells a tale of the time he was called in as a psychoanalyst for Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave), who was charged with the attempted murder of fellow ventriloquist Sylvester Kee (Hartley Power).

Maxwell’s dummy, Hugo, becomes more and more out of control, acting as if with a mind of his own instead of controlled by his master. This drives Maxwell into madness.

The last reel reminds me very much of all the twists and turns near the end of Dr. Caligari. It’s hard to tell what is and isn’t reality, since the lines are so blurred.

A house of horrors meets a heaping helping of horsefeathers

There’s a lot to be said for knowing when to step away from a series or concept. In the case of Universal’s monster franchise, they kept driving that gravy train into the ground with too many sequels and crossovers, instead of creating awesome new monsters and stories.

1944’s House of Frankenstein at least had a consistent, coherent plot, despite being an obvious B movie. House of Dracula is riddled with plotholes, unbelievable reactions, and shamefully poor use of Frankenstein’s Monster.

I would say Universal redeemed itself with the final group appearance of the Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but then they proceeded to run that concept into the ground as well with a total of seven A&C Meet… films.

Dracula (John Carradine) shows up at Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens)’s castle at five in the morning, introducing himself as Baros Latos and begging for a cure for his Vampyrism. Dr. Edelmann, who’s been sleeping fully-clothed in a chair in his office, is amazingly chill about a stranger entering his home at that hour and saying he’s a Vampyre. Maybe that’s a more common occurrence than I thought!

Dr. Edelmann and his nurses, Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll) and hunchbacked Nina (Jane Adams), begin work on a possible cure. Nina is very disappointed he’s interrupting his work on curing her hunchback, but he assures her he’ll fix her next.

Dracula’s dirt-lined coffin is moved into the cellar while Dr. Edelmann prepares for the blood transfusions which he believes will turn Dracula into a normal human. (Odd how Dracula never sought a cure in any of his previous movies! Also odd how he managed to come back to life after his demise in the previous film.)

Dr. Edelmann is in the middle of these very important experiments when Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) arrives, desperately begging for a cure for his lycanthropism. He insists he can’t wait for Dr. Edelmann to finish what he’s doing, since a full Moon is coming up. Larry then goes to the prison and begs the cops to put him in a cell for his own safety, a request they fulfill.

That same night, Dr. Edelmann goes to see Larry, after learning where he went, and sees him transmogrifying into the Wolf Man as the full Moon rises. Convinced of the seriousness of his condition, Dr. Edelmann takes him to the castle in the morning.

Dr. Edelmann believes Larry’s lycanthropism isn’t caused by the Moon, but cranial pressure which can be cured with spores from clavaria formosa flowers. This mysterious plant’s spores allegedly reshape bones.

Larry doesn’t want to wait for more spores to be harvested, and jumps off a rocky ledge into the ocean.

Dr. Edelmann goes after Larry, finding him in a cave and transformed again into the Wolf Man. Because it’s such a smart idea to look for a werewolf during a full Moon, and to not have backup in case things get ugly.

Larry attacks him, but turns back into his human form when the Moon disappears behind clouds. As they’re making their way out of the cave, they find Frankenstein’s Monster partly buried in quagmire, and are quite nonchalant about it.

Also with the Monster is the skeleton of Dr. Niemann from the previous film, and Larry doesn’t say anything about their close acquaintance.

Dr. Edelmann takes the Monster into his castle via a tunnel leading to the cellar and starts reanimating him, but is prevailed upon by his nurses to stop. The Monster is too dangerous and powerful to risk yet another reign of terror.

Meanwhile, Dracula is trying to seduce Milizia and turn her into a Vampyre, efforts which are interrupted when Dr. Edelmann tells Dracula he needs another blood transfusion. Strange antibodies were found in his blood.

Nina is on to Dracula’s scheme, and when she tells Dr. Edelmann her suspicions, he prepares a different type of transfusion, one which will destroy Dracula.

Dracula hypnotises Dr. Edelmann and Nina so he can reverse the blood transfusion and turn Dr. Edelmann into a Vampyre. As bad as this film is, it’s notable for the only instance of Dracula turning another man into a Vampyre, albeit not in the usual way so as to avoid homoerotic overtones.

Now the stage is set for an increasingly intense parade of horrors.

House of Dracula was released 7 December 1945 and became a commercial success, though it’s not so highly-rated today.

Meddling anew in things best left alone

Inspired by the success of Son of Frankenstein, Universal decided to create a sequel to The Invisible Man. In March 1939, they began searching for the right screenwriters and director. Finally, they settled on Curt Siodmak and Lester K. Cole as writers, and Joe May as director. Mr. May was a pioneer of German film, and escaped to the U.S. in 1933 after the Nazis came to power.

Though there’d been hints of Boris Karloff or Béla Lugosi playing the lead, Universal wanted an unknown actor, a “young, good-looking contender even though he would remain invisible until the last reel.”

Filming began 13 October 1939 and was supposed to last 27 days, with a budget of $243,750 ($4,564,262.59 today). However, they were behind schedule by the second week, and by November, everyone was working till midnight. There was scant expectation of wrapping on schedule.

Production ended 11 November 1939, followed by a projected few days of post-production for special effects. Once again, they went over, and post-production lasted fifteen days. On the final day, the crew worked till 4:15 AM.

On 12 January 1940, the film was released. It earned $815,000 from national and international profits combined ($15,802,714.29 today).

Below stairs at Radcliffe Manor, several servants anxiously await word about a death row reprieve for Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), who’s falsely accused of murdering his brother Michael. Also very worried is Helen Manson (Nan Grey), his fiancée.

After more and more time ticks by without any happy news, Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton), brother of the first Invisible Man, Jack, goes to see him in prison.

During this tightly-supervised ten-minute visit, Geoffrey mysteriously vanishes into thin air, leaving his clothes behind. With the authorities convinced he’s the real murderer, a manhunt is launched. In the wake of Geoffrey’s disappearing act, Helen also vanishes.

First Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and then Inspector Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) come to Frank’s lab, convinced he knows something. Sampson is certain Frank used the invisibility potion on Geoffrey.

Geoffrey meets Helen at the remote home of Ben Jenkins (Forrester Harvey). Helen hopes they can hide out there safely until Frank discovers the antidote, but Geoffrey won’t rest easily till the real killer is found.

Though there’s no one else around for miles, Geoffrey is extremely on-edge from the incessant barking of Ben’s dog. Helen makes Ben chain him up far from the house.

The dog attracts the attention of a cop bicycling through the woods. He’s still barking crazily when the cop arrives at the house. A fight breaks out, with the cop suspecting Ben has visitors and demanding to search the house.

Against Ben’s agitated attempts to block the cop from going upstairs, Geoffrey is discovered. The cop runs back downstairs to phone for help, and is told to not let Geoffrey take off his clothes no matter what.

Geoffrey does just that and escapes out the window before the cop and Ben return.

Geoffrey wastes no time in going to Frank’s lab. Frank has been working busily hard on the antidote, and recently had success with a guinea pig. Now he manages to take a blood sample from Geoffrey, despite his invisibility, to use in the next version.

Geoffrey’s suspicions are triggered when Willie Spears (Alan Napier), the new superintendent of the Radcliffes’ coal mine, visits the lab. Based on what Spears says, Geoffrey has reason to believe Cobb (his cousin) is the real killer. Not wasting a moment, he perches on Spears’s car and stalls it in the woods.

Spears is terrified when Geoffrey makes himself known. First he thinks he drank more than he was aware of, then thinks it’s Satan. Geoffrey chases him through the woods, taunting him and saying there’s no escape.

Fueled by terror, Spears makes a full confession and says Cobb would’ve killed him if he told authorities what really happened. He begs for mercy, and it looks like Geoffrey is satisfied.

Until, that is, Spears is ambushed in his house after packing a suitcase. Geoffrey ties him up and says he’ll be back after settling a score with Cobb.

Now begins a calculated campaign to prove Cobb’s guilt to the authorities and take revenge, all while Frank continues trying to find an antidote before Geoffrey goes mad like Jack.