The Vampire Bat
by Frank L. Strayer
What struck me instantly about this movie is its averageness. It's nothing special, very brisk, very ok. But then I remembered the screaming terrible quality of Dracula and all of a sudden mediocre didn't seem so bad. I was being less than charitable toward The Vampire Bat, mainly because of the terrible print I was watching, because it really is rather good for its 1933 release date. It's not quite as exciting as say The Most Dangerous Game, but its directed with panache and scripted smartly. The kind of twisty-turny ride that you go on with red herring after red herring makes for a much better film than Dracula. In what would quickly become a trend, the B take on the A subject is much more satisfying. The film is really very simple but there's a kind of pleasure to be found in that especially when you're in the closing minutes and something far wilder than a run-of-the-mill Dracula rip-off unfolds. The ending is another element that took me a few days to consider thanks to mere exposure. I'd seen that kind of ending a dozen times that it took me a while to figure out that all those films, The Atomic Brain, Terror From The Year 5000, The Brain That Wouldn't Die, and literally hundreds more, all started here. This is one of the first mad-science for mad-science's sake movies. Unlike a figure like Rotwang from Metropolis, The Vampire Bat's Otto von Niemann has nothing but good old-fashioned world-domination on the brain, which is all but a first.
Mark of the Vampire
by Tod Browning
Ok, so remember when I said that Dracula was the second proper vampire film? Well that isn't strictly true. Browning helmed a film called London After Midnight which was ostensibly about a vampire but in the end it's actually about a plain old murder and the vampire isn't a vampire at all. So, really Dracula was the second to treat its subject matter seriously and considering that London After Midnight was lost and only exists in a truncated form consisting of production stills set to music and inter-titles it can't really be treated the same way. Mark of the Vampire is thus perhaps most famous as a remake of the earlier Browning film. After that it's famous for being that film with the stupid tension-removing ending. An even hoarier trope of genre films than the rip-off is the horror film that turns out to not be a horror film at all. I hate, hate, hate it when horror films pull that eleventh hour crap especially when there was some kind of skill employed in the preceding hour(s). Granted Mark of the Vampire isn't exactly Shutter Island or even Identity for that matter, but still, Tod Browning all but redeemed himself with that tremendous shot of Carroll Borland descending from the ceiling. That is some otherworldly shit and easily the best bit of imagery the man ever produced. Beyond that the film has little to offer. Lugosi, thankfully, keeps his mouth shut till the very end, but when he does, he ruins the movie.