Sunday 4 October 2009

Blood Bath of the Bat Beast (?)

Director: Larry LoPresti
Stars: Randy Svengali, Baron Dixon, Deon Allen, Jinjer James, Jessie Paulk, Larry LoPresti, Gregor Knauer and Daniel Bone
Any film with a title like Blood Bath of the Bat Beast really has a very specific audience in mind and nobody else would even remotely want to watch it. I can see the raised noses and half smothered snickers just at the title, but fortunately it was precisely this very specific audience who watched the latest version of the film at Phoenix's Alwun House late on a balmy Friday night. It helped that many audience members also belonged to the cast and crew, the delineation being pretty blurred in this instance, and many of the rest were still in costume after completing a zombie scavenger hunt, but it really didn't matter. Everyone played up to the film's inherent interactive nature.

Blood Bath of the Bat Beast is about as solid a tribute to old school pulp scifi/horror movies as I've seen, blissfully knowing and sincere, yet fortunately free of modern era spoofing. There are visual effects, of varying quality, but the title character is a man in a rubber suit (or more accurately a woman in a rubber suit here). These folks know their material and they love it. They're not expecting this film to make a lot of money, they're making it simply because they want to and that enthusiasm shines out of every celluloid pore. The only thing that seems a little out of place is an occasional use of profanity. Everything else rings utterly true.

The film begins as it means to go on, with a freaky megalomaniac serial villain called Dr Cormish talking to his pet bat beasts. Soon they will rule over the lesser creatures, he pronounces, because everyone will pay for ignoring his work. He's even building them up in size by treating them with atomic electricity. It's all pretty impressive stuff too given that all his lab machinery is made out of papier machier and one of the bat beasts looks like it was frozen in liquid nitrogen. The other one is a joyously mobile critter in a cage though and we wonder where we could adopt one.

Where did these things come from, you ask? Well, the only thing that precedes villainous Dr Cormish is some faux vintage newsreel footage, well narrated by Baron Dixon with a very wobbly upper crust English accent. At some point in the past, they discovered bat beast fossils in the Arizona desert, you see, fossils that prove the link between bat and dinosaur. How we transition from bat beast fossils to live bat beasts, we aren't told, and why they would conveniently end up in the hands of a paranoid serial villain like Dr Cormish we don't know either. Hey, you didn't expect anything remotely realistic from a film called Blood Bath of the Bat Beast, did you? If you did, you won't make it to the next scene. If you last that long though, you're going to love it.

You're certainly going to love the Uppington-Crasses, a rich family who make expensive perfume and beauty products. They're all characters, some more eccentric than others, but all definable characters, like bearded Ambrose with his monocle and childish nature and drunkard Alvin who spent more than $5,000 on cognac only last month. None of these children are remotely young, some of them appearing older than their screen father, but they're all childish in the way that only incredibly rich spoiled brats can be. They also live in a house with an awesome front door. I want that door, with its barred portal and studded iron. The Uppington-Crasses don't deserve it.

They meet up to talk over a donation of funds to Dr Cormish in appreciation of his work, though we were all under the impression that he wanted to kill everyone because nobody appreciated it at all. None of these really matters though, because the scene is really there only to allow Alvin to leave with his bottle of cognac, get chased by the slowest flying bat beast I've ever seen and end up decapitated and torn limb from limb because brother Ambrose won't let him back into the house. While the effects are cheap and digital, Ambrose promptly pukes right on the camera, possibly the most truly analogue effect of them all.

Because Alvin is an Uppington-Crass, his unexplained death is obviously a huge deal so the press are all over it, sending precisely one journalist and one photographer to check it all out. Baron Dixon, who plays our heroic journalist, may not look like Carl Kolchak but he works in much the same way, diligently searching for the truth, open to whatever insane truth it might turn out to be and promptly taking care of business at the end of the day. He merely has a little help from a Lovecraftian professor, who identifies the monster as Demonius Rex, the king of the demons; from Sparky, his photographer; and from a musician friend called Max who can rig up the necessary equipment to counter the man bat's sonar death ray in the finale. Like Kolchak he gets some wonderful closing remarks but you know that Tony Vincenzo would never print his story.

What shines out most here is that all these guys know how to have fun. The actors don't just play quirky characters, it feels like they are quirky characters in real life too; certainly the ones I met after the screening fit that description. There are lots of beards, lots of hats, lots of character delineation. They're amateurs, certainly, but enthusiastic and talented amateurs who have a real respect for this sort of material. Most modern filmmakers would just poke fun, ironically spending millions of dollars spoofing something that tended to cost thousands, but these folks don't even seem tempted, because they relish in the material.

It feels far more like the real thing, though as an inept B movie it's surprisingly not as inept as many real equivalents from back in the day. Sure, there's lots of slow dialogue, odd hiccups in delivery here and there and plenty of pauses between lines, but there are an amazing number of shots, requiring plenty of editing, and a solid focus on plot progression. The visuals are variable in quality but well framed and appropriate. Best of all, the sound is amazingly clear, courtesy of the actors lip synching their lines to pre-recorded dialogue. Generally the sync is excellent and the rare poor efforts merely add to the film's authenticity. By comparison I've seen many films lately with dialogue so muddy that it's lost in the mix and some of those were submitted to international film festivals. This has them beaten hands down on that score.

Best of all is the story, which is surprisingly dialogue heavy for something that sets itself up as a visual experience with monsters and special effects. Hiccups in delivery aside, these actors may be amateurs visually but they're great at dialogue. They breathe life into their lines, not just the words but the pauses and the inflections. If the editing was better, this would play out as an awesome old time radio broadcast. I'd love to listen to this while I was working, though my colleagues would wonder what was wrong with me as I repeated favourite lines aloud like 'Man! Bat! United as one!'

The best go to the professor, who relishes them, delivering lines like 'Then may God have mercy on our souls!' with gusto. Using terms like 'bat beast sonar death ray' as if it was the most normal thing in the world requires a special talent, but half the cast get the opportunity to show that they have it. The journalist and photographer are more subtle but the professor could easily be sampled into a Rob Zombie song. Dr Cormish can't achieve the same heights of outrageous pulp outcries but then he often only has a bat beast to talk to. He can't quite infuse his lines with the same pulp power as the professor except when he's talking about A Tomic Electricity, as if it was three words. Like most of the rest of the film, his scenes would liven up nicely with some sharper editing.

It's going to be really interesting to see this film when it's completed. It's awesome fun as it is, with some post-production work yet to be done and some scenes missing. To be honest, I assumed the latter was a deliberate attempt to pay homage to the continuity errors that ran rampant in the low budget scifi films of the sixties, but apparently those scenes merely have yet to be shot. I'd particularly like to see the premiere of the completed work, with the cast and crew there to see it, but I'd watch this at home on DVD as well. It would be a great talking point at a party too, as I'm sure some of the other films that these folks have made would be, films that I've never heard of and which haven't even made it to IMDb, irresistible titles like Night of the Necroluna or Dr Trimrose's Cannibalistic Sex-Crazed Blood Island of the Tiki-Bot. How can you go wrong?

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