After the Sun Has Set and the Night Wind Has Died Comes the Hour of the Bat People!
Dr. John Beck (Stewart Moss) and his wife Cathy (Marianne McAndrew) are on a belated honeymoon, touring a subterranean cave system. He is bitten by a bat, and though their doctor (Paul Carr) is concerned about rabies, the end result is actually quite worse. A number of locals are found dead with their throats ripped out, and police officer Sgt. Ward (Michael Pataki) believes Beck is somehow involved. Beware the were-bat!
I would like to say that this is a hidden gem of a movie. I’m typically pretty forgiving of shortcomings and able to root around through the muck to find something of value, however there’s very little glimmer here to be found. If the worst offense that a film can commit is being dull, then this one is guilty of that cardinal sin. It moves along at a snail’s pace, not offering up solid character moments or interesting dialogue even during the downtime. Everyone remains two-dimensional caricatures the entire time, and there’s little chemistry between any of them.
THE BAT PEOPLE would have benefited greatly from just a bit more excitement. Unfortunately, there are only a few attack scenes and these are mostly poorly-constructed and perpetrated by regular-sized bats while the big baddy presumably lingers just off camera. And that may be the biggest downfall of the script: too much of the man-bat occurs off camera. It’s likely that this was intended to make us question whether John’s transformations were real, or if they were just the hallucinatory product of a rabies-ravaged mind, but all it did was made us question why we didn’t get to see the good stuff. All that we get is a couple of partial-transformation scenes which amount to little more than webbed fingers, a massive eye roll, and a grand mal seizure; and one full-reveal at the end. It’s unfortunate that the makeup effects (early work from the legendary Stan Winston) missed the mark so badly. It’s not that they were terrible, it’s just that they were wrong. When we finally see the man-bat in all his glory, he looks almost nothing like a bat, instead resembling a castoff from the original PLANET OF THE APES. It should have been so much more fulfilling.
The finale was rather baffling, showing Cathy mesmerized by the bats (or her bat-husband) through means never explained or explored. In fact, there’s such a plethora of things here that were never explored that you just know it could have been a better movie if the creative minds behind it had put in a little more effort. The bat motif is never put to use, as John never displays any bat like qualities—he never flies, he never hangs upside down by his feet, never has an aversion to light, and he never uses sonar or experiences improved hearing. Basically, it could have been any animal that he transformed into and the result would have been very much the same. But I suppose the notion of a werelizard or a weresquirrel would have come across as rather silly.
Oh, and about that title: there’s only one bat person, so it’s basically a lie. Perhaps that’s why this movie sometimes goes by IT LIVES BY NIGHT, which is at least more honest, but does nothing to make it a better picture.
THE BAT PEOPLE was written by Lou Shaw, who had mostly worked in television, with credits on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, NAKED CITY, THE MUNSTERS, QUINCY M.E, (which he created) and BEYOND WESTWORLD. He wrote only a small handful of movies during his career: HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (1973), on which he shared credit with three others; DEATH IN SPACE (1974), starring the great George Maharis; and the Tom Jones comedy PLEASURE COVE (1979). Lou Shaw was married to screenwriter Peggy O’Shea, and although the two did some television work together, she worked mostly on soap operas like ONE LIFE TO LIVE and PEYTON PLACE. Shaw famously filed a lawsuit against CBS, whom he maintained stole his idea for television series THE EQUALIZER.
Directing duties went to Jerry Jameson, who has nearly 75 such credits on both film and TV to his name. Some of the more interesting: the seldom-seen exploitation film BRUTE CORPS (1971); biker flick THE DIRT GANG (1972); TV movie THE SECRET NIGHT CALLER (1975), starring Robert “Mike Brady” Reed as a man addicted to making obscene telephone calls; Charles Whitman psychodrama THE DEADLY TOWER (1975) starring Kurt Russell as the sniper in question; and hijack disaster flick AIRPORT ’77 (1977).
Our leading man, Stewart Moss, had guest appearances in a number of television shows—everything from the original STAR TREK to PUNKY BREWSTER. His film work is less expansive, but he can be found in Otto Preminger’s IN HARM’S WAY (1965), fishing boat drama CHUBASCO (1967), crime drama PENDULUM (1969), action comedy FUZZ (1972), horror flick DR. DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS (1973), and a few others.
Marianne McAndrew can be seen holding her own with Bette Midler in HELLO, DOLLY! (1969), Russ Meyer film THE SEVEN MINUTES (1971), crime drama CHANDLER (also 1971), and the television movie GROWING UP BRADY (2000). McAndrew and Moss were—and still are—married in real life, just as they were in the film, so it’s odd that their characters didn’t click better. This was, unfortunately, the only time that the two appeared together onscreen.
Michael Pataki has a filmography deserving of deep coverage on this website: EASY RIDER and FIVE THE HARD WAY (both 1969); DREAM NO EVIL (1970); THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971); PINK ANGELS and GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (both 1972); THE BLACK BUNCH, THE BABY, LITTLE CIGARS, HETEROSEXUALIS, and A MAN FOR HANGING (all 1973); DELINQUENT SCHOOL GIRLS (1975); JAILBAIT BABYSITTER (1977); THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN television specials (1977-1979); ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA (1978); THE GLOVE (1979); GRADUATION DAY and DEAD & BURIED (both 1981); SWEET 16 (1983); HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988); and plenty of others. The fact that he balanced his horror and exploitation films out with appearances on wholesome TV shows (MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE FLYING NUN, HAPPY DAYS) is, quite frankly, impressive.
Paul Carr’s film credits aren’t quite as wide-reaching, but he can be found in BEN (1972), THE SEVERED ARM (1973), TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974), SISTERS OF DEATH (1976), and NIGHT EYES (1990). He did more work on television, appearing on cult favorites such as ONE STEP BEYOND, THE FUGITIVE, TIME TUNNEL, LAND OF THE GIANTS, and plenty more.
Director Jameson must have enjoyed working with these particular leading men, because they showed up in his other projects: Stewart Moss can be found in his Death Chain episode of CANNON and his Trackdown episode of DAN AUGUST (both 1971), plus his Dead Eye episode of MURDER, SHE WROTE (1993). He also showed up in Jameson’s RAISE THE TITANIC (1980) and TV reunion movies DAN AUGUST: MURDER, MY FRIEND (1980), GUNSMOKE: THE LONG RIDE (1993), and BONANZA: THE RETURN (1993). Michael Pataki was also in the the aforementioned episode of DAN AUGUST and its reunion movie, and RAISE THE TITANIC. Beyond those, he also showed up in BRUTE CORPS (1971), THE DIRT GANG (1972), Rabbits on the Runway episode of THE ROOKIES (1972), TV movie CALL OF THE WILD (1976), AIRPORT ’77 (1977), SUPERDOME (1978), HIGH NOON, PART II: THE RETURN OF WILL KANE (1980), COWBOY (1983), and THE COWBOY AND THE BALLERINA (1984).
Since many of these credits occur after THE BAT PEOPLE was released in 1974, it’s safe to say that neither Stewart Moss or Michael Pataki hold grudges.