Our belfry is full of bats this week. Ten classic movies about bats will be shown in the dark to honor both International Bat Night and our Monster Weekend.
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The bat, as the sole flying animal in nature, could have been seen as a warm-blooded ally of mankind. When it comes to birds of prey, they’ve traditionally symbolized nightfall’s impending doom as well as a belief in vampires. Vampire bats, which are ubiquitous in South and Central America, have tarnished the reputations of countless other bat species. There’s something about their squat, fanged faces and irregular, indirect flight patterns that send shivers down our spines.
Cinema has played a significant role in the development of this terrible legend, between vampire films and haunted house movies. The mere sight of bats scurrying across the night sky or perched in the rafters of a dreadful mansion is enough to terrify moviegoers. Don’t underestimate the horror that the Hammer version of Dracula (1958) may bring when it plays on the courtyard of the British Museum during our Monster Weekend.
Each of the suggestions presented here can be viewed in the United Kingdom.
All about helping us overcome our deep-seated fear of bats: International Bat Night took place on August 25th this year. To help people better understand our fanged friends, parks and community groups organize bat walks and other educational programs. As they are evicted from their barns and homes, bats are becoming increasingly endangered.
While it is possible to see benign bats on the big screen, we shouldn’t hold our breath. The best way to enjoy this 10-film journey into bat country is to turn down the lights and cover up your hair.
1. Le Manoir du diable (1896)
Almost 120 years ago, we’re in the midst of cinema’s infancy, with what many regard to be the first ever horror film. And what is the first picture in the first horror film that you can think of? Gothic castle surrounded by a huge bat.
France’s first great cinematic illusionist was a man named Georges Méliès, who used cutting-edge editing techniques to create on-screen magic feats. He transforms into Mephistopheles (played by Méliès), who then uses the cauldron to bring forth an assistant and an assistant’s cauldron. All kinds of illusions are used to scare two cavaliers, including skeletons that transform into the bat and back into Mephistopheles with two simple cuts. It was not the intention of Méliès’s film to terrify the audience, but rather to wow them with his cinematic sleight of hand. This was just the beginning of their reign of terror in the dark.
2. The Lost Weekend (1945)
Billy Wilder was inspired to make a film about alcoholism after working on the screenplay for Double Indemnity (1944) with alcoholic Raymond Chandler. Ray Milland plays New York-based writer Don Birnam, who is having a hard time staying on track. A four-day binge by Birnam plunges him into the depths of his addiction as he hallucinates a mouse emerging from a gap in his wall, followed by a giant bat hovering over it to kill it.
Even if you’re not a fan of the gothic, this bat’s flight is accompanied with an unsettling score by Miklós Rózsa, who uses an early version of the theremin. The best film Oscar went to The Lost Weekend, which also won for best director, best actor, and best screenplay that year.
3. Le Vampire (1945)
He is known for his film-portraits of seahorses, jellyfish, octopi and other creatures of the deep. Jean Painlevé is a French documentarist who straddles science and surrealism. Le Vampire, on the other hand, depicts the South American vampire bat’s blood-sucking rituals, which he found fascinating. Using footage from Nosferatu (1922) by F.W. Murnau, Painlevé illustrates the terrible place that the vampire occupies in European society, before a horrifying scenario in which a bat is seen delivering its poisonous ‘kiss’ to an animal.
This disease-carrying pest is supposed to have shown Painlevé a glimpse of Hitler’s dread, including its habit of raising its wing before going to sleep—which the filmmaker equated to saying “Heil Hitler”—during his time spent exile in Nazi-occupied France during World War II.
4. Les Amants (1958)
Only a few seconds are spent with a bat in Louis Malle’s Les Amants, yet it leaves an indelible impact.
Maggy (Judith Magre) and Raoul (José Luis de Vilallonga) are two of Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreauclosest )’s friends, and she spends much of her time in Paris socializing with them and having an affair with the suave polo player. By asking their city friends to dinner with them, Alain Cuny’s newspaperman husband (Alain Cuny) challenges her bluff. A bat flies into the dining room, briefly disrupting what had been a perfectly formal atmosphere. Using a candlestick as a source of light, the Tourniers’ butler quickly sends the bat on its way. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. After all, it was a weird invasion of the wild and instinctual into an orderly scene of manners and formality that the creature’s short, frantic flight around the room still stays in the imagination.
5. The Kiss of the Vampire (1962)
The Kiss of the Vampire was originally meant to be the third in Hammer’s Dracula series, but instead featured the malevolent Dr Ravna (Noel Willman), the patriarch of a family of vampires who lived a lavish life in an isolated estate in early 20th-century Bavaria.
On their honeymoon in this remote part of Europe, newlyweds Gerald and Marianne Harcourt (played by Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel) discover Ravna and his family, who are only interested in their blood. There’s a lot of imagination-stirring compensation here, including an atmospherically shot prelude at a funeral, an eerie masquerade ball scene that foreshadows both The Masque of the Red Death and Roman Polanski’s Dance of the Vampires (1967), and – finally – a climactic invasion of bats, conjured by occultist Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans). The release of the picture was delayed because of this iconic finale, which distributors feared was too similar to moments in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).
6. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
When Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) is left scarred and without his wife following an automobile accident, the flamboyant genius sets out to exact revenge on negligent medical professionals. He launches a homicidal vengeance, inspired by the 10 plagues that beset Egypt in the Old Testament, with the help of his silent assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North). In a disturbing string of ingenious murders, frogs, rodents, and locusts are among the victims… Bats, on the other hand, come first.
In the middle of the night, Vulnavia drops a cage through Dr. Dunwoody’s skylight. Dunwoody awakens to the sound of wings in his room and the chasing shadows of flitting shapes as she removes the key from the cage’s door. Mauling the doctor by a big bat is the stuff of nightmares for anyone who is afraid of waking up one morning to find something strange on their pillow.
7. Suspiria (1977)
Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo horror Suspiria, in which young American ballet dancer Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) is viciously attacked by a huge bat that has flown in through her bathroom window, exploits that old fear of bats getting caught in long hair to shudder-inducing effect. The creature clings to her hair and flaps around her face as she tries to flee, its jaws wide eagerly.
It’s one of those horrifying scenes in a movie that makes you feel like you’re living in a nightmare the entire time. Suzy has arrived in Germany to study at an exclusive dance academy, but she soon discovers that the academy is home to a coven of witches. The film’s unique delirious atmosphere is enhanced by the film’s red-dominated color scheme, expressionistic set design, and spooky electronic score by Goblin. Once you’ve seen Suspiria, you won’t be able to forget it.
8. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
Because animated bats are more likely to mimic the director’s vision, it’s no surprise that some of the species’ most memorable roles in film have been in cartoons, such as the fruit bat in FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) or Rasputin’s albino bat minion in Anastasia (1997).
The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991) were two of Disney’s most beloved films, and The Great Mouse Detective is often cited as a harbinger of the studio’s resurgence (1991). To play the nefarious Professor Ratigan (voiced by Vincent Price) and his henchman, Fidget (voiced by John Cleese), what better monsters than a rat or a bat would be? There are few organisms that are more reviled by humans, more associated with disease and death than the roach. The foolish Fidget even endures the indignity of not being able to fly because he has a peg leg and a damaged wing.
9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
There is a loud screech of brakes as the red convertible stops on a dusty highway. Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) is terrified as he sits in the passenger seat, staring out the window with his eyes dilated from the effects of his prescription drugs. “Wait! We can’t just sit here any longer. In this area, “bats rule.”
It’s a work trip and a hallucinogen-fuelled journey spanning all known borders of human excess that Duke and his attorney Dr Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) set off for Las Vegas with. Each of Hunter S. Thompson’s vivid psychoactive episodes is brought to life by Terry Gilliam’s stunning cinematic version of Hunter S. Thompson’s legendary novel in which actor Johnny Depp vividly recreates every twitch of paranoia and madness. Duke imagines a cloud of bats swarming around their car, which Gilliam depicts solely as reflections in his yellow-tinted aviators — an effective visualization of his insane subjectivity. Bat country is everywhere in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and there is no going back.
10. Batman Begins (2005)
Symbols are necessary for Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne (Balance). He’s resolved to honor his father’s legacy by taking on Gotham City’s criminal underworld, but he knows he can’t do it alone. An alter-ego is required instead, something “elemental,” he muses, “something dreadful,” to strike fear into the corrupt hearts of those who would do harm to him.
Bats scare the young Bruce in Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise in Batman Begins; this event leaves him terrified of them for life. As an adult, he overcomes his fear of bats and becomes Batman by letting them to swarm around him, channeling their nocturnal mystique to transform him into a nightly crusader against the forces of evil.