The Bat People (1974)

There’s nothing quite like your backyard neighbors going off the chain on another one of their loud, drunken benders waking you from a sound sleep to watch a Jerry Jameson film.

Jerry is old school Hollywood and he’s done it all: Low-budget Drive-In fare with 1971’s Brute Corps and 1972’s The Dirt Gang, along with episodes of U.S. TV series such as The Mod Squad, The Rookies, Cannon, and The Six Million Dollar Man, going all the way back to The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle: USMC. Then there’s his prolific crop of ‘70s TV movies, such as Heatwave!, The Elevator, Hurricane, and Terror on the 40th Floor, along with one of the best TV movies of the ‘70s (the one that transitioned Kurt Russell from child to adult actor and earned him his role in Escape from New York): 1975’s The Deadly Tower.

Then Universal Studios called Jerry up to the big leagues to direct the one of the ‘70s quintessential box office “disaster” smashes: Airport ’77. Sadly, Jerry also directed one of the ‘80s biggest box office bombs, 1980’s Raise the Titanic—which sunk his theatrical career (insert cheesy trombone, here). But let’s not blame Jerry: Blame Sir Lew Grade, the head of ITC Entertainment, for Raise the Titanic. Not only did the film bankrupt the studio, it had adverse effects on the production of Kirk Douglas’s Saturn 3—which subsequently bombed and assisted in the studio’s bankruptcy.

So that is that story. . . .

And that brings us to The Bat People, Jerry’s fourth film overall and his third Drive-In flick. For his leads he cast Stewart Moss (Star Trek: TOS, pick a U.S. TV series) and Marianne McAndrew (Hawaii Five-O; pick a U.S. TV series), two actors he knew intimately from their mutual TV series projects. And bonus: the always awesome Michael Pataki (Grave of the Vampire, Mansion of the Doomed, Rocky IV, The Baby (!) . . . oh, hell, just search his name under “About” on B&S, we just love ‘em here) is Sgt. Ward: the sleazy ‘n leering, bumbling sheriff who is more interested in boinking the local babes (don’t they all in these grindhousers) than tracking down a vampire.

Moss and McAndrew (who are husband and wife in real life) are the ‘70s swingin’ Dr. John Beck and his wife Cathy. The love birds (or is that bats) decide to take a little excursion from their ski lodge vacation to explore an underground cave. Uh, oh. Yes, of course, as when couples explore graveyards and crypts always do (in these grindhousers): the cave makes them a bit “randy” (?). Yep, ‘ol Cathy slips down a crevice (in the cave, not John’s . . . well, him into her’s, actually, you perv!). During the course of rescuing Cathy . . . yep, John’s bitten by a bat (a fruit bat, mind you) and he slowly transforms into a “batman” with an insatiable quest for blood.

Now, you’re wondering: Do we really get a “batman” in this?

Nope. Just a lot of bed-bound seizures and nightmare-babble about “killing people” from the Doc, as his wife blames the hallucinations as an after effect of the rabies vaccine she keeps pumping into him. And no: Dr. John never spouts wings and flies (if this were a David Cronenberg film, we would). And, it is just me, but does the good ‘ol Doc look more like a werewolf, hell, an ape (and a mangy one at that) from Planet of the Apes, than bat?

Eh, yeah. The Bat People is slow. It’s clunky. It meanders. And considering this is an A.I.P (American International Pictures) Drive-In flick from the ‘70s, it’s disappointing there’s no gore or nudity—at least not in the Comet TV cut I watched; perhaps you’ll have better luck with the MGM Midnite Movies DVD cut (and you’ll get a two-fer with The Beast Within; Oh, and heads up: the MGM Midnite Movies imprint also carries the sci-fi vampire bat romp Chosen Survivors).

In the end The Bat People is all about seeing the early baby steps from actors and filmmakers. In this case, not only with Jerry Jameson, but with special effects artist Stan Winston, as The Bat People is notable as Winston’s first feature film—on his way to becoming a five-time Oscar Winner (you know his work from Aliens and the Jurassic Park franchise, just to name a few). And keen eyes weened on ’70s television will notice character actor Paul Carr (Truck Stop Women) as Dr. Kipling, who worked with Jameson on numerous TV series.

As for Jerry Jameson: He’s still steppin’! Not only did he direct 18 episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger but, at 81 years old, he was still going strong, directing Kate Mara (Sue Storm in 2015’s Fantastic Four) and David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) in Paramount Studios’ The Captive (2015).

Well, that’s that. Another B&S review bites the dust.

Drop me a message and I’ll pass on my neighbors’ address so you can send them a thank you card for turning you onto The Bat People. It’s playing all this month on Comet TV and you can also catch it on Amazon Prime. If you’d prefer a hard copy, you can pick up Shout! Factory’s single disc Blu-ray or their 4-Film Pack. However, if you need to save a buck, there’s a rip of the MGM DVD version on You Tube. Here’s the Shout Factory! restoration trailer.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.