1999 seemed particularly plagued with remakes of movies that did not need remaking: House on Haunted Hill, Psycho, The Haunting... it seemed that Hollywood had finally listened to cries of "Why don't you make movies like you used to?" but, as usual, had bungled it. Almost lost in the furor was Bats, a movie which actually is made "like they used to". And shows that might not necessarily be a good thing.
A "batologist" (Dina Meyers) and her partner (Leon) are interrupted in their research by the Center for Disease Control and airlifted to the small town of Gallup, Texas (Utah), where a series of killings appear to directly related to bats. Seems a somewhat mad scientist (Bob Gunton) has genetically altered two bats so that they are smarter, omnivorous, and apparently able to command other bats; they are also able to pass these traits along to other bats in the form of a virus. Why did Dr. Crazy do this? "I'm a scientist. That's what we do." So it's up to our two batologists and the town sheriff (Lou Diamond Phillips) to find the roosting place for an ever increasing flock of vicious nightfliers before the infection reaches epidemic proportions.
As I pointed out in the review for Sleepy Hollow, there are two types of film homages: one that enriches the experience of the film containing them, and one (by far the most common) that merely points up the paucity of originality in the filmmaking community. Bats falls into the latter category, with scenes and motifs lifted from The Birds, the hoary old Lugosi vehicle The Devil Bat, and at the end, Alien (complete with spacesuits!).
The movie's heart is in the right place, and it's certainly well-made, with good actors doing their jobs; but there's nothing new on display here, and so much of it is derivative or downright ridiculous that a true horror fan will find themselves two steps ahead of the script at all times -- that is, when they're not wondering how a five pound bat can knock down a 185 pound man. Bats would be best viewing for those not familiar at all with the genre.
The transfer is a typically fine Columbia Tristar product, sharp and clear. A lot of the movie plays out in darkness, with nary a speck of grain or artifacting in evidence. The soundscape is nicely directional and even enveloping in the attack scenes.
With the interactive menus, however, Columbia Tristar has finally come a cropper. Oh, they're easy enough to navigate, but each and every selection is capped with a poorly animated bat flying straight at the screen. It's aggravating enough the first time, much less every single time you access an option.
"Bats Abound" is a five-minute puff piece on the making of the movie, which is thoroughly useless, except to hear the actors talk about how derivative are the scenes. Bios and filmographies are available for director Lewis Morneau, Phillips and Meyer. One very good feature offers side by side storyboard and completed footage comparison, and similar comparisons between plate photography and the same scene with digital bats added. There are trailers for Bats, John Carpenter's Vampires, Night of the Living Dead, Fright Night and The Tingler. There's even an isolated music track for Graeme Revell fans.
The commentary track, which features Morneau and Phillips, is actually quite informative about the making of the movie. Phillips is definitely the better spoken of the two, as Morneau can't seem to get through a sentence without three ums and an err. If the two men spend an inordinate amount of time stroking each other's egos, at least they also provide a lot of anecdotal information. Shame it's not about a better movie.
Freeman Williams, 6/28/00