Beyond the Slimy Wall: Bats
By Stephanie Star Smith
August 26, 2004
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
I think AEPs* are my favorite sub-genre in horror. I mean, what's not to love about Mother Nature rising up and wreaking vengeance against humankind for the many ways in which it has abused the planet, its resources, and all creatures great and small? And since pretty much every beastie that wages war on Homo Sapiens in these films has undergone some sort of mutation from exposure to illegally-dumped toxic something-or-others or genetic experimentation of some kind resulting in unusual size/ferocity/some combination thereof, the primates at the top of the food chain can fairly be said to have brought the carnage upon themselves. Of course, since humans make films, Homo sapiens cannot be seen only as the villain of the piece, so naturally, there are a couple folks who are out to protect the environment and all creatures, et cetera, et cetera. Said protectors of all creatures, et cetera, eventually discover there have been toxic-whatevers dumped or experimentation done - interestingly enough, almost always at the behest of the military - and expose the malefactors whilst dealing with the threat posed by the Vicious Mutant Creature du Jour.
In Bats, we go the genetic-experimentation-for-the-military route. The eponymous blood-suckers escape from the mad scientist's lab just outside a sleepy little town in a remote area of Texas, and go on a killing spree, starting with your obligatory teens necking in a remote place, since sexually active has almost as high a mortality rate in AEPs as in slashers. Of course, the local animal expert - there's always an animal expert in these little backwater towns - says it's vampire bats, and pretty much everyone laughs and points and tell her she's been out in the sun too long. Even the local sheriff, who's sweet on the animal expert - another convention of these films - is skeptical, but hey; he wants to get a little something-something and so follows along with the animal expert's investigations. Which again, according to convention, is the bats' cue to start wreaking havoc in a major way upon the good citizens of the little town.
And this is where the fun begins in earnest.
There's not a lot in the way of surprises in an AEP, since the format is pretty well set in stone, and genre horror films like this do not succeed through attempts to reinvent the form. Rather, the fun in AEPs is in how well they explain how the beasties got to be the blood-thirsty killers they are, and how much mayhem the creatures cause on their way to be destroyed. It's also nice if the film has its tongue in its cheek from time to time, and if the ways in which the humans who have tumbled to what's going on go about trying to convince others of the calamity and/or protect themselves from attack are ingenious.
Bats scores highly in all these areas, and it certainly doesn't hurt that acting is uniformly good, a rarity in films of this type. Bats also plays just the tiniest bit with convention, so that it throws you a few curve balls without departing so dramatically from form as to destroy the film. Bats runs through its 91 minutes quite briskly, with enough mayhem, clever gambits, and ripping action scenes that you never notice the time flying by (pun possibly intended, especially if anyone laughed).
Although you might find yourself nervously looking up into the sky the next time you hear that rush of wings in the night.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.
*Animals Eating People