The Bats in “Bats”
What’s amazing about “Bats,” an overtly earnest 1999 monster movie about genetically modified bats menacing a small Texas town, is that it was written by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter John Logan (“Gladiator,” “Rango,” this winter’s “Skyfall”). However, the problem with the film isn’t so much the screenplay as it is the hammy, chaotic direction of Louis Morneau (yeah, never heard of him either), as well as the iffy visual effects that leave the supposedly threatening creatures either looking like off-brand Halloween decorations or a screensaver on some ancient PC. Even more baffling: why the bats act less like bats and more like gremlins (complete with light-up glowing eyes).
The Bat in “Contagion”
At some point during “Contagion,” Steven Soderbergh’s clinical look at a devastating viral outbreak, a scientist identifies the infected strain as containing “both bat and pig DNA.” However, you don’t get to see the bat-in-question until the very end of the film, when Soderbergh finally gives us a look at “Day One” of the epidemic. In this Mousetrap-like sequence, a fruit bat drops a piece of contaminated fruit near a pig, who then eats it, co-mingling the species’ DNA. So, if there was any question that “Contagion” was a humanist horror movie, the fact that a bat started it all should put that to rest.
The Albino Bat in “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”
To this day the so-so sequel “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” still elicits a handful of uncontrollable belly laughs, one of which involves the white bat that Jim Carrey’s Ace is sent to Africa to retrieve. See, while Ace claims that he loves all animals, he’s actually deathly afraid of bats, which leads to a succession of side-splitting jokes about the species and their accompanying poop (“Guano plates! Collect the whole set!”) Just thinking about Ace going into the non-Bruce Wayne bat cave — which leads to him imagining that bats are roosting in his oversized pompadour — has us giggling (maybe not as much as that graphic scene where he dives out of a robot rhino’s butt, but still).
The Giant Vampire Bats in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”
Amid the monkey brains and memorable one-liners of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” there is something else: vampire bats! The species is referenced in two separate scenes, both including shrill showgirl Willie (Kate Capshaw). The first features Willie looking toward a darkening sky and saying, “Ooh what big birds!” To which noble explorer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) corrects “Those aren’t birds, sweetheart. They’re giant vampire bats.” The second sequence involves Willie doing laundry — except it turns out that it’s not actually laundry, but bat wings. (Since the film’s release, Internet-commenters have pointed out that vampire bats aren’t unnaturally large but instead, little critters. Thanks, Internet!)
Batty Koda (Robin Williams) in “Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest”
Robin Williams made such an impression as the genie in Disney’s animated masterpiece “Aladdin,” that it’s easy to forget that in the same year the actor gave birth to another singing character, Batty Koda in the marginal eco-fable “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” While the movie is largely terrible, with a plot that involves a human being shrunk down to the size of a fairy in order to truly understand the interconnectivity of nature, Williams’ Batty Koda does leave something of an impression. He’s a bat who’s been used for product testing and gets the movie’s signature musical number, an evocative, darkly tinged ditty called “Batty Rap,” penned by none other than “She Blinded Me With Science” mastermind Thomas Dolby.
Bartok (Hank Azaria) in “Anastasia”
Following the rule in animated movies that everyone — even characters based on genocidal madmen like Rasputin the mad monk — deserve plucky anthropomorphic animal sidekicks, comes Bartok (Hank Azaria), a zippy albino bat. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s “Anastasia,” a fairy-tale take on the Romanov family massacre (you know, for kids), was probably deemed “too dark” at first and in need of wacky bat softening. After all, its central plot has Rasputin, voiced by Christopher Lloyd, coming back from the dead after Anastasia is discovered alive, intent to finish the job and fulfill the curse. Enter Bartok, a character who Azaria oddly gave a Midwestern accent to, and the only thing anybody remembers from this fluffy holiday trifle.
Probably the most famous man/bat on the list, Dracula, the vampiric count originated by Bram Stoker in 1897, has had countless iterations, but one facet of the character that almost always remains is his ability to transform himself into a winged creature of the night. This is true of the Universal monsters version of 1931 (which looked like a squeaky toy on a string) and Francis Ford Coppola’s underrated melodrama of 1992 (in which Gary Oldman became a full-sized bat monster). For my money, the best Dracula, in terms of battiness, goes to Frank Langella’s 1979 turn as Dracula in John Badham’s film of the same name. Here, Langella always looks like he’s about to take flight. (You also can’t help but love that John Williams music.)
The Bat from “The Natural”
The word “bat” isn’t just reserved for the animal. While we could have picked any number of movies with baseball bats to include on this list (“Major League,” “Bull Durham,” “Bad News Bears”), there’s something special about the bat from “The Natural.” Maybe it’s the fact that Robert Redford’s character had already broken one bat and, in the final scene, the bat-boy selects one seemingly destined for the film’s climax (it’s marked, in big fat letters, the “Savoy Special”). Or maybe it’s because this bat sends a ball into the lights, raining down sparks in one of the most iconic moments in sports movie history.
The Monster Bats From “Graveyard Shift”
What “Graveyard Shift” — based on a thinly-plotted Stephen King short story — lacks in compulsive drama, memorable characters and coherent plot mechanics it makes up for in giant mutant bats. Without CGI, the bats in this movie appear huge, rubbery and not all that scary. Still, they are really, really big and drop down out of the ceiling (and prompted somebody on YouTube to do a “face off” video featuring the “Graveyard Shift” bats and the giant mutant bear from the John Frankenheimer chiller “Prophecy.”)
The Bats in “The Roost”
After the back-to-back success of “House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers,” Ti West has become something of a horror sensation. But one of his earlier movies is still his best (and most batty). In 2005’s “The Roost,” four teenagers are menaced by a brood of killer bats (also zombies). However, what makes this film so much damn fun, isn’t just the bat attacks and shuffling undead, it’s the fact that the movie is periodically interrupted to remind you that you’re watching some late-night horror feature. It’s the kind of next-level smart-assery that would define West — always clever, but never in a way that slows down the scares.
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