Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Bats (1999)

"Where do you hide when the dark is alive?"

Plot

When people start to die in a small Texan town, the prime suspects seem to be bats. Expert Dr Sheila Casper is called in to investigate and she finds out that the bats have been genetically altered by a scientist so that they are more intelligent and more deadly. It's a race against time to find the nest before the bats completely overrun the town.

 

The late 90s saw the advent of the CGI monster movie, heralded by the big budget successes of the likes of Anaconda and Lake Placid. Studios realised they could now make throwback monster movies to the late 50s without needing huge animatronic models or stop-motion animation. CGI had become cheaper to use and as a result, quicker and more convenient to animate cinematic monsters rather than bring them to life in other fashion. Cue the straight-to-video boom of low budget monster flicks featuring all manner of giant snakes, killer sharks and anything and everything that could kill a human being. However, for reasons I’ll not fully comprehend, Bats was actually made for theatrical release, rather than for video, and even more surprisingly, managed to gross double its initial budget! Not bad for a complete stinker of a horror film which commits the ultimate crime – It is boring – amongst other things.


The scriptwriters for Bats must take the lion’s share of the blame here. Their “make your own monster movie” approach just dips into the bucket of cliches and tropes, grabs a random handful and tries to tack them all together. Genetically engineered monsters back story. Mad scientists doing crazy and deadly things simply because, quote unquote, “That’s what we do.” Military cover-ups and conspiracies. Sex-mad teenagers dying. Comic relief sidekicks. The implausible scenario of both attractive leads being single and ending up falling for each other in the face of death. Big set piece of the town being attacked. Yadda yadda yadda …. Everything is sketchy, everything is brief.


Even at ninety-minutes, Bats is sluggish going, like wading through the proverbial guano that the characters end up having to do in the finale. In between sporadic bat attacks, there’s little going on to keep the attention ticking over. Sadly, Bats wastes its best scene, the attack on the town, far too early in the film and it’s all downhill from then on. On the positive side, it doesn’t take half of the film for the characters to realise what they’re up against and so they’re able to start formulating plans to try and stop them reasonably early on. This makes a refreshing change with the scientist not having to convince anyone that they have a major problem. It’s about the only original thing that the screenplay does.



Dina Meyer stars, presumably to cash-in on her moment of fame in Starship Troopers. Meyer looks nice but she’s no scientist and her character is too bland and generic to be emotionally invested in. Likewise, Lou Diamond Phillips just laces up the boots for another routine sheriff role that he’s played countless times. The two have zero chemistry with each other, which the script obviously tries to force. Leon (Cool Runnings and Cliffhanger) is given the embarrassing comic relief character here, a true travesty of writing which makes his character out to be such a whiny, immature grump within his first few minutes of screen time that you hope he’s left behind when Meyer’s character agrees to take on the investigation. Even Bob Gunton, with a slew of big roles in the likes of The Shawshank Redemption, is wasted as the mad scientist. This is not an actor’s film and you have to wonder whether anyone read the script before agreeing to sign on, unless they just saw how many zeroes were on their pay cheques and didn’t care.


As I said at the start, the late 90s was a boom for creature features like this one thanks to the cheaper availability of CGI. The shots of the bats flying together are obviously CGI, inspired by a few shots from The Birds no doubt, but the models used for close-ups are some decent effects done by KNB Effects. Whether you laugh at the bats or not will depend on whether you find them funny in real life or not. I’ve always thought they looked a bit freaky and thus seeing larger versions of them with their pudgy faces and pushed-back noses was both humorous and unnerving at the same time. Trying to buy them as serious threats is difficult when they’re short on numbers but get together the entire colony and it’s a different matter. There is some limited gore on offer, but this is strictly certificate 15 material in the UK and even that is being generous.


A direct-to-TV sequel, Bats: Human Harvest, was made by Sy Fy eight years later and the less said about the better.

 

Final Verdict

Bats is a dull, dreary creature feature which would have annoyed me to no end should I have gone to see it in the cinemas back in 1999. There are far better straight-to-video flicks which is where this one will eventually be consigned. The only positive is that I’m struggling to think of a better killer bat movie than this. Some achievement!



 

Bats


Director(s): Louis Morneau


Writer(s): John Logan


Actor(s): Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Bob Gunton, Leon, Carlos Jacott, David McConnell


Duration: 91 mins