Vampire Bats (2005)
"Its feeding time"
After her run-in with deadly locusts, former government scientist Maddy Rierdon is now a professor at a small Louisiana college. When a student is found dead with all of the blood drained from him, the authorities are puzzled as to what could have happened. Maddy takes an interest in the case when two of her students are pulled out of her class by the police and accused of knowing something about it. More bodies begin to turn up over the next few days and Maddy finds out that is in fact a form of mutant bat that has been killing people and animals. But there's not just one of them, there's hundreds of them and they're hungry.
A sequel of sorts to Locusts, a forgettable TV movie which jumped on the genetically-engineered creatures/nature running amok phase of the 00s, Vampire Bats is the kind of low budget harmless fodder that television companies love to churn out to fill the time slots around various holidays of the year. Hallmark do it every year with their cookie-cutter Christmas films. Although Locusts was dire, it was a decent ratings grabber when shown on TV and so CBS ordered a follow-up to be rushed into production and pencilled in for a slot around Halloween to beef up their seasonal schedule, reuniting main stars Lucy Lawless (a far cry from her Xena: Warrior Princess Days) and Dylan Neal and giving them a different 'problem' to face. The good new is that Vampire Bats is a better film than Locusts. The bad news is that is not really saying much at all.
Bats have never really given me the creeps. I think they're actually kind of cute (although I wouldn't really want to pet one or let one near me). I guess there's a lot of people out there who don't like that whole association with the night and fear of the dark and what lurks in it thing that bats conjure up. Added to that the fact that they've always been labelled as blood suckers (only three types of bat are and I'm sure they don't try and attack 6' 5" guys) and you certainly have the potential for something to scare the pants off someone. But this is a telefilm where boundaries won't get pushed in the slightest and gore will be kept to a minimum, if any. There's never any real sense of threat here; the mixture of CGI and practical effects makes for a welcome change but when the bats in this film look as cuddly as they do, you'd think that there was a plush toy promo going on. CGI bats fly in the moonlight shots and then the actors grab really bad puppets and hold them to their bodies to simulate attacks for the close-ups. They're very small so quite how one or two them could overpower a big guy is beyond me. But the attacks are decently staged, if lacking in suspense.
As for the story itself, well Vampire Bats is the cookie-cutter ‘monster on the loose’ formula. A few random deaths, usually of drunks/bums/fisherman/hunters. A few pieces to the puzzle are found near the bodies. False accusations fly. Someone in a position of authority doesn't want to acknowledge that there's a monster problem because it will harm the town's festival/property development/glamorous event. Said monster problem them comes and causes problems at said event. Then the scientists/experts are called in to deal with the monster… Yadda yadda ya. It's the same film that's been revamped countless times since Jaws and will no doubt be done to death countless times in the future too. It's like the Hallmark Christmas movie formula - recycled over and over because it's familiar and means people don't need to switch on their brains to understand something they've already seen done before. This time the event is actually two events - a swanky dinner party held by the Mayor and a underground rave attended by college kids. Twice the carnage doesn't exactly equal twice the excitement as both attack sequences are as tepid as the other.
The formula doesn't leave a lot of scope for innovation and just relies on lazy tropes to do a lot of the work. I do like to see films try and break the mould but Vampire Bats isn't one of them. Its so predictable, it's not funny. There is not a shred of atmosphere being built here, no real tension to describe and no sense of threat because you know exactly how it will end up and who will survive. Lucy Lawless is a decent enough actress when the material is good - one only has to see her perform in the Spartacus: Blood and Sand TV series to see her really get stuck into a meaty role - but the script doesn't give her anything to do here. Her role is clichéd so tightly to the point where it is impossible for anyone to break free of those constraints though she at least tries to inject something into the film. To be fair to the rest of the cast, they're not the worst thing on offer here and I've seen a lot worse in this type of TV movie.
The final week of filming had to be relocated to Nova Scotia as a result of Hurricane Katrina destroying New Orleans so the film wasn't without it's fair share of production values. But let's face it: Vampire Bats was never going to be anything other than feeble TV filler.
Vampire Bats is a cheap watered-down horror flick that you'd put on TV during the day for little kids on Halloween, let alone the evening, such is the weakness of the entire film to scare, shock or even bombard with blood. In the feeble ‘killer bat’ genre, Vampire Bats comes up reeking of guano - a hard feat to accomplish given the equally sub-standard quality of other genre offerings such as Bats and Fangs.
Director(s): Eric Bross
Writer(s): Doug Prochilo
Actor(s): Lucy Lawless, Dylan Neal, Liam Waite, Timothy Bottoms, Craig Ferguson, Brett Butler, Tony Plana, Jessica Stroup
Duration: 90 mins