2/5/07

1010 It Lives By Night

(1974, Horror, color)

Bats are without sin.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A vacationing research pathologist turns into a murderous were-bat.

Summary:

Bob Wet-Face.Dr. John Beck goes on a ski vacation/research expedition/honeymoon with his newly acquired folk singer wife, Kathy. For some reason they decide to mix the “research expedition” and “honeymoon” aspects of their trip by hopping the railing during a cavern tour to make the cave beast with two backs. Fortunately, the stalagmite chosen as cover hides a twenty-foot drop into a maggot-filled crevasse. They both fall in, sparing us the ordeal of having to watch an ill-advised round of spontaneous newlywed coitus. An errant bat gets caught in Kathy’s upturned seventies hairdo. John removes it with his high, shiny forehead and comes away with a minor bat bite.

Presumably rescued a short time later, John and Kathy resume their marital bliss with an afternoon on the ski slopes, intermittently punctuated by John’s violent mood swings and eye-rolling spaz attacks. An attack causes him to crush a tumbler in his hand, so Kathy takes him to the heavily mustached Dr. Groovy...er, Kipling. Dr. Kipling starts a series of rabies shots, which cause even more grunting and eye-rolling. John is admitted to the hospital where he turns into a man-bat and murders a nurse. Naturally, he wakes up with only vague recollections of his nocturnal battiness. Kathy checks him out of the hospital the next day. One romantic evening later, John sneaks out on his beloved to battify once more and murder a tiny blonde trailer park dweller.

Thereafter, Police Sergeant Ward follows John around to ask leading questions, shoplift lingerie, and ogle Kathy. John realizes that his dreams aren’t just dreams and hijacks an enormous ambulance, which he rolls after an extended car chase in the desert. He murders a hobo and a cave tourist, and then sends a taped message about the wonders of man-battitude to the folks back home.

Kathy refuses to believe it, even as John appears in her motel room to say goodbye. She’s finally convinced when he embattens during intercourse. Sergeant Ward has been snooping; he follows John back to the caves and gets his rear end soundly kicked. For some reason Kathy is waiting for Ward back at the sheriff’s office, and for some reason he offers to drive her back to her motel. Apparently, making love to a hideous man-beast has partially batticated her. She calls up a swarm of kamikaze bats to kill Ward, and then goes to join her husband in the caves where, I assume, they will live out the rest of their unnatural lives as man-bat and wife-bat.

Introduction:

They turn the world on with their friggin' smiles.It’s painting day, and the Satellite of Love sure could use a fresh coat. “Especially the Can,” says Tom. Mike tests several colors on his robotic cohorts, including a calming green, which makes Tom pine for Jimmy Carter, and an ebullient orange, which makes Tom angry and bitter. (Both of the above make Crow want to date Lisa Stansfield.) Tom thinks the maddening blackish red would be perfect for the Can, but Mike has already decided to paint it a soft, off-white eggshell color. Mike shows them a sample, the mere sight of which sends both robots into gibbering breakdowns.

Host Segment One:

For some reason the color sample marked, “Invest heavily in steam-powered weaving machines,” makes the ‘Bots want to invest heavily in steam-powered weaving machines. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl asks the Satellite crew how they feel about tactical misdirection. Bobo flies over and sprays them with poisonous mutagens while Mike and the ‘Bots ponder the meaning of this question. They figure it out when Crow grows several extra pairs of arms, Tom’s hands swell to humungous size, and a Tom Servo-shaped growth appears on Mike’s back. They complain loudly until Pearl agrees to dust them with the antidote.

Host Segment Two:

Crow has dressed as Mary Tyler Moore, and declares himself to be more like Moore than the very Moore-ish Kathy. To illustrate this point, he has Mike and Crow dress as Ted Baxter and Lou Grant, respectively. They perform a vignette from Ms. Moore’s eponymous show, but though Mike and Tom call each other “Ted” and “Lou,” they refuse to call Crow “Mary.” “Come on!” Crow cries. “I can turn the world on with my freakin’ smile!”

Host Segment Three:

The ‘Bots find Mike passed out with his face covered in foam. Naturally, they assume the worst; Mike wakes up to find a dozen hypodermic needles protruding from his midsection. He protests that he merely fell asleep while eating a creampuff, but the ‘Bots are so disappointed that he lets them finish their series of rabies injections anyway.

Host Segment Four:

Mike dons a white turtleneck and bushy blond mustache, a la Dr. Groovy Kipling. He calls up Pearl, who remains ambivalent towards his new look. Crow arrives sporting a similar outfit, with an enormous blond mustache that dwarfs Mike’s pitiful attempt at facial hair. Pearl flushes and stammers an invitation to go hot tubbing. Mike stalks off in disgust while Tom shows up with the blond mustache to end all blond mustaches. He only gets through half a line before he collapses under the weight.

Host Segment Five:

Inspired by the murdered hobo’s rumpled hat, Tom becomes a new franchisee of the Buddy Ebsen Hat Distressing Corporation. His kit includes a sheet of appropriate customer greetings and a plastic baggie filled with dirt. In the meantime, Crow has joined the Red Skelton Hat Distressing Corporation, whose franchise package is much more complete. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl forces Bobo and Brain Guy to watch slides of her several dozen honeymoons, all of which ended in the groom’s untimely death. She threatens Brain Guy with marriage when he tries to sneak away.

Stinger:

John has an eye-rolling spaz attack.

Thoughts:

Mary Tyler Less.And here we are again, with another tragic tale of were-beasthood. For our unfortunate hero, the moist but handsome John, only wants to help humanity by studying and improving the treatment regimen for rabies. Ironic, that he should succumb to this dread disease himself, forcing him to wear the man-sized shape of the creature that infected him. (Rabies is another word for were-beastism, isn’t it?) Every day he must live with the terrible knowledge of what he becomes: a hideous murderous creature that hunts the night for victims, feeding on their living blood...

Except that once he figures it out, he just shrugs his batterated shoulders and rolls with it, declaring himself “above the petty concerns of humanity...” (i.e.: “I can kill people with impunity because I’m a were-bat and that’s what we do, dammit!”) So I guess he’s not the hero. This means the movie’s sympathetic character must be that bold defender of the innocent, Police Sergeant Ward. Indeed, as we watch him growl his lines through a cigarette holder while leering at Kathy and stuffing a stolen pair of lacy sheer panties into his pocket, we cannot help but feel a surge of civic pride...

Or revulsion, as the case may be. Which means the character with whom we should most identify is poor, worried Kathy, who reacts to her new husband’s erratic were-battiness by becoming increasingly shrill and suggestive, as if his condition could be cured with termagancy and sex. Indeed, though very little actual sex is shown (mercifully, it’s not that kind of film) she hints at it so much that the whole movie feels like an extended road trip with a newly attached couple—I spent the most of the running time wishing I could leave them behind at a roadside motel.

Which, as far as sympathetic characters go, leaves us with Dr. Groovy Kipling. And he had...what? Ten minutes of screen time?

My favorite host segment moment is the two seconds in which we see Tom’s humongous mustache before he collapses. The rest of that segment is pretty funny too. Mike’s paint color samples come in a far second. The Mary Tyler Moore and Buddy Ebsen sketches don’t really do anything for me because, even though I know who those people are, I’m probably too young to be all that invested in them. The creampuff rabies sketch and the tactical misdirection sketch seem bland as well.

During the film segments, the Satellite crew gives the main characters all nicknames, referring to the constantly sweaty John as “Bob Wet-Face” (Tom), the creepy Ward as “Sheriff Menacing W. Pervert” (Crow), and the spooky and thin Kathy as “Mary Tyler Less” (Mike). Crow takes most of the good lines himself: When he calls the dreamy soundtrack, “Music for the heavily sedated.” When he interrupts the terrifying bat attack visions to say, “It’d be a better movie if he’d been bitten by a cow.” When he responds to John’s assertion that he has ascended above humanity by saying, “Bats are without sin.” The commentary is consistently funny, mostly making up for the bland host segments, the lack of sympathetic characters, and the constant innuendo. It’s not something I’ll go out of my way to watch again, though.