MAY 5, 2012
If I had a working TV on October 30, 2005, maybe I would have known about Vampire Bats, a very rare major network TV (CBS, to be exact) horror movie – I honestly didn’t think any non-Stephen King or Dean Koontz ones had been made since the early 90s. But at that time I was out in LA, sleeping on an air mattress in my friend’s future baby room, seeking employment and my own place to live, so even if I had a TV to watch, I probably wouldn’t have been too concerned with a teen-friendly killer bat movie starring Xena and Pacey’s brother.
However, now I NEED to watch things like this, as I’m running low on enticing options on Netflix Instant, and all my physical disc rentals are big special editions that I should have known better than to rent in the first place, let alone all at once. I really hate putting up a review of a DVD without going through the extras, and lately I’ve barely had time to even watch the movie, let alone the supplements. In short… I’m never going to finish Skyrim, am I?
Anway it’s pretty bad. It’s aimed at teens, but even factoring that in it’s a tepid, tension-free way to waste 90 minutes; even 8 year olds would be asking their parents to put on something with a little more bite after 30 minutes – this makes the average Twilight movie look like From Dusk Till Dawn. The movie’s big centerpiece is an attack on a rave, and despite what seems like thousands of the damn bats, the resulting body count is only one, which sadly doubles the body count of the film thus far. Not that we need to waste more lives than Die Hard 2, but it’s really hard to think of the things as a viable threat when they’re swarming around an enclosed area with dozens of victims (many drunk and/or stoned) and can only manage a single kill.
The pacing is also atrocious for this sort of thing. Think of any other “hundreds of tiny creatures” horror movie you’ve seen, and they all follow a pretty simple pattern – an opening scene attack, an investigation as to what could have caused it, someone witnesses another attack, our heroes spring into action despite doubts from some bureaucrat, see what they’re up against, and launch a counter-offensive once all hell breaks loose. Here, it just keeps stopping and starting again; the major attack at the midway point doesn’t really elevate the threat or anyone’s concern with it – after it’s over we go back to the same type of scenes: our heroine (Xena) talking to her science class, a randomly cast Brett Butler wooing the mayor, some nonsense about toxic pollution, even a disconnected, isolated attack on two random teens that no one ever mentions. If I had to guess, the movie came up short both in runtime and in entertaining scenes, so they commissioned another bit to pad things out, but I’d rather they just slowed down the credits since it just makes the movie feel like nothing has really been accomplished. If there are STILL kids going out and screwing around, oblivious to the “threat”, then what good has the first hour been in terms of buildup? No one’s learned anything!
And you don’t get any help from Xena or Pacey’s brother, because neither of them ever seem too worried about the bat threat. As it turns out, this movie’s actually sort of a sequel to something called Locusts which features their two characters, so perhaps they’re just numb to the sight of hundreds of CGI animated pests swarming around them but never actually doing anything. Hell, Doug (Pacey’s brother’s name, I just remembered) doesn’t even do anything in the climax; Xena is trapped with the obligatory human villain and gets to fight him with a broom and try to escape a countdown, but he’s just somewhere else turning a valve. Some hero.
In fact there are a lot of random actors in the movie, and I suspect if they hadn’t spent so much on them that maybe they could have had another action scene, or better FX (to be fair, there’s some decent rubber bat action for close-ups, but they are very rare). In addition to Butler, Xena, and Doug, you get Timothy “That’s My Bush!” Bottoms as the mayor, Tony “Plethora” Plana as the cop, and even Craig Ferguson as a fisherman. None of them have a damn thing to do, though I was kind of amused by Plana since I assumed he’d be a villain like he usually is (dude was terrifying on Desperate Housewives*), but he’s actually a pretty helpful cop.
But they’re just there to make the press release look better, and most of the focus is on the teens, a largely forgettable, clichéd lot that takes it upon themselves to help Xena fight the bats. It’s this group that comes up with the genius idea of using sonar to lure the bats somewhere, as if that shouldn’t have been the first thing Xena (a scientist) thought of anyway. I found precious little to enjoy in these scenes; a young Jessica Stroup is among them but once again wearing too much makeup (she looked so good in Hills Have Eyes 2, glammed down), and if not for my familiarity with her I probably wouldn’t retain any memory of these bits, other than the fact that they don’t really seem to mind much that one of their classmates was killed.
It doesn’t help that director Eric Bross (Vacancy 2! One more and he’s on an “avoid” list with Feifer) frequently uses weird sped up shots and other “Avid fart” type techniques whenever showing the kids partying, because that’s what he figures the target audience will respond to, I guess. It’d be cool if filmmakers actually made good films that were aimed at a younger crowd, because those are the ones that tend to live on and work on all ages, which should be the goal of every filmmaker. Not necessarily to appeal to the widest possible audience, but to make one that doesn’t specifically target a certain mindset (or an “of the moment” idea, i.e. the WB-ified slasher films of the post-Scream 90s). To keep the playing field level, let’s compare to another TV movie: Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Like Vampire Bats, it was made for TV and doesn’t have a lot of action, but yet it lives on, people demanded it for years and it even has a special edition Blu-ray release. Vampire Bats will be lucky to get grouped with a decent movie on a 5 dollar budget pack you find at Wal-Mart around Halloween time.
What say you?
*Yes, I still watch it. I was going to give up this year and then they announced it was the last one so I figured I might as well ride it out. Finale's on Sunday. I won't be getting together with friends like I did for Lost, Angel, and Seinfeld.