Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Bats (1999)



All notes and summary below by Stephen Weaver (2006).

Notes: Sony Pictures.

Starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Bob Gunton.

Directed: Louis Morneau

Bat Kill Factor: Reasons why a bat should be an effective monster.

1.Flight: Bats have the ability to fly, while humans do not.

2.Numbers: Bats often have superior numbers, and therefore can attack humans in swarms.

3.Vampires: Bats are tied to the idea of vampires and Dracula, and some can drink blood. Does not actually happen in this film, however.

4.Borderstepper Quality: Bats are mammals, like humans, but can fly and are much smaller.

Bats begins with the frightening images of horrific bats, followed by the attack on a young couple in a car, beginning the idea that, unlike many “thoughtful,” ecological creature films, these bats are hideous monsters. We then meet bat specialist Dr. Sheila Casper and her assistant Jimmy, who are both called in by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention to study the events in the town of Gallup, Texas. They are introduced to local sheriff Emmett Kimsey and Dr. Alexander McCabe, who created these bats. On that note, the bats have been apparently made super powered and evil, with attributes like increased intelligence, ability to work together, and have been made omnivorous. In an attempt to explain why the creatures are so large, there is a lame explanation that these bats were modified from flying foxes. The main characters treat McCabe very poorly, as he has played God.

With all the main cast introduced, we finally get to see a good view of the bats. And what a sight the bats are, with ridiculously clay-like features and gremlinesque forms. This look for the bats not only weakens the film, but is itself undermined when images of swarming bats use actual bat pictures. The bats attack, swarming the car Casper and Kimsey are using, scratching and clawing to get in, in a nice bit of claustrophobic imagery.

At this same time, Gallup is attacked by the bats, which would be suspenseful and frightening enough, if there had not been the explanation. You see, CDC warned the people of Gallup to stay indoors, lest there be any bat attacks. However, the people of Gallup did not believe the warnings. Not that there is anything wrong with the idea that the people did not believe these warnings; after all, who would believe bat attacks were imminent? There could have been a few nice scenes where the CDC tries to convince the town of the impending danger. Instead, we get one character, a representative of the CDC, panting as he must attempt to fill in the plot holes, say something along the lines of “they didn’t believe us.”

Aside from that horrible explanation, there are some good, disturbing images in the bat attacks. A mother is outside hanging clothes on the line in the wind as the flapping sheets foreshadow the inevitable bat attack. At the same time, there is a silent camera shot of an infant asleep in a crib as a bat peers on. However, there are about three scenes in a row that use these bats ability to somehow sneak up behind a townsperson focused on something (a drink at the bar, a person, another bat) and attack just as the victim notices. One character even has two or three bats on their back before they notice. There is a nice sense of chaos in the bat attacks, as the sheriff hides under a car, only to have someone drive the car away. Another disturbing scene is when Dr. Casper is attacked by bats while the survivors inside the nearby convenience store watch, afraid to risk themselves to save her. Only one, the CDC representative, runs out to save her, only to be ripped apart by the bats.

After the initial assault, the military, a metaphor for order and security, comes in to evacuate the town. There is a perhaps unplanned, but still effective scene, however, of soldiers marching right to left along the street while Dr. Casper walks into a store to find a victim, using mise-en-scene to show the military’s ineffectiveness. The military has decided that this small band of good scientist (Dr. Casper), bad scientist (Dr. McCabe), sheriff, and assistant have 48 hours to try to stop the bats before an air strike destroys the town caves. Of course, as Dr. Casper tells us, the air strike would be useless in destroying the bats, further establishing the military-as-incompetent idea. The team takes this time to fortify the local high school, the first step being, of course, to set up a record player with Sheriff Kimsey’s favorite opera record. Yes, that’s right. Bizarrely, none of the characters seem to act as if they have gone through any sort of traumatic incident, which, if done well, could indicate a nice sense of denial, but comes across as just lazy. While fortifying, the team discovers that the bats are residing in the local abandoned mines, which the military attempts to attack at night, resulting in their death by bats, ending that chapter.

The bats attack, which leads up to the surprise reveal that Dr. McCabe deliberately made these bats into a perfect killing machine, and has called the bats to each attack. Absolutely shocking. This ÒsurpriseÓ is even better when considered with the images of him looking shifty throughout the movie. Gasp. To prove his control over them, he runs out of the school, only to be ripped apart by his two specially created bats. Ooo-kay.

The next morning, the team discovers that they now have 61 minutes to go into the mines and set up a cooler and do something that will kill the bats. It really doesn’t matter. It is strange, however, that the timetable changed so drastically. There is no mention of moving up the air strike schedule, or if, magically, about 47 hours have passed, despite the fact that only one night passed. Besides that strangeness, there is a nice part where, once inside the mines, neither Dr. Casper nor Sheriff Kimsey knows how to run the cooler. They somehow get it to work, then the bats wake up and swarm after them, breaking Kimsey’s mask to protect against fumes in the mine. They make it out, just in time for their charges to bury the entrance go off, and just in time to call off the air strike. The End.

There really isn’t much left to say about Bats. The film is sort of an ecological horror movie, only because Dr. Casper throws in a few “Bats don’t normally do this” or “Bats wouldn’t do that.” Dr. McCabe’s methods of genetic manipulation exemplify this idea, but the fact that he just made them super and evil goes over the top, and removes any idealistic conflict possible. The characters go through some nicely horrific incidents, but they walk away with no real impact, which really says it all about the film.

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