Friday, March 8, 2013

The Sea Bat - Sponge Divers of the Damned

The Sea Bat
Directed by Lionel Barrymore & Wesley Ruggles
Written by Dorothy Yost, Bess Meredyth & John Howard Lawson
Starring Raquel Torres, Charles Bickford, Nils Asther & Boris Karloff

Tag Lines:


Beauty, Drama, Romance...that will stay forever in your memory!

Alternate Titles:
Il vampiro del mare (The Vampire of the Sea) Italy
O Monstro Marinho (The Sea Monster) Portugal
Tropikhavens skräck (Tropic Ocean Horror) Sweden

Theatrical:  USA - July 1930;  Sweden & Finland - February 1931; Portugal - April 1932

This obscure little gem, as near as I can tell, has never been released on VHS or DVD.  It was only a chance viewing on Turner Classic Movies that brings you this review.  I was searching the listings, looking for stuff to load up the ol' DVR since we're getting pelted with a metric shit ton of snow here in New England.  I came across The Sea Bat.  The description read:  A woman with pagan beliefs vows revenge on a manta ray that kills her husband.  Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Visions of unholy voodoo rites being practiced in the pale moon light danced through my mind.  "It's gonna be like White Zombie, but with FISH!" I said to myself.  "How can I lose?"  Also, it said that the film starred Boris Karloff!  Pre-Frankenstein Karloff to be exact!  Surely there will be some tropical chills to be had here!  Right?  Right?

See...that seems a bit snuggly for Brother and Sister....

"Oh please don't die, Carl?  How will I manage all these Cabana Boys myself?"  Not really.  While, the description didn't lie, it was quite misleading.  Yes, Nina (played by the lovely Raquel Torres) can be found with island natives practicing voodoo rituals, and yes there is a killer manta ray (or Sea Bat as they call it), but that almost takes the back burner to the story of a mysterious minister who shows up on the island.  Reverend Sims, while claiming to be a man of God, is actually an escaped convict from Devil's Island.  It's never stated what crime he committed, but he really didn't seem like that bad a guy....ya know....other than impersonating a priest.

He didn't even buy her dinner first!

Now as far as the ol' Sea Bat killing Nina's husband....well....I don't know what to tell you.  The description said that it was her the film she calls him her brother....yet, she seems awfully close and chummy with him, if ya know what I mean. to say she loved the guy.....and his name was Carl.  He was a seasoned sponge diver, which was a booming trade on the island.  She tries to give him a voodoo charm to keep him safe, which he scoffs at and then goes on his merry sponge diving way.  Poor Carl should have taken the charm.

Quite revealing for an MGM release in 1930!  Giggity!

Anyway, Nina becomes inconsolable and offers herself up as a reward for anyone who can kill the Sea Bat responsible for killing her  A group of lecherous sponge divers takes her up on the offer....after nearly raping her....and promptly are killed by said Sea Bat.  Remember we talked about  Boris Karloff a bit ago?  Well, he was one of the ruffians.  He may have had one line in the whole film, and if he did, I missed it.  Still, it's always nice to see the master at work.

BORIS!  Finding him in this flick is like a Goddamned "Where's Waldo" puzzle!

The cinematography in this film is quite beautiful, with much of the film shot on location in beautiful Mazatlán, Mexico.  The island footage is fantastic and the water scenes are quite good for their time....I was quite surprised by the underwater camerawork.

Midnight Cinephile Tally 

Body Count:  Carl gets it right in the beginning, plus the three rough necks that go after the Sea Bat in hopes of Nina's affections make four!

Boob Count:  You actually get a pretty decent view of the beautiful Raquel Torres' breasts.  She spends the entire movie bra-less wearing a thin dress.  There is a scene in which she is on the rocks by the sea in the rain...and you can pretty much see everything.  Quite surprising for a B film from the 30's!

Beast Count:  The normally docile and gentle manta ray is portrayed as a vicious killing machine here.  Yes, I know that Steve Irwin died after one stabbed him in the chest with it's tail, but that was an accident and  a defense mechanism that Rays have.   I  One vicious killer Manta Ray!

Final Thoughts:
I liked it, though it definitely could have used more Boris Karloff and more scenes with the Sea Bat.  I don't think that the producers of this film really quite knew what they had.  With title variations such as The Vampire of the Sea, Tropic Ocean Horror and The Sea Monster....I was really expecting some kinda low rent kooky monster flick.  But if you look at the tag lines, you might be expecting Gone With The Wind set among the palm trees.  When you actually watch it you get a combo pseudo monster/voodoo/action/romance flick with a wet t-shirt scene thrown in.

Final Rating:
Three out of Five Pizza Rolls

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