It's fair to say that your heart doesn't exactly soar when you hear that you're about to watch a film that has effectively languished in some limbo zone for almost two decades. Thankfully, I had already heard some good word of mouth about Attack Of The Bat Monsters so I was expecting to have fun. I ended up having a LOT of fun.
The plot revolves around a film-maker named Francis Gordon (Fred Ballard), based in no small part on Roger Corman. Having just wrapped one movie, he realises that they have almost everything in place to squeeze in one more filming schedule. As long as they can get a script written and the whole thing shot in three days. It might just be possible, mainly thanks to his hard-working assistant, Chuck (Michael Dalmon).
Transitioning between black and white shots of the film within the film and standard colour footage of the action happening on the other side of the camera, Attack Of The Bat Monsters succeeds for two main reasons. One, the actual Bat Monster film is spot on when you think of the numerous cheap films made this way that come to mind (many are referenced, with a few outright namechecked). It feels amusing while never feeling deliberately overdone, strangely enough, unlike some of the more forced homages/parodies we have previously seen, such as the films from Larry Blamire. Second, and maybe more importantly, the script and performances wring every gag out of this kind of hectic, and often perilous, production schedule. While this will appeal especially to film fans, every viewer can laugh at the standard moves shown to a wannabe scream queen (e.g. once you have hurt yourself then you have to take two pained steps before any fall), enjoy the passion of the creature creator, and have a good laugh when a group of female dancers end up using the wrong kind of tape when they have to cover up their nipples.
Written and directed by Kelly Greene, and restored with great care by Mark Rance, this mixes in a lot of familiar tropes (the faded star who can no longer be as picky with the jobs he chooses, the writer starting off with a script that he thinks will retain some loftier ideas among the monster madness, etc) and memorable characters. Francis Gordon will do anything to get his film in the can, Chuck is the worn out and frustrated facilitator of that, Beverly (Casie Waller) is the main scream queen, and I REALLY wish I could remember the name of the actor who plays the aforementioned creature creator, because his comedic turn is a highlight, even compared to the many other great moments here.
As well as the comedy, however, there are a few moments that carry a surprising punch. Whether showing the demands placed on an actress for the film to appeal in different territories or serving as a reminder of how genuinely full of blood, sweat, and tears some of these all-too-often-dismissed film actually are. You may not consider every aspect while chuckling away, but after the end credits have rolled you may well look back on a number of cheap 'n' cheerful films you have enjoyed in a slightly different light.
Check this out if it plays anywhere near you, and I hope it eventually gets a decent release here in the UK. I know I'll be picking it up when I can. I just cross my fingers that it somehow comes with a complete cut of the actual Bat Monster movie, and maybe even the tease for a sequel.
If you liked this then you may want to pick up this R1 Roger Corman Collection.