If you’re worried about this 1999 Louis Morneau directed movie being a low-budget creepy-crawly-horror cash-in for Lou Diamond Phillips, then don’t panic. This is actually a disaster movie, starring Dina Meyer with Lou Diamond Phillips as the bit of totty that the hero wins at the end. It just looks like it’s an attempt to milk the last scrap of Arachnophobia money still on the table because that’s the only way it could sell its radical feminist agenda.
The stakes are established in the first scene when two young lovers, about to get frisky in the back of a car outside of Nowhere & Poor, Texas, get eaten alive by a swarm of bats. The bats in question are a mix of still-quite-early CGI, reasonably executed practical effects, and a bath-salts based energy-drink that means they can break through the roofs of cars. It’s exhilarating, it’s fun, and it sets the bar high for what you know should be a cheap bit of nonsense.
Now that The Threat is known, the Persevering Hero, Dr Sheila Casper (Dina Meyer), and the Plucky Sidekick, Jimmy Sands, (Leon ) gets called in by Exposition Guy (Carlos Jacott) who gives Exposition that it’s all The Selfish Industrialist, Dr Alexander “let’s build and release mutant bats!” McCabe’s fault. Exposition Guy does a remarkable jobof taking the Hero to where The Threat is and giving them clear details about The Threat, The Stakes, and The Location. They also die 3 lines after they have finished giving us everything we can possibly need to know, so that The Stakes are hyper-reinforced and they don’t clutter up the script.. Obviously, that didn’t leave time for us to care about them as a character, because they aren’t one.
Finally, the Hero meets Sheriff Emmett Kimsey (Lou Diamond Phillips) who provides the role of The Bit Of Totty and (because this is a progressive film) The Local Expert. As he knows his place, he instantly defers all major decisions to The Hero, because she clearly is the expert on these things and focuses on providing the audience with Local Flavour, the team with Empathy Dumps, and The Hero with a nice arse to contemplate wearing like a hat.
He also, like everyone in this film, shoots at the swarm of killer bats a lot. I understand why they do this because the killer bat swarm is established as being very killy, but I can’t help but think that bullets are small, ammo in a pistol or rifle is limited, and the swarm contains infinity bats. Personally, I’d just run in terror or try to use fire as some sort of deterrent. But then I’d probably be one of the many extras that die in pain during the many attacks that demonstrate the stakes are high and that producing then releasing a swarm of super extra-killy bats makes The Selfish Industrialist a total arse.
All of this plays out like a classic 70s disaster movie plot, other than the final act which decides to have a go at being a bit Aliens and is the weakest bit. All of this is shot and presented as 90s action-horror, with the wise-cracking and high-octane moments. The combination is quite excellent, and it plays around with stereotypes to add to the fun. As mentioned before; the Hero and Bit Of Totty roles are gendered flipped and no one makes any comment on that. You also have a rural law enforcement officer liking cultured things, a black wisecracking character who’s good at technical stuff, and the military being more upset about the lose of civilian life than of their potential new bio-weapon. Heady, experimental stuff.
Thankfully, it all works and you don’t get caught up in the films radical sub-text. The characters, even the Selfish Industrialist, work well together and get on in the way that professionals tend to do when working on something. The funny moments are funny, the tense moments are tense, the explosive moments are explody, and the bats keep on turning up to remind you that they are flying murder bastards. It hits most of the beats sufficiently well and on time to keep you entertained, even if it’s not as high-brow as contemporaries like Twister, Dante’s Peak or Atomic Train.
It’s a delightful bit of forgotten Treasure, both for the cliches it handles well on intention and the ones it throws away absent-mindedly. It’s not the greatest example of the genre, if nothing else but because the bats just aren’t as impressive as it tries to make out, but it does it well enough to be fun. Similarly, the subversion of cliches feels like an accident rather than intentional, but it makes it far more interesting as a relic than it would have been at the time.
[[There is a sequel, Bats: Human Harvest, but it’s a mid 2ks SyFy Channel TV movie with even lower ratings than the original so I’ll be waiting till it’s free and I’m really boozed before watching it.
Or next week. One of those two]]