Vampire Bats (2005)

Starring Lucy Lawless, Dylan Neal, Timothy Bottoms, Brett Butler

Directed by Eric Bross

“Professor, why do you have a broom in your car?”

“A good scientist is always prepared for the worst.”

In only a few short years Lucy Lawless has gone from running around the ancient world as Xena, Warrior Princess, hurling her Chakram in a on-going struggle against the forces of evil, to running around Southern Louisiana as a Maddy Rierdon, former Undersecretary of Agriculture turned college Animal Behavior & Evolutionary Biology professor armed with a broom for use in a battle with vicious mutated vampire bats. Her descent from “Battle On, Xena” to “Prattle On, Maddy” is actually rather depressing when you really think about it.

Vampire Bats is CBS’ follow-up to this past April’s Locusts, a telefilm so utterly abysmal in every imaginable way that I couldn’t even bring myself to complete a review of it because I hated the movie so much I didn’t even want to give it the acknowledgement of a review. Think about the films I have reviewed and then try to comprehend that last sentence. My hatred for Locusts stemmed mainly from the bait and switch CBS pulled hyping it as a movie about man-eating locusts that turned out to really be a piss poor ecological disaster film about government officials racing to come up with a way to defeat a swarm of genetically engineered super locusts that threaten to devour the United States’ food supply. Despite being a monumental stinkbomb, Locusts was a ratings winner and a sequel was rushed into production.

Just in time for Halloween comes Vampire Bats, bringing back the husband and wife scientist team of Lucy Lawless and Dylan Neal, although Neal is pretty much a non-entity in this one; his role consisting primarily of offering moral support to Lawless. On the plus side, Vampire Bats is a million times better than Locusts and actually has vampire bats killing people. On the negative side, being a million times better than Locusts still isn’t particularly high praise. Nonetheless, it’s hard to completely hate on this film as it’s an F5 on the Fujita scale of hokiness.

Having left her job at the USDA in order to start a family with her husband and fellow ex-government scientist, agricultural-biological superheroine Maddy Rierdon now finds herself working as a college professor at a fictional college in a fictional small town just on the outskirts of New Orleans. Talk about bad karma. Vampire Bats was actually filming in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina blew through forcing the production to move up to Nova Scotia. The recent fate of the Big Easy is never mentioned in the movie so I’m led to believe that this film takes place in an alternate universe. It must be an alternate universe because it has only been six months since Locusts aired and Maddy has managed to give birth to two kids, one of which appears to be about four years old.

Further proof of this film not taking place in the universe as we know it, Maddy claims that they moved there “in search of a simpler life.” Excuse me, but even before Hurricane Katrina irrevocably altered life there, nobody ever moved to New Orleans in search of “a simpler life.” That’s like saying you moved to Los Angeles in search of cleaner air.

The biggest horror of all isn’t the bats as far as I’m concerned but former “Grace Under Fire” star Brett Butler as Maddy’s nosy Martha Stewart meets the “Kiss my grits!” waitress from “Alice” sister-in-law. There really is no need for the inclusion of her character. Plus, she’s got her Southern accent working in overdrive for this one. Had the movie concluded with her contracting rabies from a bat attack and Lucy Lawless having to put her down with a shotgun blast like Ole Yeller then this would have been a five-star film. One can dream.

After one of her students becomes the first victim of the bloodthirsty bats (murdered by a swarm of vampire bats: reason #142 why you should never try ecstasy) and two other of her students that were last seen with the victim are taken into custody, Maddy volunteers her services as a bite mark expert because apparently there is nobody in the coroner’s office that can do that job. She determines that it was an animal attack but she cannot identify what the animal is. The students remain in custody because they had the victim’s blood on their clothes which they actually got from – prepare yourselves for this one – swatting mosquitoes on their shirts that had drunk his blood prior to the bats drinking the rest of it. The newspapers label them as being “vampire killers.”

You’d almost think these bats were stalking Maddy. They kill one of her students, leave another blood-drained corpse in a boat to wash up on the shore of her riverside home, and then wage an all out attack on the riverboat party she attends. You’d think it was personal. Maybe it is. We’re told that bats typically feed on insects and since Maddy helped kill off the locusts in the previous movie perhaps the bats are getting revenge for having one of their favorite meals taken away from them? If that had been the case it would have proved a billion times more entertaining than the explanations we are given.

Another coed is so wasted that she doesn’t even react to the bat that flies in her dorm window and bites her. She then contracts rabies from the bat bite but shows no signs of being sick until she begins foaming at the mouth during class. I thought there was no cure for rabies and yet there’s this girl completely recovered a week later. Yet another miracle of this alternate universe?

The campus rave organizer/Ecstasy dealer finds a subterranean cul-de-sac just off-campus and deems it perfect for their next underground rave. Somehow these students are able to go down there, set up the lights and stereo equipment for the rave, and get well into the partying without anyone, including the dozens of partygoers, noticing that the ceiling is covered with vampire bats. For that matter, the bats fail to wake up and express their disdain for the intruders and their fluorescent lights and techno music until they get their cue from the screenwriter. In the process, the rave organizer passes out after dropping Ex and becomes a vampire bat juice box. See a pattern developing?

Maddy lectures the class on how not only are vampire bats not native to Louisiana; she believes something environmental is causing them to go berserk. Without hesitation, her students volunteer to help her and thus the Scooby Gang of WB Network rejects is born. And it does indeed turn out that the bats are highly aggressive mutants possessing an extra set of fangs that allows and requires them to consume more blood. What could possibly be causing this? Hey, who is that mysterious waste management official from out of town that the Mayor keeps meeting with in public places so Brett Butler can see them together? Say, you don’t suppose there’s some illegal chemical dumping going on and that’s what’s mutating the bats and driving them, well, batty?

I broke the damn.

Vampire Bats is half nature gone amok movie and half “Scooby Doo” episode albeit minus the dog, although Brett Butler does come awfully close to Scrappy Doo territory at times, sprinkled with elements of Afterschool specials on the dangers of ecstasy use and environmental pollution. Aside from one really nice shot of the bats flying across the moonlit sky with the wheel of a riverboat in the foreground and a few surprising bloody moments for a network television movie, there’s really not a whole lot about to recommend Vampire Bats. It isn’t a total waste of time but the movie is far more hokey than spooky and often the less than realistic bat effects, a combination of CGI and puppetry, make you wonder when The Count from “Sesame Street” is going to show up to begin counting the clichés and plot holes.

“One… Two… Two blood mugs! ***clap of thunder, bolt of lightning*** Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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