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Film / It Lives by Night

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"Well, maybe IT shouldn't drink so much coffee."

It Lives By Night, also known as The Bat People, is an American International Pictures horror film from 1974 that's best known for its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's the story of a researcher (Stewart Moss) and his wife (Marianne McAndrew) who suffer a case of The Stupids and wander away from the tour group in a cave for a bit of honeymoon-making. Of course, they are attacked by a bat and he gets bitten, and from then on he periodically turns into a sort of half-bat-half-human monster.

His symptoms are first mistaken for rabies, as the Grooviest Doctor in the World ascertains. However, this turns out not to be the case. Given the unexplained, violent deaths that tend to follow cases like this, law enforcement becomes interested. Said law enforcement is one loathsome, perverted cop (Michael Pataki) who seems to have a thing for women in vulnerable situations.

Just what will be the fate of our hapless, transforming protagonist? Can he rid the bats from his belfry and return to a normal life? Will he outwit the lecherous Sergeant? Will he lay with his pinched, ferret-y killjoy of a wife to infect her with his were-bat affliction, and then run off to kill a smelly homeless guy? Answer key: no, kinda, NOOOOOOOO! and yes.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode see here.

Tropes found in It Lives By Night:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Sgt. Ward, a.k.a. Sheriff Menacing W. Pervert. The MST3K version cuts a scene where he assaults Cathy in her motel room, removing any chance that the audience might sympathize with him.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: It's understandable that Dr. Kipling is reluctant to believe Johnny is becoming a half-man, half-bat creature, but it's harder to credit why it takes him so long to believe that he might be a murderer. When Johnny all but confesses to murdering the nurse, the doctor convinces him it was a drug-induced hallucination and suggests that he see a psychiatrist.
  • Asshole Victim: Ward.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Well, your precise definition of "bad guy" may be important here, but at the end of the movie John, who you may remember murdered several people, is at large and remains a danger to all. His wife supports him and implicitly becomes a bat person herself. Sgt. Ward is killed by a bat... swarm. Bats swarm, right?
  • Bat Out of Hell: A werewolf version of the "Dire Bat" variant as well as a swarm.
  • Bat People: Johnny gets bitten by a bat and develops odd symptoms. Everyone around him thinks it might be rabies, but he's actually transforming into a were-bat every night. He was a Jerkass to begin with, but in his bat form he starts actively murdering people — and he's still supposed to be the protagonist.
  • Car Chase: After Johnny steals an ambulance during his escape from the hospital.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Several times. At one point he just bolts up and starts screaming.
  • Catchphrase: Ward's "Know what I mean?" His last utterance is a Dark Reprise / Pre Ass Kicking One Liner.
  • Cowboy Cop: Sgt. Ward has little concern for the privacy of others, and is implied to be a pervert as well.
  • Gray-and-Grey Morality: Our choices for hero are the corrupt, leering sheriff or the Jerkass who turns into a bat and murders people (and later admits that he likes it and doesn't intend to do anything about it).
  • Hero Antagonist: Sgt. Ward may be a slimy person, but he's the only one who seems to be aware that Johnny is trouble. Too bad he's too inept to do anything about it.
  • I Want Grandkids: Cathy mentions that her mother is pestering her about when she and John will start having kids. Her answer? Brag about how good he is in bed to her mother.
  • Jerkass: Johnny seemed to be an asshole even before he was bitten, especially to his wife Cathy. Made even more cringe-inducing by the fact that the two actors who played Johnny and Cathy are real-life husband and wife.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The movie implies that John had a primal connection with bats (apart from being a bat-ologist) even before he's bitten. He was having disturbing nightmares about them well before the incident where he got bitten (and even before the movie), was able to hear strange sounds that heralded the appearance of bats (sensing their location as well), and caused bats to have uncharacteristic behavior (showing up during the day, becoming aggressive) in his presence.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Vampire bats do not actually live in the United States.
  • Monster Misogyny: John kills four people, on-screen (not counting Ward, who was killed by a bat swarm). The only one not a young, attractive female was a drunk hobo — who got several lines of dialog before dying.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Implied with Ward.
  • Obviously Evil: John isn't evil per se, but his guilt is very apparent to Sgt. Ward and the viewer. Too bad Ward was too stupid to do anything about it when he had the chance.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: What kind of doctor is John, anyway? It's implied at first that he's a bat expert (chiropterologist) and even says that he's visiting the caves for research. But Cathy later mentions that he's a doctor of preventive medicine. He's also a skilled enough physician to set and properly bandage the homeless man's broken hand.
  • Our Were Beasts Are Different: Were-Bats in this case.
  • Porn Stache: Dr. Mellow Ski Bum sports an epic one.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: The film revolves around Sgt. Ward trying to pin the murders on Johnny.
  • Skewed Priorities: Johnny regards his bat research as more important than spending honeymoon time with Cathy.
  • Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying: During the cave scene, Cathy is swarmed by a group of large dermestid beetles. Johnny tries to reassure her that they're just "mites," arachnids which grow no bigger than 1/8th inch.
  • Undying Loyalty: Cathy is loyal to Johnny regardless of circumstance.
  • Wham Line: When Cathy and Ward arrive at the cave at the end, we get this from Cathy...
    Cathy: Goodbye, Sergeant. (sics a swarm of bats on him)
  • Worst Aid: Johnny's doctor fails to ask if he has any known drug allergies before administering the first dose of the serum. Indeed Dr. Kipling comes off as hilariously incompetent, dismissing Cathy's fears about Johnny so that he can go skiing, not informing her of Johnny's allergic reaction and in one scene, literally offering him a table full of pills to cure his "nightmares."

Alternative Title(s): The Bat People