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In Bats, hundreds of the mutant creatures, bred by the U.S. government to eat human flesh, circle a street, swooping and diving to pick off stray pedestrians. One of our trio of intrepid bat battlers looks to the heavens and moans, "This is like some kind of nightmare!"

A nightmare? Hardly – he’s just fighting killer bats. If he wants to experience a real nightmare, he should be forced to sit through this atrocious film.

Movies as numbingly awful as Bats are rare. Most films have some minor saving grace – a nicely underplayed scene, a sharp performance, a good joke or two. Bats has nothing of the sort: it’s a relentlessly stupid movie without a hint of irony or humor, tedious when it intends to thrill. It’s yet another reason to mourn the loss of "Mystery Science Theater 3000": the film begs for exactly that brand of ridicule.

Bats wants desperately to be Tremors. That tale of giant burrowing worms was a wildly entertaining romp that never took its tongue from its cheek. The filmmakers realized that horror films about mutant animals benefit from a light touch, so that the audience can laugh at the ludicrousness of the premise while enjoying the thrills. Bats makes a few gestures in that direction, mainly through Bob Gunton’s over-the-top performance as the sinister Dr. McCabe. But director Louis Morneau’s single-minded insistence on gore undermines these attempts at campy humor, so Gunton ends up stranded in a film that doesn’t know what to do with him.

Tremors also benefited from a strong, eccentric cast that played the situation for laughs. Bats squanders good performers like Lou Diamond Phillips and Leon, giving them nothing to do but crack insipid one-liners and run screaming from hoards of computer-generated bats. Midway into the film I was so sick of their smug patter – particularly from Leon, who’s given all the worst lines and a sidekick role that’s a quarter-inch (and some computer programming chops) from Stephen Fetchit – that I was hoping the bats would wise up and eat the stars.

The film also bungles technical details. The attack scenes intercut odd, desaturated shots from skewed angles with the gore. Since they’re never properly contextualized, it takes several scenes to realize that these are intended to represent the bats’ point of view. They serve mainly to distract and render the already confusing attack scenes nearly incomprehensible.

In the massacre scene that serves as the film’s centerpiece, we see that the town of Gallup, Texas – population 7000 – boasts a repertory theater screening F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu. This is intended, of course, as a sly reference to the prototypical vampire movie. The wit is compromised by its insistent repetition – the film does everything but hit you in the ribs and yell, "Nosferatu! Get it?? Get it??" – and it begs the question of how a remote Texas burg supports a rep theater. But mainly it made me wish I was watching the Murnau film instead.

Gary Mairs