The plot concerns a hostile swarm of genetically mutated bats who terrorize a local Texas town and it is up to zoologist Sheila Casper, who teams up with town Sheriff Emmett Kimsey, to exterminate the creatures before they take more lives. The film was panned by several critics for its campiness, subpar special effects, underdeveloped characters, and unfrightening tone. However, the film has developed somewhat of a cult following.
Despite substantial negative reception, the film was a moderate box office success, recouping nearly double its budget.
After people start to die in the small Texas town of Gallup, the prime suspects are bats. The CDC calls in Dr. Sheila Casper (Dina Meyer) and her assistant, Jimmy Sands (Leon Robinson), who are zoologists who specialize in the study of bats, to investigate the situation. Dr. Alexander McCabe (Bob Gunton) is secretive about the situation, but admits that the bats were genetically modified by him to become more intelligent and also omnivorous so they wouldn't be in danger of extinction any longer. Sheila is disgusted by this but it seems that McCabe had the best intentions.
Aided by Sheriff Emmett Kimsey (Lou Diamond Phillips) and CDC specialist Dr Tobe Hodge (Carlos Jacott), Sheila and Jimmy begin to search for the nest. The first night they are attacked and manage to capture one and plant a tracking device on it. However, as soon as they let it go, it is killed by the other bats, who knew of the feint. Emmett decides that Gallup needs to be evacuated, and the mayor is told to broadcast a warning to all residents to stay indoors and secure their houses. Unfortunately, no one listens. The bats invade the town and, within minutes, chaos ensues and several people are killed, including Dr. Hodge, who sacrificed himself to save Sheila.
The National Guard arrives and begins evacuating the town. They give Sheila and her bat hunters 48 hours before they destroy the town in hopes of killing the bats. Sheila sets up headquarters in the school. The military has promised to center the infrared cameras of a Chromo-B340 satellite on the area around Gallop to help locate the bat roost. Even when the roost is located, however, how are they going to annihilate every last bat? From the numbers they saw the other night, there are thousands of them. Bombing the roost will only scatter them, leading to the creation of other roosts and potentiating the problem. Poisoning them is not an option, as the most popular bat poison is only marginally effective against bats but highly lethal to humans. Sheila thinks the best solution is to put them to sleep by lowering the temperature in the cave. At 40 degrees, bats begin to hibernate. At 32 degrees, they freeze to death.
Jimmy arranges for an NGIC Industrial Coolant that uses freon, carbon dioxide, and oxygen to be dropped off as soon as the roost is located. When the spy satellite begins sending pictures of the bats, Emmett recognizes the area as that of the old Black Rock mine. Everything is set to begin at 0600 hours—except that the government has other ideas, which don't include waiting until dawn. During the night, they wire the mine with explosives set to trap the bats inside and freeze them. Unfortunately, the bats kill all the soldiers at the location and then attack the school. They use electrified fences and blowtorches to keep the creatures at bay, but it is revealed that McCabe, actually insane, has created the bats to be the ultimate predator, creating them to kill people. McCabe flees, only to be killed by his own creation after believing that they would listen to his wishes.
When Sheila, Emmett and Jimmy arrive at the mine the next morning, they are informed by the military that they weren't able to turn on the coolant unit, so the plan now is to bomb and gas the mine starting in one hour. Emmett calls the military and tells them that they will be able to activate the unit but they are unable to get the air strike called off. Sheila decides that one hour is enough time for them to get the coolant unit started, so she and Emmett suit up and enter the mine. Jimmy stays outside to monitor their progress and to blow up the mine entrance should it become necessary. Although they find themselves up to their waists in bat guano, they are successful at starting the coolant. As they make for the exit, the bats pursue them. The moment they exit, Jimmy detonates the explosives, collapsing the mine entrance and trapping the bats inside, freezing them. One final bat survives the freezing temperatures and burrows out of the ground, only to be crushed by the car as the group drives away.Lou Diamond Phillips as Sheriff Emmett Kimsey
Dina Meyer as Dr. Sheila Casper
Bob Gunton as Dr. Alexander McCabe
Leon as Jimmy Sands
Carlos Jacott as Dr. Tobe Hodge
David McConnell as Deputy Wesley Munn
Marcia Dangerfield as Mayor Amanda Branson
Oscar Rowland as Dr. Swanbeck
Tim Whitaker as Quint
Juliana Johnson as Emma
James Sie as Sergeant James
Ned Bellamy as Major Reid
George Gerdes as Chaswick
Principal photography and filming mostly took place in Utah between May and July 1999, in the cities of Genola, Magna, American Fork, and Park City, despite the film's plot being set in Texas. The bats in the film were a combination of computer-generated imagery (CGI), Animatronics, and actual bats which were brought from Indonesia.
The film received its theatrical premiere in the U.S. on October 22, 1999. The film was not released theatrically in Norway, Japan, Hungary, or Finland. The film was released direct-to-video in Norway, Japan, and Hungary and as a TV movie in Finland.
The film was released on VHS and DVD on February 22, 2000. The DVD version only includes an R-rated international cut while the VHS version includes the theatrical version. A Blu-ray version of the film has yet to be released. The film performed quite well in the home media market, grossing over $30 million in DVD and VHS sales (including theatrical and television sales), although it was considered a failure at the time of its release the film managed to recoup its budget during its first seven days of release.
An international version which was rated R was released on the same date (which is unusual considering most extended versions of a film are unrated) which extended certain scenes in the film by a few seconds and it featured more graphic violence, blood, and gore than the original U.S. version.
In its opening weekend, Bats grossed about $4,717,902, nearly equaling its production budget. The film managed to surpass its budget with a domestic gross of $10,155,690.
Bats received mainly negative reviews from critics, where it currently holds a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 42 reviews, with an average rating of 3.3/10. The critical consensus reads: "Neither scary nor creepy". Metacritic, which assigns a rating from 0 to 100, gave the film a 23, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews", based on reviews from 26 critics. Despite the negative reviews the film is now considered a cult film.
A television prequel to this film, Bats: Human Harvest, was made by the Sci-Fi Channel in 2007.